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HBO’s Ballers Needs a Reboot

The Rock's NFL comedy has a lot going for it—but it might be better if it were less of a comedy in the first place.

After spending the entire series of Ballers running away from his problems, Spencer Strasmore finally confronted it all in the season finale on Sunday. He apologized for his financial mistakes at an NFL rookie symposium (where he concluded by calling himself a dishonest, untrustworthy piece of shit) and finally accepted he was physically washed by getting the hip replacement he's been putting off all season, walking into the surgery room as Lost Under Heaven's "I&I" played over the end credits. Strasmore finally dealt with his shit—and now Ballers needs to do the same as the show heads into Season Three. It needs to stop straddling the comedy-drama line and figure out what the show wants to be.

On the whole, Season Two of Ballers is a lot more enjoyable than its first season. Bringing in Andy Garcia as Andre, a ghost from Spencer's past, and making him the main rival all year gave Spencer's story arc some direction. And while the show still needs to find more for Ricky Jerret to do, his season-long storyline of figuring out where he wanted to play next was an insightful look at everything athletes have to consider—legacy, money, location—when they are free to explore the market. Charles’s front office gig is going to destroy his marriage, and Vernon might be ruining his career by coming back from an injury too early.

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The common thread here is that there's no glamour in any of these storylines. Spencer is one of the most unsuccessful financial advisors in television history. Ricky is going through a midlife athlete crisis. The strip-club and pool-party scenes on the show aren't even that fun. It's a bunch of people realizing that behind whatever superficial façade the sports world is allowing them to put up, they're a bunch of empty, washed-up people without an idea of what to do next.

These are people dealing with real problems, not comedy problems—so while it sounds like a real downer, in reality what Ballers needs to be is a drama.

The show should come back next season and fully dive into what a dark place post-retirement can be for an athlete.

There could still be laughs. Joe is great comic relief, and the wonderful soundtrack, with its many callbacks to classic 90's hip-hop (seriously, what other show closes episodes with Big Pun's "Beware" and Beanie Sigel's "I Can't Go On This Way"), could stay intact. But Ballers is not Entourage, especially when Spencer is catching insufficient funds notices at the ATM and getting yelled at by NFL running back-turned-Broadway actor Eddie George after losing all his money. Ballers is also not Eastbound & Down, because The Rock is too straight-man to be the absurd delight that is Kenny Powers. So what exactly is Ballers?

It's a decent show, but it should be more. The show should come back next season and fully dive into what a dark place post-retirement can be for an athlete. We've seen glimpses of it with Spencer, but let's build on these first 20 episodes and get a more complete view next season. And that's the more positive thing coming out of the season two finale. The show has made Spencer his a personal rock bottom and left it open-ended for the character to go in any direction it wants. (Tangentially related: The Rock should also execute the Rock Bottom on someone next season.)

Just do it, Ballers. Do it all the way. Reinvent the show and embrace the dramatic elements that makes the show work. Stop trying to run such a balanced offense. Call an audible. Put the ball in the hands of your superstar and let him go to work. Shrink the playbook, just keep running the three plays that got you to the goal line. Help me stop using sports metaphors to end this piece. Make a better show next season.

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