HBO has announced its renewal of its freshman series “Ballers” for a second season.
“The charismatic and hugely talented Dwayne Johnson, along with the rest of the ‘Ballers’ cast, has truly struck a chord with the HBO audience,” said Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. “We are thrilled with the overwhelming response the series has received and look forward to another exciting season.”
The first episode has drawn 8.9 million viewers, although that’s cumulative, across all of HBO’s branded platforms, making it HBO’s most watched first episode of a half-hour series since 2009.
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.
It’s not a series that’s hooked me at all, and I’m actually a Dwayne Johnson fan. I’ve watched every episode so far, and I don’t think I’ll sticking around for more. But I’m just one voice; here’s a sample of what critics are saying about it, if you haven’t yet seen any of it, and are curious, especially with today’s renewal news:
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.