HBO’s new comedy series “Ballers” will kick off a 10-episode season starting Sunday, June 21, at 10pm (it’s a 30-minute show).
Looking at the lives of former and current football players, “Ballers” follows former superstar Spencer Strasmore (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) as he gets his life on track in retirement, while mentoring other current and former players through the daily grind of the business of football.
Omar Benson Miller, John David Washington (Denzel Washington’s son, in his first major acting role), Donovan Carter, Troy Garity, Rob Corrdry, Jazmyn Simon, and Arielle Kebble also star in the series, which is set in Miami, FL, and is created and executive produced by Steve Levinson, with executive producing duties by Mark Wahlberg, Peter Berg, Dany Garcia, Julian Farino, Evan Reilly and Rob Weiss.
John David Washington is also a former college football player who had a stint in the NFL, and has now turned to acting, following in his father’s (and sister’s) footsteps.
And Donovan Carter is also a former college football player as well.
Peter Berg directed the pilot.
Here’s a sample of what critics, who’ve seen some episodes of the new series, are saying about it:
Indiewire: Whether the key to “Ballers'” success is the absence of “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin or the presence of Johnson and EP Peter Berg (who did, admittedly, appear as himself on the old HBO series), the new focus on fame and fortune carries a welcome nod to reality. With transparency between fans and celebrities growing every day, acknowledging the biggest problem facing both parties is half the battle. Here’s hoping The Rock can carry “Ballers” through to an equally realistic end (zone).
HitFix: Johnson’s generally been smart in his career choices, and it’s not hard to understand why he might want to expand his horizons, both in the kind of roles he plays and where he plays them. And “Ballers” is ultimately too forgettable to hurt him in any way; he’s too big and powerful and charming for all of that. But considering all the great work being done in TV at the moment, in both comedy and drama, and the value Johnson could bring to better shows than this, or vice versa, it’s a missed opportunity at a minimum.
AV Club: Even when the performers are at their best, Ballers makes a case for getting them better material. Like Entourage, Ballers is infectious precisely because it emphasizes surfaces over depths and requires almost nothing from the audience. The carefree, sun-soaked Miami of Ballers makes a terrific summer destination, and thanks to some shrewd music supervision, it also sounds good. (There’s a case to be made for any show that provides a wider platform for Slave’s “Watching You.”) But Ballers is hollow at its core.
Variety: “Entourage” is currently back and in theaters, which makes “Ballers” — the sports-world version of the show — feel even more superfluous. Capitalizing 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 capitalizes 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.”
The Hollywood Reporter: You know the type: the basic- and pay-cable male antihero. Walter White. Don Draper. Dr. John Thackery. Tony Soprano. Those charismatic men of few morals who make being bad alluring, if not downright attractive, even with their occasional gray-zone complications. Usually, they’re played by well-tested character actors who have toiled for years and, suddenly, have a chance to show off the full range of their talent. HBO’s new sports dramedy, Ballers, tweaks the formula slightly by casting a bona fide movie star as one of these bad-boy antagonists — an inspired choice, as it turns out.
Overall, somewhat mixed reactions thus far. I didn’t read any that was resoundingly enthusiastic about the show, although there were a few that dismissed it almost entirely. So, I suppose the consensus could be that it’s a watchable (even if it’s only because its standout star, Dwayne Johnson, makes it so), mostly entertaining, if hollow series – certainly not the worst way to kill 30 minutes of your Sunday night.
The trailers I’ve seen thus far have had my attention; although I’m not expecting award-winning material. I’m a Dwayne Johnson fan (I do think he should take a break from acting for a while, given how prolific he’s been in recent years, and may be in danger of over-exposure), and he’s almost always able to make anything he’s in, hold up fairly well, thanks to his onscreen presence, and seeming dedication and commitment to ensuring that nothing is an absolute failure. So I’ll be checking it out myself when it premieres.