Audience disclaimer — this post does not include any activity from the most recent episode which aired Sunday, Sept. 11, as Dave and I were both unable to tune in. Therefore, the discussion or any predictions made only come up to the point of the August 28 episode. Enjoy!
TODD: Dave, over Labor Day weekend, shortly after wrapping up our Fantasy Football draft, we discovered that we each really enjoy “Ballers,” the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (DtRJ) led series on HBO. I have some thoughts on Ballers that I would love to share with you and get your reaction. I would also love to know what strikes YOU about the show and keeps you coming back?
For me, a huge fan of the NFL, it was a natural that I would give this show a try last year when it’s premier season aired on HBO. It introduces us to Spencer Strasmore (DtRJ), a recently retired player who, having been misguided into some losing financial propositions as a player, turns financial manager determined to recruit dozens of NFL stars to Anderson Financial Management in Miami (run by Richard Schiff, best known as Toby on the West Wing) and help them avoid the same mistakes. Anderson (Schiff), isn’t all that keen on the idea of an athletics division, but goes along with it knowing that one of his capable hands, Joe – played by America’s favorite smart ass-best pal (and scary clown doctor) Rob Corddry – would partner with Spencer and make a go of it.
DAVID: I have to say, I am super-impressed with The Rock here – he is definitely showing his chops as an actor. He shows a range that I’m not sure he’s able to show in the typical action movie. And pairing him with Corddry? It’s nearly as revolutionary as the first person to make a PB&J sandwich.
TODD: I’ll say what many others have – it’s a bit of a “NFL meets ‘Entourage’” vibe – as both Dolphins players and staff, as well as other NFLers who live and/or train in Miami during the off season, are met with various wealthy but vulnerable athlete problems, loose women, blow, and other Miami staples. Joining the party are (Tom Hayden/Jane Fonda offspring) Troy Garity as Jason, a Miami-based sports agent, Dule Hill as Joe, the Dolphins GM (?) (another West Wing alum), Omar Miller (WW alum #3!) as retired linesman Charles Greane, who has second thoughts on retirement; Clifton Collins Jr. as a murky troublemaker and later a guy who “knows how to get information,” and John David Washington as Ricky Jerret, a mash-up of every perceived public personality we’ve seen out of wide receivers in the last 15 years.
DAVID: You mean Denzel, Jr.? Washington is Denzel Washington’s son. No joke! Either you pretended not to know, or you just left it out there so I could take all the credit for that great Hollywood-meets-Hollywood trivia…I’m just going to say you pretended not to know, that way nobody gets hurt!
And I must say Troy’s character gets better each and every episode. I didn’t feel they were using him enough until they introduced the Travis Mach character from Florida State – who, by the way, has to be the smallest linebacker I have ever, ever seen.
TODD: I honestly DID NOT know that about Mr. Washington! Well, glad Denzel’s acting genes will continue through at least another generation. And I agree – they weren’t using Troy Garity’s “Jason” nearly enough. The Travis Mach character (and sure fire Trump voter) does introduce an interesting new element to the motley crew – the dyslexic kid who has great instincts despite his learning difficulties, with a whole lot of Southern pride and cock-sure attitude.
Overall, the show’s pretty darn enjoyable, albeit never going to be an Emmy winner for writing or real originality.
DAVID: That’s okay by me, since the Emmys are often slow to appreciate some of the better shows on the tube!
TODD: My biggest beef with this guilty pleasure is not just its stereotypical portrayal of beautiful young women in Miami / football groupies, but also – and especially – it’s wasting what few female characters it has. The most obvious wasted potential lies in 2 female supporting cast members:
- Julie Greane – played by Jazmyn Simon, Charles’ wife is relegated to running errands and encouraging her man to do this or that. But where’s her side story? Perhaps a rocky relationship with other player’s wives? Or perhaps a tight relationship with other player’s wives that gives us scenes of them discussing their worries as wives of players? (e.g. I’m worried Charles will someday contract CTE). Let’s see some of her perspective.
- Tracy Legette – played by Arielle Kebbel (who gets extra credit as a “cool sports chick” for also appearing on the Fantasy Football raunch party known as “The League”), Tracy is a sports journalist who happens to be dating (though it always seems somewhat casual) DtRJ’s Spencer Strasmore. As a crack sports journalist, Tracy seems to be a wealth of information for Spencer, always seeking an edge on landing new player/clients. But what else? Where is her sidebar where she breaks a steroid scandal or finds some financial malfeasance? Instead, her big break is an interview in “Bristol” (CT, as in home of ESPN), so for now – she’s been shuttled off elsewhere.
DAVID: Charles will be fine! The white collar/domestic life will have come just at the right time for him to avoid massive head trauma. He’s growing on me.
TODD: But that’s my point – it’s not Charles I’m worried about. The creators obviously assumed a male audience that wouldn’t care about the female supporting cast. Perhaps they are right with average viewers … if they only want to appeal to less than ½ of all people watching television.
DAVID: That may very well be. HBO is in an interesting boat: they get their $$ from subscribers, not based on eyeballs on any one show. So it’s loyalty from its audience as opposed to broad appeal that’s going to drive what it seeks to put — and keep — on the air.
What might be interesting is a new, stronger female character who is in a major decision-making position akin to GM of a team or an executive at a network. I don’t know what’s in the pipeline, but they could certainly work with a character of that nature to make it interesting. Female GMs in pro sports may not be too common, but that’s slowly changing. This show could get out in front of the curve in a real positive way here.
TODD: Yes! We need a Jeanie Buss-type character! … Ok, so we’re in the last legs of Season 2, which has deftly added Andy Garcia as an intimidating, almost Mafioso-like competitor who has been managing athlete’s finances for far longer than Joe or Spencer, and who inspired, through mismanagement, Spencer’s desire to help other athletes. More about him later.
DAVID: Oh, no, let’s talk more about Andy Garcia now, as in right now! His character is almost a cartoon. I find him hard to take seriously, and something tells me Andy Garcia doesn’t even take him seriously. Andy also needs to sign up for Dollar Shave Club if you ask me. Andy, I can recommend some great Wahl trimmers to make yourself a little less Fidel Castro and a little more Miami Vice!
TODD: That’s hysterical. Yes – he’s looking almost so overboard with the beard, that he’s entering world’s “least interesting man” category. So, Dave –What are your takeaways thus far, and do you have predictions for how Season 2 ends?
DAVID: You know what they say: those who live by the crystal ball get cut by broken glass. So no predictions from me. That way I’ll always be right! Seriously, though, I hope they really probe Spencer’s opioid addiction a bit more. Even get into how players are given painkillers from team doctors just to make it through the workweek.
Another aspect I like about the show is that it seems to parallel some of the takeaways I got from the great autobiography by Nate Jackson, Slow Getting Up, where he chronicles his experiences as a journeyman tight end in the NFL. The itinerant nature of the work, its temporal nature, and the fact many of the big player contracts aren’t what they’re cracked up to be unless the money is guaranteed. And by guaranteed – that means there’s no impact of extraneous circumstances, including NFIs (non-football-related injuries). They’ve woven bits and pieces of these elements into the show, most notably with Vernon busting his Achilles tendon playing paintball.
TODD: Oh, I totally forgot to mention Vernon, who is a Cowboy’s lineman who happens to live in Miami and is another one of Jason’s (Troy Garity) clients. He is of course followed around by the stereotypical lackey, Reggie, who says he has Vernon’s best interests in mind, but really wants to profit off of his friend.
DAVID: In terms of other aspects of the show they could flesh out more, I think we need to find out more about Schiff’s character and the backstory of both him and his company. We need more backstory on Charles. We need more backstory on Joe other than the fact that he appears to be a connoisseur of cocaine. They certainly gave us plenty of backstory on Denzel, Jr. – I mean Ricky. I’d like to see that level of background elsewhere.
While I’m not worried the show is going to have a would-be sophomore slump, I certainly hope they give this show some room to breathe and that more people tune in at some point. I just hope it doesn’t fizzle out and/or enter into Entourage-like self-parody at the end.
By the end of Season 2, “Ballers” will be 3rd and 4 from the 33-yard line – not knowing if it’s going to get another set of downs, and right on the cusp of field goal range. If they convert, much of the audience will be happy to know they got in on the ground floor. If it’s an iffy field goal proposition, well, The Rock might want to sign on for Fast and Furious 23 or whatever number they’re on right now.
TODD: Uh, we’re only up to Fast 8 (entering theaters in 2017!!! Erin and I used to make fun of the first couple of those films… now, we can’t get enough). But I digress – DtRJ is now Hollywood’s highest paid actor and in huge demand. He does action. He does comedy with Kevin Hart. This show isn’t going anywhere for at least 2 more seasons or until DtRJ says he’s done. And given we’re already in the sophomore season, I don’t think we’re slumping.
I do agree we need to go into Spencer’s addiction to pain killers and more aspects of the dark side of the NFL. And yes – more about Mr. Anderson and how he came to form Anderson Asset Management. Why did Charles retire at seemingly only 30 years old? You raise great questions. Should they attempt to use some flashbacks? Or simply hip check those histories through dialogue? It could be interesting.
DAVID: I have a hard time seeing flashbacks work here – just explain things somehow. Doesn’t have to be much – just a couple of mentions that Spencer lost money in past deals establishes that part of his past. Putting it in context is another story.
TODD: I DO have a couple of predictions:
- Travis is drafted high, though not as high a pick as Spencer and Jason are trying to build him up to. He may end up with a tough-as-nails coach that doesn’t give a hoot about his learning disabilities and challenges his chances to make it in the NFL (I’m picturing a Defensive Coordinator along the lines of Ram’s tough guy Gregg Williams, he of the “Bounty-gate” scandal while coaching in New Orleans)
DAVID: I’m going to take the under on Travis, as it were. They’ve established pretty well he doesn’t respond well to authority in any form, so my guess is he’ll have stability problems. Never mind the fact that he is the smallest linebacker I have ever, ever seen. Did I say that already? Why yes, because it bears repeating.
- Ricky stays in Miami … of course
DAVID: I agree – but man, if he had gone to Buffalo, he could have had his own jet on call 24-7 with that contract offer.
- Andre Allen (Andy Garcia) continues to play dirty and forces Spencer and Joe to both make separate choices. For Spencer, it’s going to be how dirty are you willing to be to compete for clients and wreck Andre? (going against everything he wanted to be entering this second career). And for Joe, it’s “do I hang in there with Spencer, or take Andre’s offer in a panic once …
- … Mr. Anderson decides to close the Athletics division of the asset management company,” which I’m near convinced he’s going to do as our season cliffhanger.
DAVID: I certainly don’t want to see Spencer and Joe part ways since their “Odd Couple” dynamic is one of the key anchors for the show.
- Out of a sort of “homeless necessity,” Spencer lands some huge fish after losing his job and starts his own fledgling firm, eventually recruiting Joe back to join him.
DAVID: Aha, nicely played – you can have the split and then, once they’re back together, have them sing a duet like Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited.” At the very least, have “Reunited” blasted on the show’s soundtrack, which, by the way, could use some standout tracks a bit more.
TODD: Peaches & Herb – Reunited … and it feels so Gooood!!
Thanks, Dave – I guess we’ll find out this Sunday what comes next*
*except of course, as explained above — we have yet to see the 9/11/16 episode. Sorry gang!