Ballers, the new HBO series, scores off of American sports fever. After all, the recent record breaking ratings for everything sports related, from the NBA Finals to the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Triple Crown, prove that Americans love to watch TV sports, so Ballers could be a big success.
— Dulé Hill (@DuleHill) June 20, 2015
— Jazmyn Simon (@JazmynSimon) June 20, 2015
But love of actual sports doesn’t always translate into a hit show about sports. Failures like Lights Out, football comedy Necessary Roughness, Back in the Game, and even the small screen version of The Bad News Bears make that clear.
Created by Entourage‘s Stephen Levinson, Ballers has a similar look and feel, “only with man-child athletes instead of Hollywood types.” There’s a big difference though. Really big difference. Ballers stars pro-wrestler-turned-leading-man Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson plays a retired football player, Spencer Strasmore, whose injuries forced him into a career change too early. Now, Spencer is working for a financial firm, and his job is to use his pro sports connections to get clients.
In Ballers, Johnson portrays a tough guy with an infectious grin, a smooth exterior, and some desperate secrets. He’s losing money, in constant pill-popping pain from a possible concussion, and losing his grip in his new post-football life.
In the midst of all his financial and physical troubles, Johnson’s character has to cope with PTSD flashbacks to a punishing tackle he inflicted on an unfortunate quarterback. With his own pro wrestling background, Dwayne Johnson has a wealth of inside knowledge to draw on how it feels to be injured, out, and haunted by memories. Johnson also knows how to fight back.
When you walk up to opportunities door, don’t knock… Kick it in, smile and introduce yourself. -Dwayne Johnson
— Be Healthy (@BeHeaIthy) June 20, 2015
Ballers takes a close look at the dark side of pro football. Turns out that “nearly 16% of players went bankrupt within 12 years of retirement” according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study. Retirement, of course, too often comes about because of injuries, and injuries can happen at any time in pro ball.
All of this just makes Johnson’s Spencer more determined to help out his “floundering friends” and teammates, even as he struggles to hide “his pain and diminishing bank account.” With Rob Corddry as his “oily and deeply unhip boss Joe,” Spencer does his best for players like Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) and Vernon (Donovan W. Carter) as they contend with PR and financial disasters. Washington brings some real life experience to the show, as he is himself a former pro football player, as well as the son of actor Denzel Washington.
Dwayne Johnson is “instantly likeable” as Spencer, and that gives Ballers a rock solid foundation, and its “biggest asset,” according to the Boston Globe. Though Ballers does address the darkness and drama of pro ball, the show is also a “swaggery comedy.”
Ballers just may be the sports show that succeeds.
— ballers (@BallersHBO) May 28, 2015
[Image via Jeff Daly/HBO/ Boston Globe]