In my review of the first season of Ballers, I described the Dwayne Johnson starring show as “ a vehicle crafted to showcase the man’s talents”. With it’s sophomore year now coming to home video, the sentiment remains the same. A shw set in the world of the NFL, looking at a retired player, turned financial manager, as he looks to secure his future while dealing with his past. It’s a rather mainstream effort from HBO, but one not lacking charm, largely thanks to the big man himself.
Ballers: Season 2 Synopsis
In Season 2 of Ballers, things are getting more competitive and complicated for retired football star turned financial manager Spencer Strasmore. As the lines between professional and personal blur in his pursuit of lasting success and glory, Spencer must face demons from the past when he goes head-to-head with the biggest business manager on the scene. Meanwhile, Spencer’s closest friends and clients struggle to find their footing. A humbled Ricky (John David Washington, former pro-football player) explores his options as a free agent, while getting to know the father who left him behind; Charles (Omar Miller) tries to balance a new baby and his future in the game; and Vernon (Donovan Carter) deals with the consequences of his life off the field. Returning to help Spencer juggle lucrative deals and big personalities are his outrageous business partner, Joe (Rob Corddry), level-headed agent, Jason (Troy Garity) and girlfriend/sports reporter, Tracy (Arielle Kebbel). In a business where it’s go big or go home, Spencer and his crew are about to learn that having it all means being ready to fight for more dollars, deals and respect.
The second season of Ballers is pretty much like it’s first. Following the travails of former player Spencer Strasmore (Johnson), now turned financial manager. Based in Miami, Florida, a sun drenched locale seemingly populated by rich men, driving fast cars, and surrounded by beautiful women. It’s a sporty version of Entourage in some respects but the innate charms of it’s lead dulls the douchy edges. It continues the look at the reality of the sports industry, the fame and glamour, as well as the grubby dealings and machinations between players and agents.
Strasmore is at the center of these insights. Now a financial manager, the problems and personal grudges lingering from his playing days return to haunt him as he pursues his new career. Deals are scuppered, clients are poached, vendettas resurface. Johnson’s arc offers up plenty of comedic bravado, as well as some heartfelt moments, some resonance, especially in terms of his past coming back to haunt him, lessons learned and imparting that knowledge to young, up and coming players. A brawl on a talk show causes an injury and sets in motion a ongoing plot where Spencer becomes dependent on pain-killers. It’s a plotline that moves rather slowly and seems to be building to a playoff in the next season, but the seeds sown suggest a rich opportunity for Johnson’s dramatic chops.
In the first season, it really was the Dwayne Johnson showcase. Not a bad thing. But now in it’s second year, Ballers should be pushing onward and with the slow momentum of Strasmore’s arc, there is little support from side characters and their plotlines.
It’s not that Johnson needs more ensemble support, because the ingredients are already there, they’re just not given enough time or development. Rob Cordry is a bawdy delight as Strasmore’s partner Joe Krutel. John David Washington equally great as Ricky Jerret, his character providing the best insights into the conflict some sportspeople endure between loyalty, money, and fit with a team. The thirty minute run-time, which does keep things pretty brisk, may be what limits more devotion to these side characters. An utterly wasted Andy Garcia perhaps being the most egregious. The bigger problem stems from the masculine domination of the show. It’s part of the narrative to a point, a depiction of bro-culture, chauvinistic behavior within this industry. But again, Arielle Kebbel proves such a great foil to Johnson, her incredibly fleeting appearances serves to underline how much the show needs more of a female presence. A little more balance, and a little more support for Johnson, could go a long way to pushing Ballers to the next level.
Ballers is a bright, colorful show, reflecting it’s setting in Miami. The transfer is of top quality, showcasing good detail and a vibrant palette, another solid release by HBO.
Special features are limited to a series of Inside the episode featurettes, each running just a few minutes and giving a little insight into each episode and their place within the season’s arc. It’s a shame no episode commentaries were recorded, the chemistry between Johnson and Cordry would have guaranteed them to be a great addition. A digital download code for all 10 episodes is included.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Baller’s second season begins to show some of the shows flaws, notably the lack of development in the supporting characters, but overall it makes for a pleasant enough diversion, even more so for those susceptible to Johnson’s charisma. He continues to be the main draw and Ballers gives him ample opportunity to flex both his dramatic and comedic muscles.
Ballers Season 2 is available from HBO Home Entertainment on January 31st