As many shows that I grow to love have that moment when I’m taken out of the fictional world I’m meant to lose myself in. I can often recall it more accurately than where I placed my house keys or wallet. It’s at those moments when I say, “This isn’t cutting it anymore.”
This thought has crossed my mind during season three of HBO’s half-hour drama Ballers, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rob Corddry, and John David Washington. The show is based around a fictional version of the NFL, and it focuses on the life of the players and their agents, as well as on the business of the sport. In seasons past the show has touched upon reliance on painkillers, bad monetary investments by players, and the transition to a life outside of football.
This season the show took an ambitious approach. In an instance of art imitating reality, the show’s lead character, Spencer Strasmore, spearheads an initiative to bring a football team to the city of Las Vegas. As this storyline has already played out in real life, with the Oakland Raiders poised to leave California in two years for a shiny new stadium in Vegas, the narrative seems redundant.
Sadly, the other storylines also go wide left of the uprights. In other genres such as soap operas and dramas, an unwanted pregnancy, differences between boss and employees, and a troubled yet promising character are usually par for the course. However, including all of these situations as secondary plots in Ballers is more comical than insightful. While the acting continues to be a strength, these storylines made me doubt where the show was heading.
That was until the most recent episode. Washington’s character, Ricky Jerret, has what first appear to be comical mishaps but now seem to be signs of CTE. While the relocation of an NFL franchise is a simmering headline, the effects of the game on the health and safety of its players is a boiling topic that the NFL does not want to dwell on but that various publications are trying to find out more about in order to answer questions that have lingered over the years.
I’m excited to see where the show takes this plotline. Does Ricky live a semi-normal life now that he can’t remember where he lives, let alone run the correct route? What stance does the fictional version of the league take? Most of all, do the writers and creators have a solution they feel former players and the league could actually use? Another HBO program, The Wire, included designated drug-use zones where dealers could sell and people could use these substances with little interruption from the police. It seemed like a wild concept, but the idea has its merits. In Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, safe injections sites opened to help prevent overdoses, mirroring “Hamsterdam” in The Wire. Perhaps HBO could inadvertently create a solution to the NFL’s perception problem regarding the health of its players.
Back to Ballers, the show was renewed for a fourth season, illustrating once again that The Rock may be the most bankable actor in Hollywood. Hopefully I’ve spoken too soon, and the show picks up steam in the latter half of the season. If not, I hope that Ballers treats the CTE storyline in the honest and entertaining way that HBO is known for with many of its shows. If not, perhaps HBO can rename it to Bailers for season four.