We asked resident Entourage apologists Rafael Gaitan and Mark Stack to team up and discuss each week of the spiritual Entourage sequel Ballers. The delinquent duo actually disagree this week over the quality of Sunday’s episode, in which football bros try to patch up a rivalry while casually enjoying a strip club and every other dude is caught in some kind of ethical quagmire. Is Raf right for thinking it was the best episode of the season? Or is Mark’s disappointment a more realistic take? ::shrugs::
Mark: I don’t know how to feel about this episode of Ballers. In a lot of ways, it feels like we’ve just taken two steps forward but I can’t help but see this episode as a backwards step. Raf, what say you?
Raf: I really dug this episode of Ballers. Like legit thought it was the best one yet. We’re starting to see change in characters, plotlines continually advancing, and Reggie getting put in his place! What’s not to love? R.A.T. in full effect, cuz.
Mark: Whereas I was excited to see our prediction come true previously, this time I was sort of disappointed to see the show go a more predictable route. Let’s break down what happens in this episode: we’ve got Vernon and his leech brother begging for Spencer’s help dealing with a blackmail attempt, Charles struggles to not cheat on his wife, and our boy Ricky decides to do a little hazing of his own. That sound about right?
Raf: Pretty on it. I will say I’m saving Chatting About Charles for later in this, but let’s start with the A-Plot: Vernon and Reggie have humbled themselves back to Spencer. What was NOT covered was that Reggie is the reason for the situation! Vernon tried to go home and Reggie was like “Naw, stay and do drugs with white women- what could go wrong?!” Look, as tempting as that is, I’m just a dude- no one wants to catch me in a compromising position. But a lava-hot defensive player on the cusp of signing a huge deal/guarantee? Take up Netflix and chill cuz, because anywhere you go you’re a target.
Mark: It’s never a good look when you’re waiting on a big contract and a prostitute’s lawyer calls you to shake you down for cash in compensation for not taking pictures of you getting high at a hookers and blow party right to TMZ. As much as I hate to say it, Vernon’s a grown man and we can’t blame Reggie for this unless he secretly took the pictures and orchestrated this whole plan from the beginning. It’s a shitty standard for a guy who just plays sports well to be held to, but when you’re a big name football player you’ve got to uphold a certain standard for yourself or you can kiss your career goodbye.
Raf: Well, I mean he was literally directly responsible by inviting the women and bringing the drugs, but I take your point. But yeah definitely saw this plot thread coming. I can’t be mad at it though because anything that gets Clifton Collins Jr work is something I can support wholeheartedly. The scene in his office with Spencer and Joe is one of the most fun in this season. Also I did like the subtle swerves- you find that the lawyer isn’t some ambulance chaser- he’s almost a Nega-Spencer: a well-educated, experienced agent of Sports Chaos. Clifton Collins over everything.
Mark: That was Clifton Collins, Jr? Damn, I’ve been calling that guy “Giovanni Ribisi” for years. Watching this, I was getting flashbacks to how much I enjoyed his role as Phoebe’s brother on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Misunderstandings aside, I did enjoy his presence. He’s a sleazeball but he knows what he’s about. He asks for half a mil to keep his client quiet or, as he puts it, give Vernon “first right of refusal” and there’s no fucking way that’s the hardline figure they’re looking for. He knows what game he’s playing and he seems pretty good at it. We might be looking at a recurring figure on this show.
Raf: Dude, they are two very, very distinct people. But yes, they make a great point of setting up his “powers”- when Vernon claims blackmail Joe and Spencer immediately know that the party means no reasonable expectation of privacy. Also I love that his office is in this insane ivy-covered building out of Atonement. Anyway now what’s Ricky up to, besides constantly having shit blow up in his face? He’s having shit blow up in his face. In his ongoing quest to make things right with Alonzo, he invites him to a man-to-man meeting. Honestly Alonzo has a legit reason to be mad, but even before that he was straight punk status. Also those physically too-cold Jordans get a shout-out this week! They’re my favorite recurring character. But ‘Zo is Zo so he brings all his brothers and cousins to continue to rake Ricky’s penance over the coals.
Mark: When a dude invites you to talk at a strip club, things are already weird enough. I don’t know about you but I absolutely do not want to be in the position of being trapped in a room with a bunch of strangers and my enemy while we all presumably have erections. It makes sense that Alonzo would want to soak Ricky in this seriously weird situation of those fat stacks of cash that he’s brought to share. But Ricky’s turned tactical here. Maybe spending all of that money at once wasn’t part of the plan but there is most certainly a plan in play. And that plan is to play on his and Alonzo’s mutually terrible relationship with the police.
Raf: I was thinking of how solid a twist that was today- the show leads you to believe the Uncle Frank character is going to be some sort of goombah or degenerate, and for a legit moment you think that Ricky is just being a good dude helping a guy out. And hey, we got payoff to a planted seed- he gets #18 back! This story became my favorite because the resolution was the most tight. And speaking of tight, let’s talk about the spot Charles is in!
Mark: I shit you not when I say I thought this storyline would have a super Entourage ending with Ricky’s rival being arrested and suspended for several games. So I’m actually pretty happy that Ricky is cheating on that cop’s niece but is on good enough terms to bribe him into fucking with Alonzo with new softball uniforms for his department. That’s the kind of tactical thinking I’d like to see more from Ricky. I may have been wrong when I said Ricky has no other skills outside of football; he’s resourceful. And he’s actually self-aware in a way that our boy Charles sorely lacks…
Raf: Bet that’s coming back, mane. Bet that bribe is going to be something that this show delves into. Man, it’s like the writers have been reading our analyses! But yes, time for Chatting about Charles. This week our man has THE most out-of-character moment. In the strip club, he finally solves his problem: Ricky texts the girl to lose his number. But he can’t bear to delete a video the girl sent of her twerking. Like look, it’s dope and if it was me I would get it on a t-shirt or as a wrap for my car, but I’m not married to Mrs. Charles. He was out! Even Ricky, who is RARELY the voice of reason, tells Charles to ditch it. And it comes back and bites him in the ass. Also I love you Omar Benson Miller, but no one in the world ever wondered how you fuck. And now I know.
Mark: He really throws his back into it, huh? I could not believe that Charles would be so ignorant as to not understand between having that video and watching porn. Ricky, the unlikely voice of reason that he is, lays it out real easy for him. To paraphrase, “It’s different from porn because you can actually fuck the girl in the video.” It seems so obvious! And the callback to it from Mrs. Charles is so fucking funny. She really nails the delivery in a way that captures the perfection mixture of “you dense motherfucker” and “are you out of your fucking mind?” Not to be a hater but I was glad when she caught him with his video. He had every opportunity not to fuck this up. If he wanted to keep it so bad, he could have just shown it to her and said, “Haha, kind of funny that this woman wants me so bad. Think she knows I’m retired?” But this is not a show about people that make good decisions. This is Ballers.
Raf: You’re right- that guillotine was always coming. The same Charles who went to a movie to avoid temptation is not the same Charles who keeps a photo he knows will get him in trouble. Props to Miller for connoting that in his acting too- the way he phrases the question to Ricky and his wife also denote he knows the answer. I’m just wondering where does this go now? This is one relationship that did not need to be strained to make compelling TV. The biggest plot misfire this whole season. Oh and this episode has no Dule Whitaker (or Forrest Hill) which did not do it ANY favors.
Mark: I think I’ve said it before but the alimony payment from a divorce could be what Charles needs to push him back into the NFL… It’s hard when you see a character you like making mistakes like this but it’s not entirely out of line from what we’ve come to know about him. He has a listlessness to him that needs to be addressed by something in his life. Maybe he thought this fantasy of cheating on his wife could cover it but I think that hole is deeper, big enough to hold a lot more than that.
Raf: That’s an excellent point, Mark. I agree that something in him strives for more, and it’s clearly to return to the game. But I just think it’s lazy writing to have this be the strain. I was very much enjoying this isolated C-story that has its leanings into the main plots, but I digress- overall I think this was a stronger showing. There were actual jokes, ones I laughed at! And like two really hot red heads! More payoffs and set-ups. Ballers is starting to show me what I invested my time in.
Mark: Yeah, this episode definitely had some lazy writing and that’s probably because the writers’ room expended all their energy on the trick cop twist and Spencer’s amazing “get her number for me” diss to the shitheel formerly known as Reggie. It’s a solid episode but things like that business with Charles and the repetitive nature of Ricky’s storyline felt like it wasn’t pushing forward in a meaningful way.
Raf: Well, there’s always next week. I like this uneasiness, where some of these stories appear to be resolved- especially Ricky’s. Each week has ultimately been progress towards a solid TV show. I think they’ve learned the lessons from the later seasons of Entourage where the Deus Ex Machina was always just to the right of everyone. Oh and this episode had hell of jokes about Joe having willingly smoked crack, which was too good. Rob Corddry and those wet Jordans low key steal every scene they’re in. Mark, anything else we didn’t ball on?
Mark: Anything else we didn’t ball on… How about D’s?
Mark: D’s nuts! See you next week, folks, for more quality Ballin’ on Ballers.
To read Mark and Raf’s thoughts on previous Ballers: