We asked resident Entourage apologists Rafael Gaitan and Mark Stack to team up and discuss each week of the spiritual Entourage sequel Ballers. This week sees strife break out between Raf and Mark as they come into disagreement over the show’s handling of Charles Greene after some peaceful discussion of the show’s failings with Spencer and success with Ricky.
Rafael: As evidenced by the never-broadcast titles of these recaps, life is full of disappointments. Let’s address the attractive yet not what we asked for elephant in the room: Angie was NOT played by the ever-so-amazing Carla Gugino. Compounded with a current Entourage catch-sesh that DOES have Carla Gugino, I’m feeling some type of way about Home Box Office’s Ballers this week. And that way is disappointed.
Mark: I am glad that I am not alone in feeling this way. I guess I just expected more? Something funnier, more dynamic, and more engaging. Instead, and this is not a diss on anyone, it felt like exactly the episode that it had to be. It’s the logical next step for the show to take and it follows the path that the writers have put it on. Having only seen the previous episodes, I’m sure we could have turned in a remarkably similar script to the one that was just filmed and televised. Since you brought the attractive but unrecognizable Angie, let’s talk about her and Spencer’s plotline from this episode.
Rafael: Sure. I was actually taken aback by how formulaic it was. If you asked Mark and I to improv what happens, we would have nailed it beat-for-beat: Angie’s mad, Spencer is apologetic, she refutes the apology, he lowers his voice and adds a line to show sincerity- she accepts and they mildly reconcile. Like a young Don Shula in 1971, I’ve come to expect more from this promising show. A real flaw in most populist creative medians today is the treatment of women and the balance of gender, and while Ballers did earn credit by not making Angie a nagging and unreasonable harpie, it also committed the cardinal sin of being boring. There was more tension, sexual or otherwise, between Reggie and Spencer than with Spencer and Angie.
Mark: Her simply being a spurned lover made a lot of sense and her reasons for being mad at Spencer were good ones. She accuses him of using her for a good time and never bothering to invest any real time in getting to know her as a person. If Angie is going to continue being a part of this show then that’s a pretty good motivation for her to come into conflict with Spencer. But, because Spencer has matured a bit and just gotten some pretty solid news from his doctor, he squashes that beef right then and there. It’s a good move for a real person to make but it’s decidedly undramatic on a show that needs drama.
Rafael: I’m glad you tackled that point. That reveal that he was fine was my biggest let-down. Not that I wanted him to be injured, but it was done so flatly, so devoid of ANY tension or release that they could have saved the money and just inserted a title card that said “Spencer is fine lol.” I was so sure that Spencer would have SOMETHING the matter from the game. If this was Aaron Sorkin he would have had a dent in his face and he would have had a speech at a game about how America ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz but I digress. I know this is a “dramedy” but this scene gives me neither. To use another well-worn sports metaphor, these scenes and by extension this episode are just par for the course.
Mark: Why would you wrap up the brain damage storyline so soon before the finale? That’s just an odd way to handle things. Now, I fully expect for Spencer to get a call at some point revealing that he needs to come back in for more testing because they missed something. But I really don’t want “Spencer is brain damaged, Spencer isn’t brain damaged” to be the new “Vince isn’t doing the movie.” That said, the scene of him singing along to Taylor Swift’s rapturous “Shake It Off” in the car after getting the news was the right kind of feel good.
Rafael: Can’t get mad at a man for digging into some Tay-Tay. That was delightful but I think we’ve touched on what we needed to with Spencer’s portion of the story. It’s RMFJ time and our man is in FULL EFFECT, minus Reggie of course. Also shouts to me for layering that pun. Ricky is now hanging with his (cousin? Brother? drug-dealer-keeper-awayer?) and he is mulling all the reasons he wants Bella back. He shows a surprising maturity, and in what is symptomatic of Ricky, it’s because he’s speaking to another man about the situation. In my non-Internet life I have a friend who is dealing with a very similar situation so seeing RMFJ struggle to be taken seriously and prove his willingness and commitment to change rang the truest to me. I could watch a whole season of Ricky Jerret growing up. In a way I guess I kind of have?
Mark: But in true Ricky fashion, he doesn’t actually end up committing to anything at all. He wants Bella back so he leaps to do the childish thing of buying her something as a form of appeasement. That’s not him acting like a child, that’s him treating Bella like a child that can be won over with a new toy. Ricky’s reaction to hearing the $400,000 price tag that accompanies the ring he bought her stands out as the most conventional and possibly funniest joke of the season. It was nice to see Bella call Ricky on his bluff, though, and ask him if he wants to commit for real and marry her. Ricky folds under the pressure and gives her the wishy-washiest “sure, babe” I’ve ever heard when a “no” would have probably been the better and more mature response she would have appreciated.
Rafael: To the show’s credit it does continue to have a mature and enlightened look at Bella. I was so happy when she did not take the bait and immediately realized she was being played. It creates CONFLICT! That will carry the show further! Bella’s going to take him back, there’s no doubt, but at least there are enough swerves that I’m eager to see exactly how #18 does it. Speaking of, that line about the Dolphins store getting calls for his jersey embroidered with “Fuck You, Dad” was my personal highlight. I genuinely laughed out loud, same as when RMFJ hit full-deer-in-headlights.
Mark: Yeah, for all my Raggin’ on Ricky that I do, I think he stands out as the best realized and developed character in the cast. Even when the character is infuriating, the writing and the performance are on point. That’s not the case with the one and only Charles Greene, of Chattin’ bout Charles fame. The performance of Omar Benson is great but this episode sees him struggle to pull together the disparate threads of his character that the writers have been sowing.
Rafael: I know you weren’t a fan of his scenes, but man I do love to see Charles succeed. If this show was written by anyone else he would have thrown his back out pushing that Chevrolet and it would have been played for laughs but man… when his head is on straight you just want to see him succeed! That said, the scene with Seifert (aka Forrest Hill) was so boilerplate. Next time we watch, Mark, let’s play a drinking game. One and only rule: anytime anyone reminds anyone they’re playing for the wrong reasons, take a drink. If Dule Hill is on screen get to an ER immediately. I love you Dule but the Seifert character is quickly wearing out his welcome and importance. That conversation was just a squeakquel to the one Spencer and Charles had but they are actually friends so you believe the advice he gives him. Love the way he talks, loathe what he’s saying.
Mark: I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one expecting Charles to get hurt in his outrageous display of masculinity. They kept playing out in a way where I expected him to tire out and get rolled over by a truck rolling back down the ramp. I like Charles’ scenes at the dealership in concept but I felt the execution was lacking. It all felt like it was happening too quickly which sometimes happens in a thirty minute show with a large cast of characters. If I had to describe Charles’ main characteristic so far it would have to be either aimlessness or reluctance. He sure doesn’t show a whole lot of the latter before he starts pushing cars all around the dealership with his bare hands. We’ve seen what happens in other episodes when Charles tries to do something foolish and strike out on his own; it backfires on him. Seeing him put on that performance with no ill-effect felt out of step with the show I’ve been watching.
Rafael:Well here’s the thing (with Chris Sims)- every time we saw Charles do something like that it was out of his element. Trying to cheat on his girl, trying to hustle trucks and ignore the game- those aren’t him. Performing in front of an audience and showcasing that he has the brain and the brawn for the game: the show has been telling us since episode 1 and is finally showing us. While I thought that truck was going to roll on him, I was glad it did not. It makes me think there might be some juice to the Charles Greene back in the game storyline. Though that said, bet that he catches a hot injury and ends up sidelined and then in a coaching position. Not to say Charles is Screech and Ballers is Saved By the Bell: The New Class but if the Tropical Chevrolet polo fits… After having so little to do in a string of episodes, it was a tonic to see him awake, alert and confident in his abilities. Je t’aime, Chuck.
Mark: The temptation to merely say “agree to disagree” hit me but the little angel on my shoulder just told me to man the fuck up and disagree like RMFJ would. I will concede that Charles getting to show off a bit of aggression and showboating was interesting but this felt like a sudden shift rather than a logical development. For the inciting incident that gets him back into football to be one bet at the dealership felt pretty cheap and easy. We’ve seen reasons why he needs to be playing football but I don’t feel like we’ve seen nearly enough of why he’d want to play football. We know that he never partied with Ricky and the guys when he was playing so his brief foray into their lifestyle (which ultimately made him feel alienated) didn’t really display that motivation. If it’s as simple as Charles wanting the adoration of the public then I haven’t seen the necessary groundwork to establish that as something he could possibly be interested in.
Rafael: I’ll say that I am glad it wasn’t something “memorable” like doing it because he was in a pick-up game and missed it or that he wanted to honor Roddney’s memory- to me this is Charles on his terms making his decisions. I would refute the audience adulation thing, however- as necessary as the audience is, everything about Charles Greene tells me what he told Seifert- he likes to hit and he likes to hit hard. Pushing that truck was akin to him pushing through old layabout Charles. He’s literally moving the obstacle in his way (the selling of trucks) and making room to come back. But I think we can both concede we’re happy to see something go right for Charles.
Mark: Now, that is a motivation I could buy if I could have seen anything establishing that. The scene between him and Dule Hill on its own is pretty good but lacked textual support. But, at this point, discussing the subtleties of Charles Greene that I may have missed or the writers may have skimped on has turned into beating a dead horse. We’ve got another smaller storyline involving Joe that plays out exactly like a parody every subplot Ari Gold/SCDP ever had where he contemplates leaving the agency and stealing clients so he can start his own. It’s light and it’s funny.
Rafael: We get a cute joke out of it where Joe gets a Victor Cruz tattoo and yeah, nothing recently happens. We get an angry Richard Schiff which is always DOPE but nothing of consequence. If he’s going to Ari it feels too soon- my guess is that it will come down to Joe planning to leave, asking Spencer if he’s in- roll credits.
Mark: That sounds like some pretty lazy cliffhanger writing to me. It seems like we’re done for the week so just answer one last thing for me, Raf: are you in for next week?
*EXECUTIVE PRODUCER NICK HANOVER/DANNY DJELJOSEVIC*