Review: LaVar, reality TV perfect match in 'Ball in the Family'
LaVar Ball wants you to like him.
At least that seems like the goal as Ball and talented sons join the reality TV family pantheon alongside “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives of New York.”
But unlike the Kardashians, who never really care about authenticity, “Ball In The Family,” which released its first two episodes Thursday on Facebook, tries to be sympathetic to the Ball patriarch while showing his brashness isn’t just there to generate social media buzz.
In the show, produced by Bunim/Murray Productions — the crew behind the Kardashians and “The Real World,” it takes only a few minutes to realize LaVar Ball and reality TV could enjoy a wonderful union.
The man who said he could beat Michael Jordan on one leg and had a female ref removed from an AAU event in July is the star of the show. And it’s clear he’s also the executive producer, tailoring each segment and moment to ensure the cameras illuminate his grandiose persona. Every person interviewed on the show wears gear from Big Baller Brand, the company shopping his son’s ZO2s for $495.
His sons — Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, prep sensation LaMelo Ball and UCLA freshman LiAngelo Ball — all compete for the best supporting actor award in the show. LaMelo — “I’m known as the ankle bully, and I’m the CEO of it because I’ve made a lot of people fall during my lifetime” — might win.
Plus, there’s an assortment of characters who make brief appearances in the first two episodes. Three of LaVar’s brothers and a family friend comprise his security team. There are managers and business partners, in-laws and other folks who act as extras — well, anyone in LaVar’s radius is an extra in this show — throughout the series.
But it’s clear LaVar’s circle remains tight. The same folks who surrounded Lonzo during his prep years are still in the picture.
The high rollers and fast talkers who often accompany elite prospects once they turn pro do not find room within this Ball clique.
The show revolves around two clear narratives: the aftermath of Tina Ball’s stroke earlier this year and Lonzo’s tussle with fame and attention while he tries to maintain a long-term relationship with his girlfriend.
The family had hinted at Tina’s situation during Lonzo’s lone season at UCLA but never provided details. It’s clear in the first episode of the show, however, that Tina’s rehabilitation and recovery will play a prominent role in the first season.
Her father says the stroke paralyzed the right side of her body. She uses a walker and struggles with her words.
Her sons, as shown through interviews, are clearly affected by her medical challenges.
Lonzo says he thought about ending his freshman season early last year.
“It happened right before the [NCAA] tournament,” Lonzo says. “I was deciding if I wanted to go play, if I wanted to stay home with her. That’s my mom. She’s always been there for me. So when I found that out, it kinda hit me kinda hard.”
It’s the most genuine chapter of the Ball family’s spontaneous, viral summer.
And it’s also another opportunity for LaVar to steal the show.
In one segment, he says he told Tina’s doctors he’d prefer to handle her speech therapy himself. He also reiterates his love for her and helps her navigate daily activities. He promises she’ll make a strong comeback.
It’s a sensitive situation that the producers of the show will use to reveal LaVar’s more empathetic qualities and emotional layers, if they exist.
The rest of the show revolves around Lonzo being a rich, popular teenager who will soon star for the Lakers. In one segment, he shops for a condo in Marina Del Rey.
LiAngelo moves into his old apartment — to avoid “distractions” at UCLA, LaVar says — and finds selfies of Lonzo and his girlfriend, Denise Garcia, on the walls.
LaMelo acts like the goofy, famous — he has 2.4 million Instagram followers — high school junior he is.
Denise and Lonzo talk openly about infidelity and whether Lonzo’s new life will destroy their relationship.
Typical reality TV drama.
The show has potential though, especially if LaVar & Co. actually offer more than what we’ve already witnessed in recent months.
“People who think my dad is a bully,” LaMelo says in the premiere, “you should probably just hang out with him for a day and see what happens.”
But will “Ball in the Family” really become anything more than an infomercial for LaVar and the Big Baller Brand?
With LaVar at the center of the show, anything is possible.
“Everything my dad does is definitely planned,” Lonzo says in the show, “so even if, you know, people think he’s crazy, he knows what he’s doing.”
And we do, too.