Archive for February, 2018

‘Ballers’ is a Perfect Extension of ‘Entourage’, Unfortunately that Is Not a Positive

22 Feb

When it was announced that Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson was set to star as a former NFL player turned financial manager I was intrigued. The Rock has always been a charismatic entertainer who I have liked since back when I enjoyed professional wrestling and of course, like most, I still love the NFL. However, when I found out that Johnson was undertaking this endeavor in conjunction with most of the brass from HBO’s ‘Entourage’ (Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Rob Weiss etc.) I became weary. Would the Entourage team really be able to re-tool and put out another show with the same quality level as Entourage and with the radically different premise of a struggling celebrity financial manager living in Miami trying to make it with his friends instead of a struggling actor living in Los Angeles trying to make it with his friends? Well as it turns out, even though ‘Ballers’ was brought to market four years after Entourage (the show) ended, it was as if the production team had not skipped a beat. Unfortunately, that was/is not a good thing in this instance.

Some context. When Entourage first came on the air, it was a hit and praised for both its realistic take of behind the scenes Hollywood, and for the bromance between the show’s core crewmembers. Through thick and thin, whether it was snagging the lead in a James Cameron movie or getting dumped by Mandy Moore, the boys of Entourage met life’s challenges together and it was their heart and loyalty that made the show worth watching even it was always steeped in the lowest levels of bro-humor. However, what were to happen if the show lost its heart and the Entourage boys went from selfless, lighthearted, and loyal, to selfish, complaining, and entitled pricks who would turn on each other and their principles in an instant? Well than the show would be obviously terrible and no matter the radical attempts to reinvigorate interest, be it the lead’s out of nowhere drug problem, or the group scrub becoming a multi-millionaire Tequila baron, the show would be doomed to fail. And that is essentially what happened to Entourage, a show that started likeable even with its chauvinistic premise was rendered utterly unwatchable during its last three seasons because of its leads who became pathetic brats involved in ridiculous yet boring storylines. As a result, Entourage was mercifully put out to pasture after eight seasons despite the fact that it could have easily wrapped after five.

Of course, some people remained diehard Entourage fans, and I was surprised that even after a couple of years after the show had ended there was still a clamoring for a reunion movie. To the glee of Entourage fans (and the groans of everyone else), a movie was greenlit and it picked up essentially where the show had left off. Of course, the film was a dud and was more of a two-hour long plug for the multitude of fly-by-night celebrities (Rhonda Rousey, Emily Ratajkowski,  Cynthia Kirchner etc.) who were willing to partake in this project. Ordinarily this boring, uninspired entry would have been enough to put the nail in the Entourage coffin, but what actually happened is that the pent up, yet limited, demand for an Entourage movie had somehow breathed new life into the ‘brains’ behind Entourage and they decided to roll out Entourage 2.0 or more commonly known as Ballers.

When Ballers premiere two years ago it was initially met with generally positive reviews. I could not understand this because while the Rock was his usual charismatic self, almost every other character was an unlikable entitled turd and the plot was utterly ridiculous yet utterly boring at the same time. This of course is exactly where Entourage left off, so in a way the Entourage brass should be amazed that they were able to keep the same magic going. Unfortunately, it was just bad magic and by the third season critics were wise to Ballers and generally positive reviews were replaced with negative ones. And while the Rock remains the only reason to even consider tuning into this lame dumpster fire of boring yet audacious T.V., even he is not enough to make the show even remotely close to watchable, let alone entertaining or likable. The showrunners have really gone above and beyond in creating terrible characters and then casting unlikable actors and/or former athletes to play them. Two standouts in this regard are John David Washington who is proof positive that the apple can and does fall far from the tree and Troy Garity who only further proves the aforementioned maxim. Add to that a nonsensical plot that goes next to nowhere and with its only realism reserved for the materialistic and misogynistic nature of the power players which the show tries to glorify, and you are left with one big train wreck of desperate TV. In the wake of all of the news regarding player safety and head trauma suffered by NFL players, the spotlight on sexual harassment, and the dangers of athlete excess (exemplified so beautifully in ESPN’s 30 for 30 ‘Broke’), one would think that compelling storylines could be cultivated from these issues. Instead, the show at best only occasionally takes a superficial look at these issues and instead prefers to focus on characters and storylines that are as wholly uninteresting as they are improbable. And while it is understood that the show is intended to be a comedy, that does not mean and should not mean that serious issues cannot be woven into the fabric of humorous television. I would argue that the best T.V. comedies were those that carefully tried to meaningfully navigate difficult if not taboo social topics. So while it is a certainty that Ballers will never be ‘All in the Family’, it certainly does not mean that it has to be a lamer version of Entourage, especially when its premise is situated within some of today’s most pressing issues. Unfortunately, given its DNA Ballers seems to ok with what it is, what it is about, and who it is intended for, but for the rest of us hopefully it will not take eight seasons before its plug gets pulled. 

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