Jessie T. Usher, Mike Epps, RonReaco Lee

“When people use a false equivalency to make light of domestic violence against women, it makes me want to punch someone in the face.” — Missy Vaughn

Survivor’s Remorse dances so gleefully near the electrified third rail, it’s easy to become convinced that the writers don’t actually know how palpable and present the danger is. This is the case in “A Time To Punch,” an episode that plays with an obviously fraught subject in a surprisingly nimble way. Granted, Missy’s apoplectic reaction to Cam’s “men hurt too” public service announcement is part-joke, part-apologia, but the defense isn’t completely necessary. “Punch” is over-the-top, but not that over the top considering the state of the professional sports business, especially as it concerns domestic violence.

“Punch” is a deeply cynical episode, but there’s no way to circumvent cynicism when making a television show about professional sports. In a post-Ray Rice scandal, post-Deflategate world, it’s never been more glaringly obvious that moral rectitude and good sportsmanship are to pro ball as piety is to religious practice. It’s kind of the core idea, but it trails winning and profit by a wide margin on the list of priorities, and you can cut all the corners you want so long as you’re willing to feign an apology and cut a remorseful figure.

In “Punch,” Cam is not the one forced to do the Westerosi walk of atonement, it’s M-Chuck, who clocks Cam in the face after they get into an argument about the “free” soda machine in Calloway Castle. She’s pissed because he’s instituted a 50-cent fee on the “free soda” machine in the kitchen to make the family more mindful of their blessings, and he wants her to act more appreciative for all he provides. It’s a stupid sibling argument, but writer Victor Levin deserves a lot of credit for making the stupid sibling argument sound really important to the people having it, while managing to keep it fizzy and funny. “This is Atlanta, Mary-Charles, not the last days of Rome,” says Cam. “It’s a can of soda, not an orgy,” M-Chuck counters. “If it were an orgy machine, I would pay the 50 cents.”

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It’s an interesting argument that highlights Cam’s mindset, a common one for the breadwinner in an insanely wealthy family. Cam is now essentially the family patriarch now, and while he loves providing M-Chuck and the others a cushy life of leisure, he’s afraid of creating entitled trust-fund babies. Put another way, he wants to spoil his family without making them spoiled. It’s an understandable contradiction, and it’s equally understandable how M-Chuck would be baffled by it. The family knows how much Cam relishes being able to provide for them, and they’re thrown for a loop whenever he has one of his sudden, inexplicable urges to halt the gravy train.

M-Chuck chooses a very big-sister like way to deal with the conflict—first she tries to cold-Coke him, then she cold-cocks him—and creates a bigger issue in the process. When Flaherty shows up with the team doctor, the Calloways claim Cam slipped on a puddle of soda rather than admit M-Chuck mollywhopped him. But the lie explodes in their faces when a cash-strapped Todd leaks surveillance footage of the assault to the media, forcing Cam and M-Chuck into the perfunctory apology tour. The story explodes in a manner similar to the Ray Rice scandal, but the closer equivalent is the infamous video of Solange Knowles unleashing a barrage of blows on Jay Z on an elevator as Beyonce withdraws.

“Punch” is impressive in part because of how sweet the Calloways come across despite the acidity of the situation. Cam and M-Chuck have a really lovely brother-sister bond, and even though she has imperiled his career and publicly embarrassed him, he’s mostly interested in protecting her from scrutiny. When all else fails, Cam has to join M-Chuck in a gauntlet of mea culpas, from a negotiation with a prosecutor looking to make an example of a female “domestic abuser,” to a radio show host who can’t stop talking about how Cam is a “p-word that rhymes with wussy.”

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The radio host expresses the most interesting and provocative idea in “Punch,” an idea later confirmed when Bao shows up furious that Cam has now associated his brand with a “p-word that rhymes with wussy.” “Punch” explores how thorny the issue of domestic violence gets when the roles are reversed. Being the perpetrator of domestic violence doesn’t bode well for an athlete’s career, but being the victim wouldn’t exactly be a boon either. Even though “Punch” makes the mistake of conflating domestic assault with intimate partner violence, that’s the same tack basically every news network would take in covering such an incident. As was the case with “Grown-Ass Man,” Survivor’s Remorse keeps showing its willingness and ability to handle even the hottest potato as easily as Cam handles the ball.

Stray observations:

  • “Punch” also flicks at the Michael Vick scandal in Julius’ feud with a neighbor and his dog, which I can only assume is far from over. Is it weird that I have no trouble watching graphic depictions of violence, but had to avert my eyes from that dog poop shot?
  • The PSA is absolutely hilarious. “Stop womansplaining.” It reminded me of this great ClickHole spoof of celebrity PSAs.
  • A minor quibble: Wasn’t M-Chuck put in charge of Cam’s public relations last season? She’s doing an awfully crummy job.
  • There’s another lesson in “Punch” besides “hitting people is wrong,” which is “pay your employees well.” $11,000 is a quarter of Todd’s salary for managing a house like Calloway Castle? Yeah, that’s your bad Reggie. Giving someone as much access as Todd had and paying them $45,000 is basically like starting the timer on a bomb.
  • Reggie to Todd, on the drowning death of his half-sister: “Water’s tough…water’s one of the tough ones.”
  • I still like Todd, if only because he uses the phrase “to wit” in casual conversation.
  • I imagine Mike Epps’ audition for ABC’s forthcoming Uncle Buck series went like this: Casting director: “What makes you the right actor to play Uncle Buck?” Epps: “Well I’m basically already playing him on another show, so…”

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