Critical Condition: Ballers

In Ballers, which premieres 9.00 Thursday on SoHo, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a retired football superstar who is trying to find a foothold as a financial manager to current players.

“Is this series for you? Certainly not all of you. The language alone may be the deal-breaker, while the sexual objectification of women is appalling — possibly an accurate reflection of some parts of the ‘baller’ culture, but appalling nonetheless. Ballers is for those who cherished the great Ted Kotcheff-directed movie North Dallas Forty, or Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, or even Jerry McGuire. And conspicuously — at times too conspicuously — it’s for those who cherished Entourage. The same strut and swagger is here, except Ballers feels smarter and more clear-eyed about the dangers of this culture, in ways Entourage never did.”

“Created by Entourage’s Stephen Levinson and directed by Friday Night Lights’  Peter Berg, Ballers  stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a pro-football star turned investment counsellor … You could say Ballers is Entourage with African-American football players in place of white would-be actors, and you wouldn’t be far off. But considering how few TV series there are about black men, and how vastly different their milieus, you’d also be stressing what unites the two shows when what matters more are the differences. What’s worse, you’d be seriously undervaluing Johnson, whose imposing physicality, outsized masculine charm and easy way with a line gracefully pull us into Ballers’ world.”

Entourage is currently back and in theaters, which makes Ballers — the sports-world version of the show — feel even more superfluous. Capitalising on the mix of money and groupies that surround major sports in the same way they do Hollywood, this series created by an alum of that aforementioned HBO franchise, Stephen Levinson, is perhaps most notable for bringing Dwayne Johnson to TV (outside of the wresting ring), in a role that capitalises on his football-playing past and knack for comedy. Still, he’s mostly the straight man in these opening episodes, in what could easily be marketed as Entourage … with balls.”

“Given the place sports occupy in our culture, you’d think they would be right up there with doctoring and policing as fodder for television dramas and comedies. But Arli$$ and Friday Night Lights notwithstanding, the number of scripted shows about athletics has always been relatively small. Ballers, a plodding football series that begins Sunday on HBO, suggests why … All of the clichés we know and love from the real-life sports world are duly represented in each half-hour episode … Mostly, though, Ballers consists of too many party scenes and shots of Mr Johnson in sunglasses talking on a cellphone.”

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