Ballers – Season 1 (HBO)
One Line Description: A former football star in Miami tries to guide the current crop of stars while enjoying the glamour of South Beach.
This show must have literally been pitched as “Entourage, but in the NFL and without an actual entourage”. The fact that many of the people involved behind the scenes of Entourage are part of this show makes it easy to understand how it got that way. There are plenty of cameos of celebrities and athletes playing themselves, gratuitous nudity whenever possible, beautiful women everywhere and tons of guys living out most guys’ fantasies. There were some who said it was weird Dwayne Johnson would take a role like this. So much of it works because of his size and his real-life status as a former athlete/famous person. There isn’t much to do here beyond that and Johnson doesn’t seem to add a ton of the role acting-wise. That aspect of things makes it feel even more like Entourage, because that show was notorious for having almost zero “acting”. But I also loved that show. And so far I love this show. It’s not going to win any awards, or break any new ground, but it’s fun. There is tons of money getting throw around, and all the above comparisons to Entourage make it great. Bill Simmons always said he thought Entourage could just live forever by introducing someone new to follow every few years. That is essentially what has happened here. Now it’s in Miami, about athletes instead of actors, but all the stuff everyone loved. If you were an Entourage fan, this show is for you. If you hated it, you’ll hate this.
Red Oaks – Season 1 (Amazon)
One Line Description: A college student takes a job as a tennis pro at a country club in the ’80s.
The nostalgia shows are going strong these days, with The Goldbergs doing it really well, and Fresh Off the Boat not utilizing it as much as I thought they would. Red Oaks is another show set in the 1980s, and feels like the country club version of the movie Adventureland. The characters are a little mixed up but this feels heavily inspired by that movie. The premise is the draw here, and it delivers for the most part, but it’s far from great. The episodes are consistent in quality, minus a bizarre episode near the middle of the season that I am still trying to digest, but the show doesn’t seem to have risen in quality much over the course of the season. The head tennis pro is by far the funniest guy in the show, and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t have a more prominent role in season 2. The main character is an awkward 19 year old (David) with no car who manages to have multiple hot girls interested in him. The cast isn’t deep at all, and goes to David’s parents (played by Richard Kind and Jennifer Grey) more often than they should need to. (Sidenote on Grey: she looks pretty fabulous for 55). Paul Reiser nails his role as the rich club president, who isn’t a bad guy every second, and his human side are some of the best moments of the early episodes. The head valet Wheeler is probably the strongest of the younger workers. Overall the show is alright. It doesn’t have a ton of laugh out loud moments, but it was an easy watch (10 less than 30 minute episodes) and had it’s moments. I’ll be back for season 2, but if you don’t get into it by episode 4, don’t expect a lot of improvement.
Public Morals – Season 1
One Line Description: 1960’s New York cops bounce between doing right and wrong while battling organized crime.
I wanted badly to like this show. I like Edward Burns both as an actor and filmmaker. I like movies/shows that are period pieces. I like movies/shows that are about organized crime. But this show was not good. I watched every episode hoping at some point it would have a breakthrough, but even the season finale left me completely unsatisfied with the story. This is a show about a police unit in 1960s New York who is dealing with warring factions of organized crime. But the cops are dirty too, and seem to break as many laws as the criminals they are chasing, then seem to try to do enough “nice” things outside of work to make up for it. There is tons of attempts at hooks, like a couple of the cops being related directly to the mobsters. There is the power struggle between father and son within the crime syndicate. But in the end it seems like just one TV trope after another here. It’s like someone read “How to Make a TV Show For Dummies” and copied it play by play. There was a lot of wasted potential here too because the cast is solid enough to carry a show like this, but it just falls majorly flat. I won’t be back for season 2.
Master of None – Season 1
One Line Description: The story of a 30 year old trying to make it as an actor in New York while battling reality and his heritage.
Netflix keeps churning out new shows, and has hit another (season 1 at least) home run. Aziz Ansari (from Parks and Recreation) plays an Indian would-be actor that is somewhat based on himself. He even cast his own real-life parents as their TV counterparts. Each episode seems to have a theme of sorts, but a lot of the show is just a great mix of comedy/drama that feels like real-life in the most perfect way. So many shows have tried and failed to simulate what real-life is like, and none has been nearly as good as this. Eventually Aziz enters a relationship, and it could not be a more perfect pairing. The chemistry he has with his on-screen girlfriend is amazing and it feels like two people that anyone could know. The show definitely zigs when you think it will zag, but that is what makes it so good. The unpredictable comedic moments mixed with the unusually unpredictable dramatic moments are just wonderful. Aziz’s character learns so much about the world as the show progresses, which makes him seem even more real, in his naiveté. The supporting cast is solid, and his real life father is a scene stealer most of the time. When the season ends it feels like the best 3.5 hour movie you have ever seen. That is a bit concerning though. Because Netflix shows have had issues maintaining quality. House of Cards went in the toilet after season 1, and Orange is the New Black has dropped off as well. Master of None has a lot more to build off, but it might be hard to match the bar set in first season. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine a better 10 hours of television this year.