After last Sunday featured the return of HBO’s biggest show, this Sunday brings back the network’s biggest (in many senses) star.
Dwayne Johnson and his team of often financially irresponsible athletes and financial advisors join Game of Thrones on Sunday nights when Ballers premieres its “more mature” and “evolved” season 3. The football comedy has moved its home production base from Miami to California and will feature more locales than ever, but it’s the move away from partying and into more adult themes such as fatherhood and fertility that has the creative team excited.
“When I read all the scripts for season 3, they were all a bit more mature,” executive producer Julian Farino tells EW. “It seemed to me that they gave a concerted effort to making them into more mature characters. It wasn’t falling back on too much partying. Season 3 is quite brave and going for a very strong and ambitious path and doesn’t have the same bling factor. I mean, it’s always there with Ballers, but it seemed to be more character driven and evolved.”
Much of that evolution falls on the very broad shoulders of Spencer (Johnson), who appeared to hit rock bottom by the end of season 2. The realization that he might not get approved by the NFL to represent its players — and deservedly so — sent him on a partying tailspin that led to his powerfully personal and honest speech at the Rookie Symposium. And the last we saw, he was limping his way to a hip replacement.
“He’s partially recovered from season 2, but he’s far from untroubled,” shared Farino, who directed Sunday’s season premiere. “He has complex issues going on, and it always seems to pull Spencer back into some trouble. He’s not a shining white knight hero and I think that’s why Dwayne likes playing it so much actually, because the character is flawed. Dwayne can do charming and has great comic timing, but digging into Spencer’s psyche is the fun part of the show.”
If two seasons of Ballers has taught us anything — other than how much athletes want to be on it — it’s that Spencer dreams big, whether it’s his business, clients, or women. That trend continues in season 3 when he sets his sights on two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry and, more importantly, bringing a football team to Las Vegas. “It’s classic Spencer and reflects what made him a great athlete and what makes him such an erratic businessman,” says Farino. “He sees the end line and he wants to go for it, defy the odds, and take on the big man, so he’s a little out of his depth.”
Attempting to move a team to Las Vegas might seem familiar to football fans. In March, the NFL approved the Oakland Raiders’ application to relocate to the Sin City effective 2019 or 2020. While Ballers may be introducing the storyline months later, their Vegas plot had long been in the making, so much so that the sudden reality caused some last minute audibles.
“We were constantly dancing between what was logical between our own story and what was consistent with the real world, which was a little mind boggling,” admits Farino. “The weird thing was that we were there first and suddenly, real life kicked in in a very parallel sense. It got to the point with the season finale where we wrote two endings because we couldn’t have one set of events being driven by Spencer and Joe (Rob Corddry) and, then, what was really happening.”
Ballers returns to HBO on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.