Entouragers! I know you are out there, I have heard your screams of anguish, and I am here to save you. Well, kind of. I know how much you miss watching Vinnie and the boys tear up Hollywood. And I get it! Screw the critics, number one thing I’m down to suspend my disbelief for is the idea that a 5’4” Irish kid can land models on the reg. That’s just fun as hell, and since it’s ended, it’s left a hole in all of our hearts – one so big that even a 104 minute episode playing in movie theaters can’t fill it. And that’s a sad thing.
So sad that Entourage executive producer Mark Wahlberg saw this gap, and knew he had to do whatever it took to change it. So, he called up his brothers and got every burger from every Wahlburger restaurant across the country and loaded them up into the back of a pickup truck. He backed that truck up and unloaded all of those burgers onto the driveway of the only man that could help him.
“Dwayne. The last time we joined forces, Michael Bay was able to make a movie that actually didn’t suck. I know if we combine our powers now, we’ll be stronger than ever. Help me make a new Entourage and all of these burgers can be yours.”
The Rock leaned down, picked up a burger and took a bite. He chewed for what seemed like an eternity as Marky Mark looked at him with lines of desperation and worry stretched across his face. Finally, he swallowed. “Okay, Mark. Pain and Gain for life.”
Just like that Entouragers, all of your problems have been solved. Ballers is the new beefed up version of the show you loved – scrawny Vinnie Chase replaced by the most jacked movie star on the planet, Dwanye Johnson. The Rock plays Spencer Strasmore, a retired football star looking to make a new career for himself in the financial management business. Three episodes in and it’s clear that this show has doubled down on all of the aspects that drew viewers to Entourage – the extravagant partying lifestyle, the girls, even the banter between Spencer and his goofy balding business partner conjure up memories of Turtle and Drama going back and forth.
Despite all of that though, as you watch it you can’t help but feel as though something is missing. It’s not really a quality thing because you know what you’re getting out of a show like this, more that when you watch Ballers you just really don’t care what happens. Somehow this show manages to feel even more inconsequential than Entourage, which went four seasons before any real problems started affecting the characters (said problem being Vinnie in a fat suit playing Pablo Escobar, which was always a bad idea.)
“Awwwwwwww!” Marky Mark hangs his head oh so sadly. “But why? I gave you beautiful naked people and a yacht party with cocaine. Are you not entertained?”
I am Mark, I am, but I think you made two big mistakes here. First – why NFL players man? I get that Dwayne is a big dude but the NBA was the way to go. Part of the fun of Entourage was the cameos – in no other show could Kanye West be a deus ex machina. Ballers goes for the same effect in the first episode with Steeler’s receiver/professional ninja Antonio Brown making a cameo. The issue is, even my grandma has an opinion about Kanye West, but only people that play fantasy football know who Brown is. What if though, instead of Antonio Brown, it was James Harden enjoying an AM Crunch Wrap? Now that’s a cameo I’d be down for. There’s a reason why LeBron takes up like half of the time in Trainwreck’s commercials – people care about NBA players. We see their faces in every game, we wear shoes with their names on them, and we talk about how they were totally high while drinking that slushie. NFL players are way more anonymous, and because of that a cameo from anyone not named Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning goes unnoticed. And unless HBO is ready to shell out some Papa John’s level dough to get them, that aspect of the show loses its appeal.
More importantly though, this show doesn’t have the bromance aspect that kept people coming back to Entourage. It’s still surprisingly funny with its dialogue between Spencer and the people he works with, but the difference is that unlike Entourage, the money comes before the friendship here. Spence takes clients to nightclubs and he parties with them on boats, but the end goal is always getting a contract signed. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but without the friendship that made you care about Vinnie and the boys, the rampant douchebaggery will feel totally pointless unless you find a new aspect of the show to replace it.
The thing is though is that Ballers has the potential to be an Actually Good Show instead of just the fly-on-the-wall escapism that Entourage was. It deals with the dark side of what all those years of hitting people does to you – the first time we meet Spencer he gets out of bed and pops pills – pills that we see him take time and time again throughout the show so far. Ballers also avoids the everything will work out mentality towards money that Vince had and focuses on the reality that many young athletes end up totally broke. Supporting characters here are also super interesting – a lineman that retired too early and can’t find a purpose in life without the game, a hot-headed receiver that keeps blowing his second chances. These people interest me, and I want to see more of the nuances of their lives and Spencer’s addiction. Instead, in the last episode I got soft-core porn and a lot of cocaine.
Ballers needs to decide if it want’s to be Entourage’s perverted cousin or if it wants to be appreciated in it’s own accord because right now it feels stuck between the two. It will be fine regardless – Johnson is a huge star and people will watch for him alone – but with the potential of the characters and the dark comedic side that Johnson showed in Pain and Gain, I’d love for this show to become something more.