Welcome back to The Ballers Report, your weekly recap of the HBO Original Series Ballers. Miss the first installment? Click right here! Now, without any further preamble, let’s begin.
As a disclaimer, I’ll be spoiling everything that’s happened through Season 2, Episode 2 of Ballers. So, if you haven’t watched yet, go do that. Here, look at this beautiful picture of Dwayne Johnson, Andy Garcia, and Rob Corddry (and various extras) enjoying a nice afternoon cocktail at the Miami Tennis Open on Key Biscayne:
Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is recovering from last week's fight with Terrell Suggs. To deal with that pain, the former NFL LB is popping Vicodin like they're M&M's. He runs out, can't get a refill, and has to meet with his doctor for a new prescription. This scene is filled with hesitance by the Doctor to provide another prescription of the series 2 drug to someone who might already be abusing them. Strasmore lies about his hip pain (he claims it was Tennis-related. HA) and exhibits a lot of unsettling behavior. We'll come back to this later.
Strasmore and girlfriend journalist Tracy Leggette (Arielle Kebbel) recount Strasmore and Suggs making up at Ricky Jarrett's birthday party, and spin the conversation towards her character. Leggette is looking for equal standing and equal pay in a male dominated profession. When she meets with her boss from the TV station to discuss these issues, Leggette is met with a barrage of sexually charged statements, rife with every chauvinistic and misogynistic cliché in the book. The boss calls her "legs" and wants to know where the girl who would laugh at his dirty double entendres has gone. Kebbelle ends the conversation with her boss by quitting. We'll come back to this later as well.
WR Ricky Jarrett (John David Washington) and LT Charles Greane (Omar Miller) both look for clarity in their dealings with the Dolphins. Greane, a 12 year veteran, is asked to move away from "The Blindside" to Right Tackle, a starting position but a demotion for a younger, cheaper player. Jarrett continues his weird training regimen by getting beaten with a stick, and meets with his agent and best friend to go over potential destinations in free agency.
Looking to become his own man, Reggie (London Brown) meets with Strasmore's business partner Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) to make a case for himself. This is directly from the Entourage playbook. In Season 5 of that series, Turtle starts to voice the same concerns, not wanting to be wholly beholden to his rich friend. It's only taken 12 episodes for Reggie to get to the same place. The meal ticket, Cowboys DT Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) just inked an extension worth $84 Million in the Season 1 finale. That may be in jeopardy now, however, as unhappy with the salary offer, Reggie shoots Vernon while he was in a precarious position during a paintball outing with friends, causing Vernon to fall and hurt his leg. The severity of that injury is yet unknown, but it'll probably be bad.
Strasmore and Krutel meet with Terrell Suggs at the Anderson Sports Management offices. Suggs wants to leave his financial manager Andre Allen (Andy Garcia) to go with Strasmore. Krutel initially voices his concerns, but eventually gets on-board with the plan. Suggs, not wanting to deal with Allen, dispatches the pairing of Strasmore and Krutel to handle his dirty work. While heading to meet with Allen at the Miami Tennis Open, Strasmore confides in Krutel that Allen once mismanaged his money, causing Strasmore to play another season in the NFL to make ends meet. So, this war against Allen isn't just professional; there's some "personal" in there too. And, finally, after a bit of witty repartee, Strasmore finally handles the business at hand: he fires Allen on behalf of Suggs. And now we have a battle on our hands.
Now, back to the main issues from this week
Ballers is a summer fun show. It's got vibrant colors, lots of great music, a ton of sports and pop culture cameos, and plenty of eye candy, no matter what your preference may be. While all of that is true, the show is starting to tackle real-world issues that many are afraid to discuss.
First of all, Dwyane Johnson's character Spencer Strasmore is dealing with potential addition to a series 2 drug: vicodin. There have been many instances of current and former NFL players talking about the absolute need for narcotics to help them deal with the pain of life in the league, and after. Seeing Strasmore blatantly, and easily, lie his way into another prescription was unsettling, to say the least. The show overall may still be fun, but this storyline is very real, and very serious.
Additionally, Arielle Kebbel's character Stacy Leggette is dealing with a host of issues. She is faced with sexism in the form of verbal harrassment, lower wagers due to compensation inequality, and more. This is something that I can't speak on with authority, but it has come up in the worlds of sports and journalism many times in recent months. Like Strasmore's addiction storyline, Leggette is faced with issues that are very serious.
I tuned in expecting just to have a fun 30 minutes and go on about my night. However, with the inclusion of more real-life issues, Ballers may being to examine several issues that need to be discussed, no matter how uncomfortable they might make people.
An outdoor meeting at a beautiful restaurant. Standard stuff on Ballers.
Dolphins LT Charles Greane (Omar Miller on L) and Free Agent WR Ricky Jarret (John David Washington on R) engage in some interesting training.
Jarret meets with agent Jason Antolotti (Troy Garrity) and friend TTD (Carl McDowell) to go over free agency options.
Star Cowboys DT Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter) might have a problem with his leg.
Greane and Dolphins Coach Peter Berg talk about the future at a waterside bar.
Just a Pagani in front of the Tennis stadium on Key Biscayne.
Usually one of the strong suits of an HBO summer series like Ballers and its predecessor Entourage, the cameo list is very light this week. With Hollywood powerhouses Peter Berg (Dolphins Coach Peter Berg....how creative) and Andy Garcia (rival financial manager Andre Allen) taking the majority of the guest star payroll this week, that makes sense. That’s not to say there weren’t any cameos this week; there were. And, they were as follows:
|Professional Tennis Player
|Phillip Rivers (by screenshot)
|San Diego Chargers
|Rex Ryan (by dialogue)
|Tyrod Taylor (by dialogue)
|Aaron Rodgers (by dialogue)
|Green Bay Packers
|Tom Brady (by screenshot)
|New England Patriots
|Bill Belicheck (by screenshot)
|New England Patriots
|Drew Brees (by screenshot)
|New Orleans Saints
|Sean Payton (by screenshot)
|New Orleans Saints
|Manny Pacquiao (by dialogue)
Yes, I beefed up the list with all the people mentioned by dialogue or shown in a screenshot. Fight me about it. Here are pics of Suggs and Wozniacki, who appeared in various scenes in the episode
Terrell Suggs making a choice for his future.
Caroline Wozniacki and her financial manager Andre Allen (Andy Garcia).
I’m a trained musician and lifelong music nerd, so this is always my favorite part of The Ballers Report. And, Music Supervisor Scott Vener RT’d/Fav'd me praising his work this week, which is pretty cool if you ask me.
Kingston by Brolin. The opening of the song evokes old delta blues songs. Synthesized claps keep the rhythmic energy moving forward, and a sultry, breathy vocal tone becomes muddied on occasion with a gravely quality. Simple chord progression in the piano helps anchor the song and create the foundation for the melody to work its magic.
Shake whatcha mama gave ya by Poison Clan. Man, if you don’t know this song, I can’t help you. This joint jams. There’s really nothing else to be said.
Trophy by Charli XCX. An energetic anthem that fits in the hip-hop/pop style. Lots of synthesized sounds, a driving rhythmic foundation, and siren sounds build the intensity into a repetitive but sparse chorus ("I want that trophy").
Live this moment by Kakou. This is a slow, melody driven ballad. There are some pop influences in the instrumental, but the voice, or voices in harmony at times, really drive this song. There’s a simple instrumental underneath, with intermittent drums, but the falsetto vocals of Kakou make this song come alive.
Can’t do nothin’ for ya, man by Public Enemy featuring Flava Flav. Another classic. This helps ground the shows musical soundscape, and shows a bit more of Vener’s range as a Music Supervisor. And, thematically, it comes when Vernon and Reggie are discussing Reggie’s potential salary. Genius.
And, this one was the song that got everybody hype. The Closing Credit song (aka the show’s feature song of the week):
War Ready by Vince Staples, featuring a sample of ATLiens by Outkast, using Andre 3000’s verse. The placement in Ballers was actually the world-premiere of this song. Not bad.
This song is a tour-de-force from the first beat. It starts with 3 stacks’ famous verse from ATLiens, then goes into Staples’ 1 verse flow which hits hard from front to back. It’s only 1:09, but it’s packed with musical greatness. I know we’re only 2 episodes into this season, but this is my favorite song placement so far and it’s not even close.
*UPDATE: Staples pulled the song down off of Soundcloud. I'm hurt. I'm very hurt. I'll post it again if/when it's back up.
* * * * *
That's it for this installment of The Ballers Report. Until next week, friends.