“Ballers” is like “Entourage” meets football — what could be more awesome? Well, a lot of things, as it turns out.
This HBO series has so many things going for it, like nabbing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to lead this bro-tastic cast, along with the eye candy setting of Miami’s gorgeous beaches, clubs, and “Cribs”-worthy mansions. But no matter how awesome it is to watch Johnson strut down the street with two cell phones in full boss mode while dramatically taking off his sunglasses, this series lacks any real substance.
“Ballers” might have missed the mark in its rookie season, but it’s primed to redeem itself come Season 2. The structure is there to have an entertaining show that can fill the football void until the NFL season begins in the fall.
Here is Zap2it‘s 12 step TV rehab program for a ballin’ new season.
1. Female characters
Other than reporter Tracy (Arielle Kebbel), there was not one female character that was anything more than a jilted or nagging wife. While there were a slew of thirsty groupies and hot side pieces, there was not one multi-dimensional female role. Get a female executive or coach or referee in play. They do exist, so let’s see ’em.
2. Game time
With the luxury of being able to use real NFL team names comes the luxury of having real-fake match-ups. Let us seem some rivalry games. Have real life famous players makes appearances on the field, not just winking and drinking Hennessy on yacht parties. Play action could bring a whole different stage of performances to the series. Even the movie “Little Giants” had more exciting on-field action.
3. Stop ignoring real issues
The NFL is not the great club it once was — it’s actually quite a disaster and in need of some serious PR rehab. Drugs. Doping. Domestic abuse. None of these subjects are sexy, but let’s not do what the NFL does and just ignore that these things happen.
Not every NFL team has cheerleaders, but many of them do, and their world is super cut-throat and competitive. We’re not suggesting just showing women jumping up and down cheering on the sidelines, we’re saying get a storyline going that also highlights the insane politics that goes into making the squad, the strict rules they must abide by when it comes to interacting with their team’s players and go from there.
5. Beef up Dule Hill’s role
This “West Wing” and “Psych” alum is a fantastic actor who has been underutilized in B-line story threads as general manager Larry Seifert. He deserves more to do. Give the people what they want. And they want more Hill.
6. Don’t take the easy way out
While Season 1 briefly touched on the aftermath of ignored concussions, it could’ve gone deeper. Instead of Strasmore magically getting a clean bill of health from the neurologist, let’s see what happens when a retired NFL player actually has to deal with these various serious repercussions. A whole new depth would be added to the series if Johnson’s character was truly suffering these lingering effects while trying to maintain the slick-suited agent facade.
7. Bring in Denzel Washington
If that sounds crazy random, remember that his son, John David Washington, plays the hot-headed Ricky Jerret. It doesn’t matter that “The Wire’s” Robert Wisdom has already appeared on the series as Ricky’s long-lost deadbeat of a father. The Oscar-winning actor could make an appearance in any capacity and instantly make “Ballers” the water-cooler show of the week.
8. Take a note from ‘Girls’
Fitting into that loosely-defined dramedy category, “Girls” began to really thrive when it decided to treat each thirty minute episode like a mini movie. Sometimes an episode is light and funny, while next week’s storyline is deeply dramatic. After playing with this format, “Girls” reached that magical point in which it was able to do both successfully when all the threads combined into one episode.
It’s like TV training pants. If “Ballers” focused on making an episode that’s either full-out funny like “Entourage,” or emotionally touching like “Friday Night Lights,” audiences would at least start to feel something. There’d be memorable moments that stick with viewers long after the credits roll. As of now, bombarding each episode with bro-tastic jokes and then peppering in random drama makes the series neither laugh out loud funny nor particularly moving. It’s just thirty minutes of mindless TV.
9. More Joe & Spencer time
The juxtaposition of Rob Corddry’s tall lanky wanna-be-cool character with Johnson’s massive frame, easy charm and natural swag is fun to watch. The chemistry on screen between this unlikely duo is great, and there should be more of it.
10. Make Mr. Anderson more likable
It would be nice to have more of Richard Schiff on screen if he wasn’t such an unlikable guy. Let’s learn more about Mr. Anderson, delve into his home life and let audiences see him as more than just a money-hungry boss.
11. No More Vernon and Reggie
While this is very unlikely to happen, it should. Crossing out the names E and Vinnie from an old “Entourage” script and turning it in for “Ballers” doesn’t work. The unbelievably naive Vernon (Donovan W. Carter) and the obnoxious Reggie (London Brown) are dumb and dumber. They should not return in Season 2.
12. Riskier jokes
Don’t assume this show’s audience won’t get the joke if it’s not about how many chicks the guys are hooking up with or how they are so wasted they he or she did [insert stupid activity]. Again, since this is HBO, viewers expect more. There need to be witter jokes. “Entourage” ended five years ago, and recycling the same d-bag throwaway lines is tired. Shake it up. There are a ton of good actors on this show that can do more if given better material.
“Ballers” Season 2 premieres on Sunday, July 17, at 10: 01 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.