May 27, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: BALLERS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Rob Corddry, John David Washington, Omar Miller, Donovan W. Carter, Troy Garity, London Brown, Jazmyn Simon. Various Directors. (2015, 358 min).
HBO HOME ENTERTAINMENT

Wanna feel like a complete slacker? Consider the life of Dwayne Johnson. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, popping up in two-to-four movies a year (including some actual good ones), has hosted Saturday Night Live four times, produced two reality TV shows and still revisits his WWE roots by jumping back in the ring from time to time. If he wasn’t so goddamn likable (he’s even stayed married to the same woman for 20 years), we’d be sick of him. Now Johnson’s managed to work yet-another series, HBO’s Ballers, into his schedule. As both star and executive producer, you have to wonder if this guy ever sleeps.

Ballers is a dramedy about all the big money, greed, contract dealings, decadence and extravagant lifestyles we typically associate with professional athletes (in this case, the NFL). Whether or not it's an accurate depiction is a question best left to others, but these 10 episodes seem to talk-the-talk & walk-the-walk (especially since it appears to have the full cooperation of the NFL). Though similar to Starz' basketball-themed Survivor's Remorse, Ballers features better writing and more dynamic characters. Regarding the latter, Johnson is ironically one of the least interesting. Sure, he's his usual charming self and completely likable as Spencer Strasmore, a former NFL star turned financial manager for younger upstarts. But like most of Johnson's roles, he's simply playing an extension of himself. Far more intriguing are Rob Corddrey as Strasmore's manic, socially-challenged partner, and John David Washington (Denzel's son) as a hot-headed, self-centered wide-receiver, trying (in vain?) not to blow the last chance afforded him by the Miami Dolphins.

The new HBO series, Balder Ballers.

Narratively, there are few surprises, since we've always suspected most pro athletes' problems (financial or personal) are ones we can only dream of having. But the journey is entertaining, and overall, the series does a good job making us care what happens to most of these characters. Of course, being an HBO series, Ballers is loaded with sex, drug use and other forms of Entourage-like behavior (even Johnson’s character engages in some gratuitous bumping-of-uglies in a later episode).

Most importantly, with episodes running a half-hour each, the show moves at a quick pace and seldom becomes repetitive. It’s also quite funny at times (the biggest laugh of the season coming from a wild pitch during a Florida Marlins game from one of Strasmore’s former opponents). The first season wraps things up a bit too neatly, but all-in-all, Ballers is a fun look at the wild side of professional sports and a supremely bingeworthy set of discs.

BONUS FEATURES:
“Inside the Episodes” - Short two-minute synopses of each of the 10 episodes by executive producer Evan Reilly and various cast members.
Digital Copy

KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE SHOULDERPADS.

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