This previous weekend, the first season of HBO’s show Ballers came to an end after a brief ten-episode season. Throughout the course of this short season, we were treated to the Rock’s return to television, several famous athlete cameos, and the lavish A-list parties that we seem to take for granted after the first few episodes. While the characters definitely experienced their fair share of ups and downs, my opinion of the show throughout the season experienced the most movement, and sadly I have to report that it was at its lowest at the end of the season. In order to accurately describe my opinion of the show, I’m going to break it into 3 separate chunks (beginning, middle, and end) to review.
When the first few episodes of the show premiered I was actually really infatuated with the premise on a personal level. While football is not a sport that I care all that much about, I was really interested in the sports agent lifestyle that the show seemed to focus on more (quick fun fact, throughout most of middle and high school I wanted to be a sports agent). During those first few episodes, in my opinion, the show was executed perfectly. The audience was treated to the behind the scenes clean up work that goes on in professional sports instead of the generic locker room motivational speech that seems mandated in every sports film. In addition to the clean-up work, a fair amount of screen time is devoted to showing the audience the way sports agents need to kiss up to players in order to get them to sign with their agency. During this period of the show, as a sports fan, I felt like this may be the ultimate show to document, in an exciting way, what 21st century professional sports have become. Unfortunately, toward the middle of the season, the sheen of the show had begun to wear off.
In my opinion, creating a successful television show is unquantifiably harder than making a successful movie for several reasons. However, the biggest is that a television show must be able to create a story that only a handful of characters carry not only from week to week, but also year to year. As Ballers started to reach midseason, a lot of what made it a fresh and exciting take on the sports genre started to fade away, and in reality, the show was just not as entertaining. While I believe the acting was on par, there were many moments where the story just became stale. This was due to a surplus of common tropes being used, such as a man trying to hide an affair from his wife or a life long friend taking advantage of his newly successful friend. The main characters that the previous episodes centered around just became really uninteresting caricatures of the round characters that they once were in previous episodes. While the main arcs were becoming sport themed soap operas, the show was able to redeem itself by keeping to its core by devoting more screen time to side characters that previously were not featured in their own scenes.
I hate to use the word unfortunately again, not only because it sounds repetitive, but also because that must mean the show got worse, and unfortunately it did. The only redeeming arcs of the show continued to shift into common television tropes such as “wanting to start your own company because your boss doesn’t value your work”. For a show that I thought would bring new conventions to a previously flushed out genre, it ended its inaugural season with a forgettable second half that reaffirmed the idea that sports and media can only merge so far. But I cannot really blame it. This is what happens with American television shows. The show got renewed for another season; that means more money, and instead of creating a sufficient story for the show’s universe and sacrificing a bigger paycheck, the show shifted away from its core. I feel like this is an issue that happens to nearly all good shows on television. If, in America, we followed the British practice of making a few really short seasons, we would not only have more digestible content, but much higher quality content as well.
In conclusion, Ballers started off as a much-needed show that would provide the documentation for something that is embedded in the fabric of American life, but it slowly transitioned downward into an overall forgettable show with a few highlights. If you are on the fence about watching the show, I still recommend giving it a try. The whole first season is only about 5 hours long, and while it seems like I really bashed on it in this article, it is not a dull show. My biggest criticism is that it had so much more potential and would have worked out as a great mini series if the people behind the camera polished the story just a tad more. With all of this in consideration, I give the show 3 out of 5 Reels.
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