Once July rolls around, the wait for the NFL season can make American football fans clamor for almost anything that provides a stopgap experience for actual pigskin action. Luckily for us, HBO’s Ballers provides the perfect diversion while we wait for the actual season to kick off.
Ballers is a fictional, mostly flash peek into a few parts of the NFL world—training camp shenanigans, groupies, contract negotiations, and players dealing with retirement in various ways. The show benefits most from the bravado of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the glitz that accompanies the South Beach lifestyle, as well as the appropriately gratuitous cameos from past and present NFL players and sports figures.
With training camp a mere several weeks away, we have to give HBO credit for giving us something to get us ready for their actual NFL Appetizer, Hard Knocks. So in this case Ballers is the appetizer for the appetizer, with Drake/Lil Wayne featured in the intro music and a hip-hop vibe that runs throughout the show. Looking back from this point in the season, the first couple of episodes seemed a little slow, but the action has picked up as we learn more and more about the characters and their moral blind spots.
I’ve even gotten to the point where I’m actually looking forward to watching the show every week; it’s like a better-produced version of BET’s The Game, the difference between a “made for cable” show and a “made for premium cable” show—HBO just does it better.
So while anyone who tunes in to Ballers shouldn’t expect anything approaching the drama of an actual NFL game, the show gives us just enough of the real thing to get us ready for the real thing. And that’s not so bad after all.