A Swing and a Miss for Ballers

Russell Brand, Rob Corddry, and Dwayne Johnson in a season four episode of Ballers(Jeff Daly/HBO)

I’ve really enjoyed the HBO series Ballers, which I have just got caught up on. The business and social issues surrounding professional sports (the series is about Spencer Strathmore, a retired NFL player turned financial adviser to professional athletes, played by Dwayne Johnson) have always seemed to me more interesting than the game itself.

A note about the last few episodes of the most recent season, which contained one truly brilliant piece of writing and one absolute clunker, each of which illustrates (I suspect!) the wisdom in “write what you know.”

First, the home run: the scene in which Spencer Strathmore’s twerpy business partner, Joe (the excellent Rob Corddry, who looks like a real-life middle-aged Beavis) wakes up after an ugly night of drinking alone and recalls, bit by bit and with increasing shame, his drunken shenanigans of the night before. The dread, embarrassment, regret, and, finally, resignation of that hangover scene are pitch-perfect.

Second, the miss: the political stuff. A pet peeve of mine that I’ve been going on and on about at least since Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is that a great many creative types, extremely gifted men and women, who work in the lukewarmly leftish monoculture of entertainment and publishing really do not know anything about conservatives, how they think, how they talk, why they believe what they believe, etc. The scene in which retired NFL player Ricky confronts a bunch of Trump admirers in the Newport Beach yacht-party set is just awful, truly incompetently written. The Trump fans are written and performed like mean preppy kids from some forgotten John Hughes movie—little Thurston Howell IIIs. I have within recent memory spent a fair amount of time with actual Republicans in Newport Beach, and that’s not who they are. Not even close. And that isn’t who Orange County is, anymore, either: It was a Republican stronghold, once upon a time. It isn’t anymore.

I don’t so much care about the politics of it. But as dramatic storytelling on the screen goes, this is not too far from Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’stype stuff.

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