It had to happen eventually. Across its first two episodes Ballers only looked a bit like Entourage. The comparison was one that was based more on the potential for bro-ness rather than the actual content of the episodes. Those first two episodes are slight but charming, thirty-minute comedies that go down rather easy. With tonight’s “Move The Chains” though, Ballers serves up the first episode that truly feels like an extension of the worst parts (also known as most of the parts) of Entourage.

The pilot episode and last week’s “Raise Up” largely worked because they were low-key episodes, taking their time to establish this world of professional athletes and their problems. Both episodes largely focused on the drama, introducing intriguing storylines that dealt with identity, masculinity, and financial struggle. “Move The Chains” doesn’t really get into any of that. Instead, the episode uses Spencer and Joe’s attempts to secure more athlete clients as an excuse to throw an episode-long party.

To be fair, that’s not a bad idea on paper, and much of the setup is loose and funny. Richard Schiff is perfectly cast as Mr. Anderson, the head honcho at Anderson Financial Management who reluctantly allows Spencer and Joe to use his yacht for a party to recruit athletes. You probably didn’t even know how badly you needed to hear Toby from The West Wing say, “I can trust you with my bling?,” but now you do. This initial setup is some of the funniest stuff Ballers has produced so far. Dwayne Johnson gets to be charming and hilarious, him and Rob Corddry bouncing lines off one another like a finely-tuned buddy comedy.

Once the party gets under way though, everything rolls downhill as fast as possible. Ricky, who earlier got in a fight with his teammate Alonzo after the team put his new Jordans in the cold tub, tries to tell Spencer that the best way to make sure that story stays quiet is by having Spencer “sling his D.” What he means is that Spencer should sleep with Tracy, the reporter who knows about it and who Spencer was once romantically involved with. The explicitness of the delivery isn’t necessarily a problem, but rather that the show goes for an easy dick joke, and one that’s not even funny.

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In fact, such a line is indicative of much of “Move The Chains,” where the yacht/party storyline often seems like an excuse to get some breasts on the air. Other than Spencer’s brief interaction with Tracy, the women in this episode amount to no more than eye candy. They’re objects for the players and for the viewer. Vernon decides he’s had enough of the party, of watching his so-called friend and financial manager Reggie snort coke and hit on women, but then suddenly chooses to stay when a woman takes her top off and shakes her breasts around. The nudity and objectification doesn’t really serve any purpose. It doesn’t act as an insight into the lifestyle of these athletes or even tell us about the characters of Reggie, Vernon, or Ricky. That leaves “Move The Chains” feeling horribly hollow, lacking any of the insight or charm of the first two episodes.

Even the overarching narrative doesn’t show much progress. We learn that the reason Alonzo hates Ricky is because he’s sleeping with his mother, a storyline which predictably devolves into more sexism. Ricky decides he’s going to keep seeing Alonzo’s mom, at least until he finds out she has even more kids, much to his disgust. Even Charles, who’s married to maybe the only truly solid female character on this show, offhandedly mentions how one of her best qualities is that she “wants to slam all the time.” Again, I guess these moments are meant to be funny, but they end up either falling flat or coming across as downright offensive.

The more interesting moments in “Move The Chains” are smaller ones. There’s Reggie mentioning to Vernon that he didn’t think they’d live past 19 years old, suggesting a tumultuous past that certainly resonates considering the numerous racist attacks in the United States in the last few months. Then there’s Spencer, who’s doing what he can to lure in new clients but is still popping pills like Pez. There are a lot of demons lurking under the surface of just about every character on this show. The problem with “Move The Chains” is that it doesn’t find any time to dig below the surface, to look for something meaningful or poignant to latch on to.

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Stray observations

  • Best laugh of the night comes courtesy of Tracy, who says that if Ricky’s story gets out he could “finish his career in Saskatchewan.” I’m Canadian and even I don’t want to go to Saskatchewan.
  • More great Richard Schiff line readings: “Did you come here to polish my vessel?”
  • It turns out that when you’re in a pileup on the field and an opposing player tries to stick his hand up your ass, it’s called an “oil check.” The more you know.
  • Oh Joe. You were so close to setting the party right before getting a little too comfortable with your lingo.
  • Honestly, I’m surprised it took us three episodes to get “We Dem Boyz” and “Turn Down For What”.

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