Gasp: ‘Ballers’ Actually Got Good, Kind Of (TV Review)

[rating=6.00] “Machete Charge”

It took a lot longer than it needed to, but Ballers finally started getting somewhere last night. Nowhere jaw-dropping or profound, but at least some popcorn-level entertainment, instead of the unpopped kernels we’ve been getting the past too many weeks.

As Spencer, along with Joe, woo yet another new client (in a scene with aggravatingly bad sound editing), suddenly his confidence has increased, and watching Johnson act like he’s having fun instead of worrying about his job makes the show approach being enjoyable. He’s so on top of the world at this point that it’s even pushed him into more assuredly pushing back on Vernon’s increasingly frequent phone calls.

Of course, Vernon is important, as Joe tells us, once again miring in the show’s pitfall of not simply showing us these things. Joe takes his call, before forcing Spencer to talk to him, saying “I’ve never heard him sound so upset,” and is presented as a serious, even dire, situation.

What we get, however, is Vernon being pressured into paying off a lawyer to keep pictures of him smoking weed with naked girls on a boat. Which, sure, given his contract negotiation could result in some kind of mild tabloid fallout, but the fact it’s not happening to a character, but a plot macguffin, makes it even more difficult to muster the ability to give a shit.

Also, the complete reversal of Spencer severing ties with Vernon at the end of last week’s episode completely undercuts the moment, and is swept under the rug as it falls under the “Vernon’s important” disclaimer.

Meanwhile Charles, who’s feeling tempted by the barrage of texts, delves heavily into fantasy where even his guilty conscious still manages to find him. Also, who has sex with their bra on, especially in a male fantasy? Get it together, Ballers.

Even though he never follows through with his impulse, he keeps the video she’d sent him, and his wife finds out, of course. What results is another scene that feels like it should’ve had some kind of resonance, but didn’t.

Also, there’s even more character growth in Ricky, who invites Alfonse out to a strip club to get on his good side and develop a rapport. Alfonse takes full advantage of the situation by inviting down scores of his brothers, half-brothers, and other assumed hangers-on while they make a sizable dent Ricky’s shoebox full of money (which, seriously? Is this a thing?)

Just as it looked as though things were going nowhere, Alfonse gets pulled from his car by a cop before Ricky’s able to intervene and use his celebrity to get his new teammate off the hook. It turned out to be a setup by Ricky and the cop, but it’s interesting how the severity of this cop’s reaction didn’t seem all that out of place considering the current cultural climate. And it would’ve been almost clever, had it not involved a cop taking a bribe in order to stage an arrest of someone based on his team number.

Finally, as Spencer and Joe talk business with the lawyer, he demands $500,000 to prevent the release of the photos, giving some half-inspired speech about the military tactics of his ancestors, from which the episode gets its title. In a surprising turn, Spencer refutes the lawyer before boasts about his inability to retreat. Once he and Joe leave the office, a bomb of mild intrigue is dropped, that Spencer knows the woman who took the photos.

Either the show has worked to tighten up its presentation, or I’ve simply lowered my expectations through so many subpar episodes, for the first time Ballers ends with the promise of becoming interesting.

Noteworthy line:

Ricky’s advice to Charles to be “strong in the eyes of the lord” in mid-lapdance at a strip club.

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