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I enjoyed the first season of HBO's Ballers, which I still believe is their replacement for Entourage. Dwayne Johnson is the showrunner, and plays ex-NFL standout turned financial manager Spencer Strasmore. The man has a knack for shepherding spoiled talent, and this season sees Strasmore fighting for solo clients and running his own agency. Among the returning highlights are Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), a free-agent wide receiver looking to sign with the right team, and retired offensive lineman Charles Greene (Omar Benson Miller), whose brief return to the field quickly evolves into a coaching spot at the Miami Dolphins. New blood includes Travis Mach (Adam Aalderks), a redneck high-school standout with a bad attitude.
Although this show is not as dramatically involving as HBO staples The Wire and Game of Thrones, it is damn entertaining. Each 30-minute episode zips by, and Ballers places you inside the wild world of sports agents. I really like the way Johnson plays this character. Strasmore is a playboy and shot-caller with heart and charisma. This season sees him dealing with the nearly unbearable pain caused by his days on the field. Strasmore refuses to get the hip replacement his doctor recommends, and instead chews narcotic painkillers like candy. This puts his relationship with business partner Joe (Rob Corddry) in jeopardy, and his negotiation skills take a hit.
The biggest drama in season two is the dick-swinging contest between Strasmore and nemesis Andre Allen (Andy Garcia). Allen wants to run Strasmore's business into the ground, and the pair recalls past misdeeds that led to the rift. Jason (Troy Garity) works under Strasmore and goes to the bayou to recruit Mach, who promptly leaves him behind after an airboat adventure. Jerret struggles to settle on a team, and worries his career in the NFL is at its end. The New Orleans Saints provide an incredible welcome, but Jerret remains loyal to his fickle father (Robert Wisdom), who suggests he look elsewhere. Strasmore works to whip Mach into shape, and chastises him for skipping the combine. Miller is again infinitely likable as the good-natured Greene, who does not excel at cutting players on behalf of the Dolphins' top brass.
Although Ballers is mostly lighthearted, it adds substantial depth to its characters and drama this season. Strasmore's pain-killer struggles are realistic, and the show offers a subtle running commentary about the effects of contact sports on the men who play. The agent/business angle is approachable and never overwhelming, and there are plenty of attractive ladies, booze-soaked yachts and wild behavior to keep things interesting. Ballers may well be my favorite "fun" show currently in production. If you enjoyed the first season, you will absolutely enjoy these new episodes.
Each of the ten episodes receives a sharp, colorful 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The digital photography lends itself to abundant details and excellent clarity. Other than very minor softness in wide shots, these are near-reference transfers. Black levels are good, colors never bleed, and edges are rock solid. The bright Miami sun never causes blown-out highlights, and the cool, nighttime blues and greys never crush.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks are similarly good. The frequent rap and pop music is nicely balanced and weighty. The dialogue and environment effects are integrated well, and the occasional action effects make good use of surround pans. French 5.1 DTS and Spanish 2.0 DTS mixes are included, as are a host of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set splits the episodes across two Blu-rays, and UltraViolet digital copies of each episode are included. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slightly heavy cardboard slipcover. The extras include two installments of Inside the Episodes (14:27 and 15:40/HD), which are brief featurettes about each episode.
HBO's Ballers: The Complete Second Season sees Dwayne Johnson return as power sports agent Spencer Strasmore, who works to recruit clients to his own agency. The show is consistently entertaining, and season two adds surprising depth with commentary on contact sports, spoiled recruits and painkiller addiction. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.