FURTHER REVIEW: The Rock Is Angry (You’ll Actually Like Him When He’s Angry)
At this point, I think it's fair for me to say I'm not a fan of HBO's "Ballers." It's a base-level look at the predatory fraternity that is sports finance. The show seems more concerned with showing you what a coked-out yacht party looks like than delving into the reasons as to why those parties even exist in the first place.
Last night, however, took me by surprise. It was as if the show's writers were trying to make up for the awkward 30-minute boobfest that was Episode three by inviting us into the actual negotiations between players, agents and general managers; as well as the internal struggle former players face when coming to grips with their brain health.
If there is one thing about the premise of this show that interests me, it's the prospect of seeing how players navigate the less glamorous aspects of NFL life. And while an authentic dramatization of NFL contract negotiations isn't exactly a scene out of this season's "True Detective," it is, however, a striking depiction of reality that draws you in more than any gullwinged Lamborghini ever could.
Episode four opens with Spencer reliving the massive hit he laid on a Buffalo Bills player a fews years back -- a collision which the show frequently points to as a moment when he (probably) sustained a brain injury. His reluctance to admit that this hit was more than just your run-of-the-mill, rub-some-dirt-on-it bell-ringing ends up being The Rock's first attempt at acting in the entire series. It is a problem that he must learn how to solve, but clearly will not do so in 20 minutes (unlike the show's previous contrived obstacles, which are usually dealt with over the course of one episode). It is here that we begin to see the sadness behind Spencer's calm, cool demeanor, which makes "Ballers" look like a compelling TV show for once. At the same time, it makes me wonder why the hell it's taking them so long to actually get into these kinds of interesting details about major characters.
Oh wait, I know why. Boobs and cars. Duh.
If "Ballers" was a burger, this is how it'd look:
The best moment in Episode four had to be the poolside negotiations between Spencer, Jason, stud defensive end Vernon Littlefield and his irrationally confident confidant, Reggie -- who's become as distracting as a chihuahua on an airplane. Reggie desperately needs to get his comeuppance and the show has been slowly building towards that moment (which makes him extra annoying any time he's on screen). Luckily, they gave us a taste of what that will look like last night after he displayed his crude negotiating tactics.
REGGIE: 101 million, 50 million guaranteed. And none of this new money analysis shit neither where they count money they already owe us as new money paid.
SPENCER: (Chuckles) You need more bedrest, Reggie.
JASON: 101, that's more than J.J. Watt.
REGGIE: That's no accident.
JASON: Well, ya know, with all due respect, you're fucking crazy. J.J. Watt is changing the game. For God's sake the man's receiving touchdown passes.
REGGIE: Vernon can catch! Or maybe you feel J.J. deserves more because -- because he's white.
JASON: You want me to grab a pair of pom poms and put on a short skirt or do you want me to speak the truth and get our man the best deal possible? It's a process.
REGGIE: We don't care about the process, we just want to see results.
Millions of dollars at-stake? Race-baiting? A neck brace? A "you're fucking crazy"? Whoa, this thing just got interesting!
[Cue Bronx cheer]
The Rock's character then suggests the group use Gerald McCoy's contract as a rubric for Littlefield's deal, as opposed to the gargantuan sum of money the Houston Texans pay J.J. Watt. When they eventually contact the Cowboys to let them know how much money Vernon is asking for, the plot thickens as we see a general manager who's stubborn about taking such a massive cap hit. This puts the agency between the proverbial rock and a hardplace (pun not intended), which plays out in dramatic fashion later in the episode when a tense standoff between Spencer and the Reggie-Vernon duo yields "Ballers'" first glimpse of Spencer losing his cool in a believable fashion.
He tells Vernon to fuck off -- as soon as he repays the $300,000 Spencer lent to him to support clingers like Reggie, who are complicating his contract negotiations in more ways than one.
Episode four finally showed us what we've wanted to see all along: problems that can't be solved with a hug and a handshake. Players fighting with agents. Agents fighting with general managers. Agents fighting with players. MRI's that reveal brain damage. This is the stuff viewers want to see, which is why last night's episode was so much better than the last three. Are players greedy if they hold out for more money, even if they intend to use to build a wing at a children's hospital? How do agents navigate extraneous family members who hijack contract talks? Would you really want to know if you were prematurely succumbing to dementia? These are all difficult questions that the show has (finally) decided to investigate.
Let's just hope Episode five stays on track and doesn't devolve into another Patrón chugging contest.
EPISODE 5 PREVIEW:
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