We asked resident Entourage apologists Rafael Gaitan and Mark Stack to team up and discuss each week of the spiritual Entourage sequel Ballers. After taking a bye after the previous installment of Ballin’ on Ballers
hack shocking cliffhanger, Mark Raffalo returns to tackle the penultimate and final episodes of the show’s first season as disappointment hangs in the air.
Raf: Internet we back in the building, Internet we back on the scene! Since we assume you demanded it, your favorite sharp-tongued commentators Raf (aka Yung John Madden) and Mark Stack (Pat Somersault) are back with a double-header of the last two episodes of HBO’s Chatting About Charles, a spin-off within Ballers. We’re discussing Episode 9, “Head-On” and Episode 10, the season finale, “Flamingos.” Firstly due to our tireless efforts entirely, Ballers was announced renewed for a second season! Mark, what are you going to do with your have-to-be-forthcoming HBO royalties?
Mark: I’m finally going to pay off that stripper who’s been blackmailing me with photos of you snorting coke out of her ass.
Raf: I’m a little hurt she didn’t ask me to deliver the money, since I was the one who told her cocaine is more photogenic off of a butt. Mark, we have to talk.
ABOUT BALLERS! Our substance problems are still in the “fun” stage! And you can’t spell “fundamentally disappointed in the wrap-up of the season” without fun!
Mark: Not to get too far ahead of ourselves but as the final episode’s credits rolled, I heard Jeremy Piven shouting in the distance, “Vince gets to do the movie!” Finales are often disappointing, though, so everybody (well, mostly just me and two other people I talk TV with) knows to judge based on the strength of the penultimate episode of a season. And I thought the penultimate episode was also pretty disappointing.
Raf: Good point. I used to refer to it as Sopranos syndrome. I believe Alan Sepinwall pointed out that that show always used the penultimate episode as the impetus and closure device, and the finale was for reflection and tracking- it became the model for the premium TV line. Ballers is no exception. Episode 9 felt too much like a placeholder to me– a lot of the stuff it was built on, like Vernon and Reggie’s rift, was both sudden and felt rushed. Why didn’t we have Angie tell Spencer in the bar about Reggie propositioning her? It came off-screen, and this isn’t The Wire where we’re trained to listen and observe like detectives. Honestly the way episode 8 ended I expected Spencer to get into an accident and end up getting brain damage from that, but then I remembered this isn’t the CW’s Ballers.
Mark: The CW’s Ballers would have our boy David Ramsey, the Diggle himself, in the lead role and would be a very charming show with a lot more sex going on. I don’t know what it says about me or these episodes that I watched both of them recently and still struggle to remember what happened in them. I forgot about shitbird Reggie trying to pay for services Angie wasn’t providing until you brought it up. And that’s a major part of the episode as it spells an end (*sigh* temporarily) to his parasitic relationship with the kindly but simple Vernon.
Raf: They felt passive, I think we both agree. These episodes really felt like the staff got gassed or had their episode order shortened and so they immediately needed to clean up. Also it was great to see Reggie get sidelined: it was about time, Vernon! Your own boy put his interests before yours and you finally see it! Don’t look at me like you’re in shock- oh that’s the only facial expression you have? My bad, Vern. This episode did have some conflict with our man Joe, however, whose last name was probably mentioned a few times but not spoken explicitly until this one as far as I recall. Seems our Mr. Kurtel and Mr. Anderson are at odds ONCE AGAIN over how Anderson Financial and its success is going. I love me some Richard Schiff but turning him into the primary antagonist pushed the focus of the show too much in the Spencer/Joe direction for me. I get The Rock is ostensibly the lead but it’s called BallerS, not Former Baller.
Mark: I also love Richard Schiff and I’m starting to feel that he was severely miscast here. The guy has this acting persona where he always feels embattled and immediately puts you on his side. When Anderson says that he doesn’t want or need the trouble that he feels Spencer and the party from earlier this season brought in, I’m inclined to take his side because he just seems so tired. Rob Corddry is a great, comedic actor but his screen presence doesn’t invite sympathy; he’s no Omar Benson Miller.
Raf: I wouldn’t say Schiff was miscast, but definitely misused. I like his opposing portrayal but this show doesn’t need another studio head or client for Ari to face hurdle for Joe and Spencer to face. While they do share baldness as a sympathy grabber, you’re right. Corddry is a good enough actor to be able to bring dimension to Joe, but this was one of the major problems with these last few episodes- they couldn’t pick a tone. It stopped being a “dramedy” and became a drama with attempts at comedy. What else even happened in “Head-On?” Spencer gets a re-check and he’s still fine in the brain, Vernon’s deal shoots up because he has the pictures back… is it time, Mark? IS IT FINALLY TIME TO CHAT. ABOUT. CHARLES?
Mark: I enjoyed Charles Greene’s segment of this Ballers episode a lot more than I thought I would and I think that has to do with Dule Hill using his Whitaker powers for evil. We (the show and us as the audience) spent so much time speculating on whether Charles would go back to football and why he might do it but it seems the most important question was whether or not he was even capable of making a comeback. After seeing Charles manhandle trucks in the previous episode, I was surprised to see him getting knocked around the field and right onto his ass as Dule passed both silent and vocal judgment on his performance. It felt like a good move on the show’s part to only bring up Charles’ rustiness once he had made the decision to come back. It’s good drama and it’s good writing because it presents a complication that changes the direction of his story while still making sense within its larger context.
Raf: Seifert was hitting Jon Kavannaugh levels of Whitakerianess in this ep. While I detest nicknames like “Sugar Tits” and they make me cringe out of laziness from the writing, somehow, some way, Dule Hill makes it work. Perhaps he was inspired as well by Charles’ journey. Now that Charles has a fire in his belly and one in Mrs. Greene’s, and although it was no surprise it would work out, it was nice to see him struggle. Charles back as the lovable uphill climber is the most solid part of this season, and really the only part that sticks the landing over the next two. Any final thoughts before we return the punt for Episode 10?
Mark: Can I just say that I feel Mel Gibson kind of owns the phrase “sugar tits” and that it was pretty foolish of Seifert to think he could claim it as his own?
On to the next and final episode: I gotta open up with another disappointed, “It’s not Carla Gugino.” (About the casting of Ricky’s dad)
Raf: No, it was not. Not even a little bit. BUT it WAS Robert Wisdom.. All this talk of The Wire and Howard Motherfucking “Bunny” Colvin shows up on OUR Ballers! While I was really hoping for some Denzel Washington and heartfelt “My Man-”ning between DW and RMFJ, I’m always glad to see a great and underappreciated actor get a role like this.
Mark: Any time a WBA (Working Black Actor) shows up on something, it’s a time for celebration. Unless you’re watching the Walking Dead; in which case, it’s a warning that you’re about to see another WBA lose his job on that show. I thought he was good in his scenes and played well opposite John David Washington but I was hoping we’d get a recognizable athlete like Bo Jackson.
Raf: We’re now at the season finale, “Flamingos.” Surprisingly poignant title which ends up tying nicely into the episode. Sadly this is pretty much the only real praise I can give this episode. Mark?
Mark: Yes, Raf?
Raf: WHERE MY CONFLICT AT?!
Mark: The conflict went away right with those pictures Angie got paid for. This was a very typical season finale for Entourage. So if you’re somebody that came into this show wanting Entourage then you got exactly what you asked for.
Raf: *BLOWS WHISTLE* I CAN’T READ YOU. WHERE MY CONFLICT AT?!?!
Mark: How conflicted did you feel when you saw what it looked like when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fucks? Were you disappointed? I was disappointed. It seemed very pedestrian when I expected more of a bravura tour de force. But it turns out that stars fuck just like the rest of us mere mortals.
Raf: I figured he fucked like he wrestles in 2015- for the cheap pop and gets easily gassed. I’m as easygoing as the next man but I did not need to see Dwayne Johnson’s buttocks when I have seen him largely undressed for years and years. But hey, live how you live. It just felt gratuitous, like Russ Hannaman from Silicon Valley directed the finale and needed to remind us that this guy does, indeed, fuck. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, I remember you was conflicted, Ballers, misuing your influence. The writers’ room probably spent more time thinking of knowing jokes between Anderson and Strasmore about boning in his office than they did with ending this season. Mark, what was ventured, what was gained? The most intriguing conflict of the season, a latecomer at that, was Joe possibly leaving Anderson! It gets resolved in 2.5 scenes! Everyone fucking wins! We’re not selling Cheers, everyone. Malcolm is still in the middle! We only cracked the bad, it isn’t Broken yet! Something about Designing Women!
Mark: I can’t even begin to translate the groan that erupted from me into text when Spencer found Vernon after he fell off the grid and immediately got him to come back by telling him how much money his new contract was for. Vernon was being all conflicted about his damaged relationship with Reggie and his own worth as a human being only for a paycheck to solve all of his problems immediately. A shallow resolution for a shallow person, sure, but I was hoping for more. Even Ricky motherfucking Jerret didn’t have much of a conflict and that was a dude who just saw his shitbag dad for the first time in years.
Raf: Seriously and that’s symptomatic of the way the show wrapped up: they had that sweet metaphor and speech about what flamingos mean to Vernon, showing a side of him hitherto untouched, and immediately bottle it up. I’m shocked at the restraint the show had in not having Vernon Littlefield be jiggin’ over all this money.
Mark: Even Charles hearing that he made it on the Dolphins was incredibly disappointing given how that information was just tossed out in a quick scene. I could have forgiven all of this if the episode had ended with Reggie meeting and teaming up with Ricky’s dad to become a tag-team of the worst shitbags in the world. But that didn’t happen and instead I was left remembering how happy I was to see actor Michael Cudlitz show up in the penultimate episode as the finale reached its end.
Raf: Man, Cudlitz was the best part. Even that conflict was resolved in the blink of an eye! When he thanks Spencer for the injury, I knew that I was done believing in Ballers. It was nice to see the aggressive side of Charles though, not letting that punk-ass white defender best him. If there’s any reason to tune in to s2 it will be to see my man as a Dolphin. While it was cool, can you explain to me why Ricky Motherfucking Jerret came out on a Motherfucking Camel?
Mark: Ricky gave some spiel about how his trials and wandering through the desert were over. He very lightly compares himself to both Jesus and Moses in an act of hubris so great that only Ricky could think it was humble. But I’ve gotta challenge you about the Cudlitz storyline because I dug the hell out of it and the way it presented a career ending injury as the thing that saved a man from a nomadic lifestyle that would never return even half of what he poured into it. And it really opened up a new look at Spencer as he tries to come to terms with who he was (a man that wanted to hurt people) and how he is now a guy that has seen his life drastically changed by a career-ending injury of his own. It’s some of the most depth we’ve gotten from Spencer all season.
Raf: I will accept that they grew a rose from concrete, but there was a hot minute where it looked like sap city. You’re right though, although the goodwill and maturity that Spencer earned is immediately dropped in favor of Super Cool Promoted Spencer, who now owns a speedboat. Regardless, we remain that the penultimate episode is where the goods came in and unfortunately this finale, to use another sports metaphor, was one goal short of a hat trick. It was pretty great to see Ricky Jerret in his prideful, potent self, and he even gets the most redeeming moment of the season when he gives Alonzo back the #18. Although I already gag at the return of Bella in season two, it was nice to see them lay the groundwork for Ricky, who came through the most- remember in early segments where we both despised him, and how we can’t wait to see what they give him to do next?
Mark: Ricky feels like the unexpected success of this show but the character’s success probably shouldn’t have been all that surprising to us. As the only main character (sorry, Vernon) that begins and ends the season as an active player, he’s the one that seems like the go-to character for a football show to write and to write well as we are in an age of athletes’ activities being tracked and scrutinized by media and sports fans alike. He’s the character they’d have to get right even if everything else was garbage. I think our disappointment with him initially stemmed from him feeling more like an amalgamation of all of the NFL’s recent problem children before the writing and the performance of John David Washington congealed into a fully developed character.
Raf: Think you nailed it- that’s exactly what makes him work. I was ultimately disappointed that all the promise, all the barbs that could have been pointed were finessed down and toothless. There was so much to be done with the potential head damage story! Although, if I’m following the template correctly, Ballers season two will follow the regular NFL season, or at least it should, which opens up an entire new cadre of stories. Maybe it’ll get its edge back but until then, I see the show warming the bench. The basketball bench. SPORTS!
Mark: For a show with two retired football players in the main cast, I really expected more golfing.
Raf: Don’t worry, since this show is so not Entourage that it Entouraged me, you can bet you’ll get a celebrity golf episode in season two, probably with Mark Wahlberg also playing. LET US TO HOPE.
Mark: Things got a little dour as we talked about the failings of this show in the home stretch but I have to say that my feelings about this show still trend positively. I didn’t expect much and it outkicked its coverage.
Raf: I may not understand that reference but I have to concur- I enjoyed it overall and I will watch the second season. The show took chances and maybe it played it safe so it doesn’t have to do so as much next time around. Goodbye and thanks for reading, everyone!
MARK RAFFALO WILL RETURN…on Any Given Sunday!