How Much Worse Can ‘Ballers’ Get? (TV Review)

[rating=4.00] “Heads Will Roll”

I’ll say this about Ballers, it knows how to make it’s antagonists unlikable. Granted, it doesn’t do a good job of making any of its other characters likable, but it sure does make you despise its show’s villains.

This week’s installment of the steadily disappointing sports fantasy/circle jerk opens with a flashback of Spencer taking a tough hit on the field, then waking up in the present day to ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to see a physician. His macho, tough guy “I’m in the good 50%” shirking seems at odds with the character they’ve tried to sketch out at this point (by “sketch” I’m referring to something drawn with jumbo crayons), given he’s out to sell himself as a financial safe-haven for pro-athletes who have no concept of responsibility on any conceivable level.

Charles, meanwhile, is getting all sorts of racy texts from a girl he’d met at the epic party the night before, as he scrambles to return to his civilian life he’d briefly escaped the night before. (Side note: it’s an irritating TV trope to constantly stage these “wild parties” on weeknights simply for the comic relief of them being hungover at work the next day.) He tries to play it all off in front of his wife, but thanks to her sister, who in about 20 seconds of became the most unpleasant character so far, she begins to suspect something.

While he’s still getting calls and texts at work, he reasserts that he is a married man and insists she stop calling him, which she returns by texting him her address. Of course, Charles almost makes it home, but after seeing his wife unload groceries from the car, he drives past his house, and immediately stops being the one character capable of deriving empathy for the audience.

Back on the yacht, Joe wakes up on a table, disoriented and hungover (see: above irritating TV trope), and apparently in trouble thanks to his… colorful verbiage the night before. So, apparently there is some kind of morality at play here in this charmless depiction of sports management.

Anyway, despite Joe’s needing to return the yacht to his boss, he opts to keep partying, mostly out of some idea that he wants to recruit some talent to the agency. And, honestly, what better way to do that than under the guise of throwing a party on a boat that’s not yours, I ask.

To the shows limited amount of deserved credit, they do start to clumsily build a third dimension with Ricky’s character, who’s continued harassment by his new teammates continues to escalate, he seeks counsel with the Dolphin’s management, who teaches him a mantra to help control his anger. It seems to work, as Ricky repeats “I’m bigger than my problems” even when he finds his car on cinder blocks as part of the continued hazing.

For an episode with no clear purpose in mind as far as a primary plot, it’s assumed that it was intended to be Vern’s contractual negotiations, which put Reggie, now in a neck brace after the incident the night before, is demanding egregious amounts of money. Again, they hint at some sort of backstory between Spencer, Vernon and Reggie, but fail to properly convey what it was, or even what it is now that allows any one of them to tolerate the other two.

Also, Vernon (by way of Reggie) scoffs at the 41 million dollar contract he’s offered. Reggie assumes he has some kind of leverage, and Vernon is naive to the point that he not only believes in him, but that he himself won’t get hurt on the field. While this finally boils over, leading Spencer to burn his bridge with Vernon (a bridge we’re told about but never shown), but not until he’s paid his $300,000 back. You know… stuff anyone can relate to.

Noteworthy lines:

At one point Spencer does actually visit a physician, giving Johnson his required 90 seconds of smarm, which plays out like some kind of “writing for The Rock” screenwriting 101 exercise. For example, when the doctor asks “Any problems with vision?”

He answers “depends on what brand of tequila I’ve had.”

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