Scott F. Evans
The newest addition to the Starz series lineup is a refreshing lesson on the mistake of judging a book (show) by its cover (premise). The synopsis, casting, marketing and shooting location for Survivor’s Remorse all scream ‘Generic Black Sitcom.’ It could have been played broadly, gone for the obvious big laughs, cheap emotional beats, and neat wrap ups to every episode. But it doesn’t. It discards nearly every element that has plagued too many comedic attempts since the 1980’s.
Topping the list of things done right, is the show’s writing and directing. Be warned: the dialogue can be profane, almost to the point of excess. But the wordplay is so refreshingly sharp that you forgive it. Instead of the typical ‘setup and punchline’ formula, the writers focus on snappy banter. You actually have to pay attention to catch all of it.
The direction of the show is also exemplary. This is no quickie, haphazardly shot TV show. The care taken with lighting and composition is evident. The main characters live in a high end penthouse with a gorgeous view of Atlanta, and the filmmakers make excellent use of it. The cinematography alone on this show effectively camouflages its modest budget.
Early marketing was also inaccurate. Survivor’s Remorse was sold as the Black, basketball playing companion to HBO’s Entourage. Given that, one would expect the show to be episode after episode detailing the hedonistic lifestyle of a rich pro ball player. Instead, the show has much more to say about the lives of the newly moneyed than Entourage ever did. Where Entourage was arguably a show about white male privilege where the protagonists never, ever lose… Survivor’s Remorse is almost a cautionary tale. Lifestyles of the young and rich aside, the show really wants to teach us about how to keep that wealth. With story after story of pro athletes going broke long before they qualify for Social Security, the lesson is long overdue.
Jessie Usher is solid as our ostensible lead, newly signed Atlanta Hawk Cam Calloway. He plays the young baller straight down the middle with just enough youthful arrogance to be realistic, but not enough to put viewers off. He offsets the cockiness with an easy charisma that forces you to root for him. Tichina Arnold and Mike Epps play his mother and uncle. They’re both good, dialing back their broad shtick for the roles. But sometimes they both feel a little too young for the parts, especially the way they talk to the younger members of their family. Teyonah Pariss, as bourgeois cousin-in-law Missy Vaughn steals nearly every scene she’s in. Her character is the outsider and Pariss plays it slightly ‘above it all,’ but never haughty. Erica Ash is decent (if not a little inconsistent) as M-Chuck, Jesse’s lesbian sister. Between this character’s gender-specific antics and Arnold’s and Epps’ crudity, the show often teeters right on the edge of comic boorishness. Thankfully, the writers show restraint.
Survivor’s Remorse completely flips the script on viewers. Typically a show like this would be about the young, arrogant player and his zany family. Instead of crafting the show along those clichéd lines, Remorse is built around the one character who would normally be the ‘straight man’ and butt of most of the jokes. RonReaco Lee expertly guides this nouveau-riche experience as cousin and manager Reggie Vaughn. Reggie is exquisitely balanced with just the right amount of savvy to be an effective manager, but enough uncertainty to give the show a tangible level of suspense. In many ways, Survivor’s Remorse is actually Reggie’s story. He is the one that holds the ship together, fighting week after week to ensure that Cam and the family never have to go back to the hard scrabble poverty they once lived in. Reggie is the character you wish more young athletes and musicians had in their corner, guiding them through the treacherous waters of the sports and entertainment industry.
RATING: Must See TV