When HBO fan favorite “Entourage” rode into the sunset in 2011, the network was left with a void in its “party-comedy” programming. No, party-comedy isn’t an actual type of show, but I’m coining the term to describe a series that centers its comedy around its obscene parties, so mark it down.
HBO tried, and failed, to fill this vacancy through an “Entourage” movie spin-off four years later, but it was another show that premiered that same summer — “Ballers” — that ultimately picked up the mantle from “Entourage.”
Throughout its first season, “Ballers” firmly established itself as a quality party-comedy, giving us an exciting glimpse into the sex-drugs-booze lifestyle of NFL players in Miami. Led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (“Fast & Furious 6”), Anderson Financial Management more than embraced a work-hard-play-hard mentality. Never taking itself too seriously, “Ballers” had a strong first season that kept audiences engaged. However, the second season saw the series ratchet up its intensity through a drawn-out mentor-protégé rivalry between Johnson and Andy Garcia (“Ocean’s Eleven”). Rather than returning to its roots, “Ballers”’s latest season doubles down on its rapidly-expanding storyline and, while enjoyable, overextends itself at times.
For “Ballers,” most of the trouble it has encountered as a show is in trying to sell Johnson’s character as a shrewd businessman, despite the fact that it goes entirely against his background that the series established in season one. In its first season, “Ballers” made a point of emphasizing Johnson’s continued financial troubles that leave him on the brink of bankruptcy. The show went out of its way to present Johnson’s struggles to convince both colleagues and players he is capable with money.
After laying out this specific foundation for Johnson, “Ballers” proceeded to tear it down in season two, and continues to do so in season three at its own peril. While it’s typical for comedies to have characters that fluctuate frequently, these changes are always done in a way that doesn’t contradict a character’s essential quality or identity. “Ballers” makes this very mistake in the season three premiere, as Johnson attends a dinner hosted by casino magnate Wayne Hastings (Steve Guttenberg, “Police Academy”) and manages to woo him as a business partner. While it’s true that Johnson has improved his business acumen, it’s hard to believe he’s refined it enough to convince a financial mogul to partner with him, considering Johnson is the same person who, although broke himself, gave a $300,000 loan to another player.
If audiences can overcome its somewhat stretched storyline, “Ballers” rewards them with a wildly entertaining series. As a party-comedy, the series has consistently excelled at keeping viewers engaged and excited by focusing on its characters’ lifestyles rather than only their careers. From the supercharged Maclarens to the gorgeous yachts, “Ballers” revels in depicting the very best toys that Miami’s superstar athletes enjoy. Season three is no different, with its premiere featuring a few shots of Ricky Jerret’s (John David Washington, “Coco”) candy-apple red Ferrari roaring through the city.
Outside of its entertainment value, “Ballers” provides audiences with an effective number of hilarious scenes. Rob Corddry (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) continues to be the ideal complement to Johnson’s straight man, and, when paired, they dominate the screen with their chemistry. At dinner with Hastings and Johnson, Corddry takes the entire table by shock by toasting to living in a country “where a man is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty.” Corddry’s brash, childish personality continues to crack up viewers, and the hope is that “Ballers” can keep doing the same.