Ballers is set in Miami following the life of retired NFL superstar Spencer Strasmore, who is now an agent and handler for the young, and often partying, NFL stars of today. With Dwayne The Rock Johnson in the starring role the show promises to deliver an irreverent brand of humor, mixed with plenty of fun, as the characters experience the high life that comes with super-stardom. Yet, with highs there are lows and the show will explore those since it is centered around the price of fame, and the compromises one must make in order to truly reach the top.
Ballers takes advantage of one of Johnson’s strongest qualities. One that TNT shows like The Hero and Wake Up Call tried to time capsule. Johnson has the ability to motivate in a very personal, genuine way. And Ballers revolves around his character, ex Dolphins linebacker Spenser Strasmore, taking on the role of surrogate father/adviser to a cluster of younger, irresponsible athletes who are acting like fools and blowing through their money. I believe $250,000 for an elephant is brought up at one point.
Spencer’s endeavor also taps into the popularized idea that The Rock would make an awesome dad. Or best friend. He just exudes loyalty and responsibility, and in a way that feels legitimate and non-overbearing. Even back when The Rock was the hottest ticket in the pro-wrestling scene, his character was so cool that if The Rock liked you, or even didn’t insult you, you were gold. So Ballers rests easily on Johnson’s shoulders and uses his charm to wrangle a bunch of would-be Entouragers.
I’m not sure, based off the one episode, exactly how much Ballers will lean into the drama portion of its “dramedy” label. There are some hints that Spencer comes with a haunted past and the ending suggests that his new venture as a financial/lifestyle advisor might come at a great cost to him, but we’re still traveling through the grand world of the NFL. And these guys on their worst days, still have it pretty good. The pilot kicks things off with a death in the circle. A star player who gets into a head-on collision while arguing with his mistress. But it’s played more as a comedy beat.
Still, the incident is the catalyst for Spencer’s awakening while also taking us into the lives of career-in-jeapardy Ricky (John David Washington), blowing-through-millions Vernon (Donovan Carter), and life-after-football Charles (Omar Benson Miller). Rob Corddry and Troy Garity provide sufficient peripheral activity as Joe and Jason, the money man and the agent respectively. Complete with dialogue befitting their sideline sleaziness.
Again though, Ballers is wisely Johnson’s showcase. Not only does it utilize his confidence-boosting nature, but it also takes advantage of the guy’s own history of wildly reinventing himself in new athletic and entertainment mediums.