Sunday's season finale of HBO's Ballers, an episode called "Yay Area," was infuriating to watch. Really, it was no different than the entire three seasons of the series so far. With a fourth season on the horizon, there are surely at least 10 more episodes to endure but lets break down what we saw Sunday night.
As much as I can't stand the terrible acting, the cameos that give real NFL players so many lines that it sounds like they are gargling marbles, the alternatively predictable and manipulative plots and the confusing dual realities of real NFL players, teams and owners juxtaposed against a rag-tag group of fictional characters (like WR Ricky Jarret, who apparently plays for the Tom Brady Patriots, and Charles Greane, who is an assistant GM for the Dolphins who have real Dolphins players), the show has a quality that is watchable.
The show has something going right for it — as it is the second highest-rated original series on HBO after the megahit Game of Thrones. But the entire arc of the third season had absolutely zero pay off.
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Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) has an excruciating decision to make in spurning the company he built to try and move an NFL team to Las Vegas. So he pisses off friends, coworkers, NFL officials and people who love and care about him in pursuit of this dream. And then, apparently, the guy driving him around in Oakland in the third to last episode tugged at his heartstrings so much that he decided he didn't want to move the Raiders anymore (this after he tried to secretly impregnate his girlfriend who then took the morning after pill to prove to Strasmore he is a selfish prick).
In a presentation to the NFL — in the finale — attempting to convince the assembled NFL owners that Strasmore, his partner Joe (Rob Corddry) and two billionare brothers the Andersons are the right men to, I guess, be the middle men in the movement of the team, Strasmore zigs while we thought he wound zag and makes a compelling case to keep the team where it is. And the NFL agrees with him, but decides they still want the team to move to Vegas just with a private investment (from the Andersons).
After spending an entire season trying to say "F-U" to all the owners, Strasmore wins the bid, and has the chance to say "F-U" to all the owners. He won. He was successful. But instead he seemingly says "meh" and goes back to his company ASM — claiming to have more money now and targeting players from all sports not just the NFL. What convinced him? Where was the foreshadowing that his character was shifting? Where was the evidence that he was slowly changing and somehow his allegience to the Raiders was allegorical for his self-hatred for the man he was becoming? It makes no sense.
The subplots were also selling short. Two years ago Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) was selling cars and was a former NFL offensive lineman. Now he is seriously being considered for the GM job with the Chargers?
Vernon Littlefield (Donovan Carter) made an enemy of nearly everyone with the Cowboys, but now he's back in training camp after a win, maybe, in his suspension fight? And he looks awfully out of shape to be a defensive lineman.
Ricky Jarret (John David Washington) clearly has an intense gambling problem, lost $5 million in a loan to Spencer, lives in a gigantic Miami mansion and is turning down mega contracts with the Patriots to go be a father to his unborn child with a woman he barely knows?
The weird thing about Ballers is, while no one really cares about any of the characters and while no one really thinks the writing, acting or plot is good, the NFL is such a draw that a window into the dark rooms behind what we see on TV — even if they are ridiculious — ia alluring. And that's why we love Ballers. The poor-man's Entourage in football form will live on. And I'll keep watching. And complaining. And creating Ricky Jarret in Madden.