Review: ‘Ballers’ Series Premiere

“There’s very few people that deserve a second chance and even less that deserve a third.”

This line comes late in the pilot episode of Ballers, which premiered last night on HBO, following True Detective 2’s season premiere. The line pretty much sums up the show, which follows injured and disgraced NFL football players in Miami and their financial woes. It’s a thoughtful concept. A look at America’s fallen, forgotten athletes. But I feel like this show would have been more timely a few years ago when Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods, and other athletes were facing similar controversies as Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), who gets involved a sex scandal that gets him dropped from his original team’s roster. (Even then, South Park pretty much covered that terrain in one succinct and perfect episode.)

A lot of people are comparing Ballers to Entourage, and while the misogyny and “bitches” would concur with this (“These girls was bangin’”), the premise actually has higher stakes. These are athletes who either are out of options or money. Spencer Strassmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has turned his post-NFL career into trying to help these financially-challenged and –managed individuals, and yet, he’s still broke himself.

In one scene, Spencer is on the phone with Vernon (Donovan W. Carter), asking why he didn’t attend the funeral of Rod Slater, a fellow NFL player.

Turns out, Vernon’s in a spot. He needs $300,000, saying it in passing like it’s 20 bucks. Spencer asks why he needs this much when he signed for $12 million out of school.

“You know how it is man,” says Vernon. “You spend the rookie deal.”

78 percent of NFL players end up bankrupt after their career ends, something this show addresses head on. This isn’t just whether or not to do Aquaman. It’s whether or not to be able to survive and find a post-NFL existence.

In the case of Charles Greene (Omar Benson Miller), he has to take a job at a car dealership in order to just do something with his life, since he spends most of his days watching Dr. Oz on the couch. It takes his wife, a doctor, to push him, and of all the relationships on the show, they have the most human one in the pilot episode. Plus, it’s nice to see a Ballers woman doing something besides getting it from behind.

One only wishes that the other relationships had as much depth and honesty as this one. Most of the show feels like a glorified beer commercial. But of course, maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s still some things fans don’t want to see when it comes to football players.

“Bad life choices, son,” says a random Miami boater to Ricky Jerret, who’s late to meet the Miami Dolphins coach to secure a spot on the team.

“Bad Life Choices” could have been an alternative title to this series. But just like the way some of the players sweep real-life problems under the bench, it’s better just to call it something more glamourous and fleeting.

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