‘Ballers’ Review: Can The Rock Save Football ‘Entourage’ From Itself?

Here are some things that happen in the first four episodes of HBO’s new football series, Ballers:

  • Everyone wears very expensive suits and drives very expensive cars.
  • There are lots of cameos by famous people.
  • A character says, I swear to God, “Should I grab some of these funeral hoes?”
  • There is an episode that takes place almost entirely on a yacht.
  • During the yacht party, a groupie takes her dress off and shouts “I LOVE MIAMI,” moments before a number of characters begin doing lines of cocaine off of her surgically enhanced breasts.
  • The yacht plot carries over into the next episode.
  • One character’s primary struggle is the fallout he faces after sleeping with his teammate’s mom.

If all of that sounds kind of like Football Entourage to you, there’s a pretty good reason for that: Ballers is Football Entourage. I mean, basically. It’s not a carbon copy or anything. Whereas Entourage focused on a group of childhood friends living it up in Hollywood as they navigated the movie industry with the help of a loudmouth superagent, Ballers focuses on a strong, quiet financial advisor trying to build a post-football career by wrangling current players as clients, many of whom are living it up in Miami with their entourage (lowercase, non-italicized) of childhood friends. But the same themes are there. Parties, yachts, female characters that exist only as sex objects or mothers (or both), etc. It’s like Entourage if Entourage was Playmakers and about Ari instead of Vince. And if Jeremy Piven was The Rock.

But here’s the thing: It’s more watchable than Entourage, and it’s entirely due to that last sentence, because as we’ve noted previously, The Rock can make anything better.

The Rock plays Spencer, the aforementioned strong, silent, Rock-like main character. Spencer is a former All-Pro defensive end who is in semi-secret money trouble a few years into retirement. In an effort to dig himself out of that hole, he is working for a financial services company, with a greedy partner (Rob Corddry) who only hired him to leverage his relationships to current players. That’s where the yacht party comes in. The Rock and Corddry throw it on their boss’s boat in an attempt to woo new clients, one of whom is a young Cowboys lineman in line for a new contract, who is the show’s Vince, and who has his own E, who is also his Turtle and Drama, somehow, and is The Rock’s nemesis. Hijinks ensue. Ballers is exactly what you think it is, for better or worse. High drama this ain’t.

(There’s a good reason why this all feels so Entourage-y, by the way: Ballers was created by Steve Levinson, a producer on Entourage, and Mark Wahlberg has an EP credit. And in a loosely related side note that I’m including in this parenthetical because I don’t know where else to put it, how in the world did The Rock never make a cameo on Entourage? They let Chuck Liddell make a cameo, for the love of God. Come on.)

But again, not unwatchable, even for all its bro-y wish fulfillment, and that’s because we have reached a point — here, in 2015 — where The Rock has become one of our country’s most charismatic and likable leading men. Let that one sink in a bit. And I don’t mean that as a dig against the rest of Hollywood, either. I’m honestly at the point where I think I would watch The Rock in anything. The Rock in remakes of popular movies of yore? Sure! The Rock and Vin Diesel criss-cross the globe to take down Jason Statham? Obviously! The Rock in a paper-thin comedy about professional football players partying in Miami? Apparently! Admittedly this says as much about me as it does about most of these projects, but still.

So, anyway, should you watch Ballers? That depends. Do you want to watch people partying on boats and in fancy hotels and dealing with problems like many attractive women wanting to sleep with them, all while receiving advice from The Rock that they largely ignore so they can keep partying on boats and in fancy hotels and dealing with problems like many attractive women wanting to sleep with them? And/or do you just really like The Rock? Then yes, you should definitely watch Ballers. Otherwise? Nah.