The buddy system mentality kept Entourage spinning on HBO for seven seasons, and produced a feature film to boot. A similar theme fuels HBO's new comedy Ballers, premiering Sunday, finding that the guy code is just as potent in professional football as it is in Hollywood.
Dwayne Johnson stars as former Miami Dolphin Spencer Strasmore, who is trying to find his way in life now that big money, hordes of available women and instant recognition are behind him. Like so many others in careers with a foreshortened life span, Spencer hasn't done a lot of planning. He's learned his lesson, though, and hopes to put his latter-day enlightenment to use for a financial management firm which has hired him for his access to highly paid football pros.
His boss, Joe (Rob Corddry), is star-struck by Johnson's pals from his gridiron days. There's Charles Green (Omar Miller), who is equally at sea now that his football career is behind him, but lacking Spencer's celebrity wattage, he gets a job at a Florida Chevrolet dealership. They do have a lot in common, though: Both are hired because of who they were, not because of what they can necessarily do.
Spencer isn't about to just use his pro ball connections for business purposes: Friendship and loyalty are more important to him. He lends his pal Vernon (Donovan W. Carter) $300,000 to help support his money-grubbing family and assorted hangers-on. He wants to sign Vernon as a client, not just to make money, but to protect Vernon from himself. If he keeps trying to support everyone else, he's going to wind up broke with no options when his football career ends.
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The trouble is, Vernon is fiercely loyal as well, and won't make a move without the OK of his longtime friend Reggie (London Brown).
The series was created by Steve Levinson and is often very funny, thanks mostly to Corddry's character.
But it also has depth and an underlying poignancy. Many of these guys came from nothing. Although their options were limited, they knew how to play football and play it well. Instead of winding up in low-paying jobs, or worse, they were suddenly making millions of dollars as instant celebrities. It was all so dazzling, for a while.
But it isn't destined to last. Even players who were smart enough to put money aside while they were making it, or invest it wisely, find the fall is a hard one, once the glory has faded.
Regardless of success or failure in his new life, Spencer is haunted by his past. He's prone to a recurring nightmare of getting his bell run during his playing days. His friend with occasional benefits, sportscaster Tracy Legett (Arielle Kebbel), is determined to have Spencer evaluated for longterm effects of concussive injuries.
The show is nicely packaged and every performance is a knockout, including Troy Garity as Jason, Spencer's former agent who still makes dreams real for current NFL players. In another context, he'd be named Mephistopheles.
Ballers has play.