HBO’s Ballers is one of the most confusing yet simplistic shows to debut this summer. It doesn’t require more than 30 minutes of your attention a week, and if asked what it’s about you need only three words to explain: Entourage with football.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, John David Washington, Dule Hill, Omar Benson Miller, and Rob Corddry, the show was billed as a comedy about the lives of current and retired football players in Miami that would entertain while also highlighting some of the issues the NFL has faced (or tried to quietly sweep under the rug) over the past decade.
In reality, calling it a comedy would be an overstatement. It is better described as a show with an occasional guffaw. The pilot was directed by Peter Berg, who also directed the film and eventual pilot for Friday Night Lights before sticking around to executive produce that show’s entire run. That pedigree, and the fact that Ballers debuted before Berg shared atransphobic meme about Caitlin Jenner, had me inclined to at least give the pilot a chance.
The confusion in watching Ballers comes when you realise that you are stillwatching Ballers. By the time you’ve reached the finale you’re done trying to explain why you’re watching Ballers: an uneven show being kept afloat by nothing (really, nothing) more than the charm of the cast and the frustration of knowing that underneath the luxury porn and sex jokes there could be something there.
How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine. Read the Post Sense8 And The Failure Of Global Imagination
The 90s nostalgia burden is real, and it manifests itself in a variety of unique ways amongst most 20-somethings. Whether we’re rereading a favorite Scholastic series or giggling over a popsicle stick with googly eyes on YouTube, the burden of rose-colored glasses lives with us all. My personal burden is the reality of existing as a 27 year old who unironically watches Girl Meets World in earnest.
When I claim that Girl Meets World is a good show I fully expect my opinion to be taken with a grain of salt. If you know me at all, then you know how much I love the show’s precursor, Boy Meets World.Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Eric were my world when I was younger. I’m comfortable admitting that were it not for an extreme case of 90s Nostalgia Syndrome I would not have started watching (and rewatching) episodes of a Disney Channel Show aimed at the white tween girl demographic.
That demographic categorization isn’t meant to be an insult, just a statement of what it is. I should reiterate: I genuinely enjoy Girl Meets World. Nothing tempers my innate, bitter New Yorker cynicism like the weekly reminder that Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence managed to stay married and reside happily in a huge apartment in the East Village with their two kids– one of whom is perpetually in adorable undone suspenders. I generally find tween stars cloying and unrelateable, but Rowan Blanchard and Sabrina Carpenter, who play Riley and Maya (the titular Girls meeting the titular World) have grown on me since the show’s 2014 debut. While, yes, I had to literally get up and take a walk around a park to gather myself and my emotions after Shawn Hunter’s return during the first season, I also enjoy the episodes that focus solely on the girls and their Disney-appropriate middle school adventures.
But the fact remains that despite the second season addition of ‘Zay’ (a new student at the middle school who sounds like he came up through the Hollywood Shuffle School of Black Acting, which could be more a fault of the Over-Acting Teen Aesthetic Disney employs than the scripts themselves. Time will tell.) Disney’s Girl Meets World is an incredibly white show.
Even aside from the obvious choices — take The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or Living Single — the 90s were chock full of shows with full or majority Black casts. I would sooner revisit the slightly goofy The Parent’hood (Director Robert Townsend’s 1995 sitcom vehicle, not to be confused with the NBC show Parenthood) than Boy Meets World if I were looking for for deep 1990s meditations on race relations in America. With a revolving door of vanishing Black supporting characters, Boy Meets World was hardly the most diverse show of its era either. Cory and Shawn had a Black friend, Ellis, for a few episodes during season one, and a Black teacher, Eli, during season three. Both were short lived and in typical 90s fashion, diversity focused solely on the presence of Black characters rather than exploring the vast diaspora of people of colour.
And yet, despite the fact that I watched Black led shows like Sister Sister, it’s Boy Meets World’s seven seasons that remain the most beloved television of my childhood. And it was Angela Moore, the girl that managed to jam that revolving door of blackness in season five, who I used as a point of personal validation of my own existence through high school and college.