Erica Ash, Julz Goddard

High expectations are the consequence of grand ambition. Survivor’s Remorse has so much going for it, it’s the kind of show that inspires mild resentment whenever it’s very good because it clearly has the capacity to be great. Even while “The Date” is one of Remorse’s strongest episodes to date, I don’t think it represents the absolute best the show has to offer. But “The Date” works so well that if it does turns out to represent Remorse at its peak, the show would still be three steps ahead of most comedies on the air.

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Oddly enough, “The Date” succeeds because it works like a traditional sitcom. I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure this episode is the closest Remorse has come to doing three distinct plots that all feel complete on their own. Even in its best weeks, the show frequently sidelines a character—most often Missy, who I always want to see more of—or splits the Calloways between two stories that feel like they have unequal weight. “The Date” gives all of the characters plenty to do between its three plots, two of which advance the serialized story while the other is just a fun, weird diversion. The extended Calloway clan is interesting enough to make an episode using only most of them, but “The Date” is the first episode that doesn’t force the audience to choose.

It does, however, force the audience to get on board with the show’s sometimes jarring rhythms. Specifically, Mike O’Malley and his writers have a tendency to do much of their table setting off-screen and tell the audience what they’ve missed with a flurry of exposition. It’s a technique O’Malley either learned from or experimented with back when he was writing for Shameless, another off-kilter family comedy with a habit of inserting modest time jumps between its episodes. Telling the story this way allows the writers to skip past the dullest parts and zip straight to the fun stuff, but it’s the equivalent of jumping directly to the first big drop of a rollercoaster rather than going through the slow climb to the top. I’d love to know the process by which M-Chuck found herself in a serious relationship, but instead “The Date” finds her already well into the relationship with not much indication of how exactly that happened.

Where that’s a liability for M-Chuck’s relatively minor portion of the story, it’s a boost for the story of Cam’s persistent courtship of Allison, who in the interim since “The Injury” has shut down Cam’s numerous attempts to woo her. Naturally, Allison is impervious to, and even put off by, the attributes that would attract many women to Cam. Allison lives in a barely furnished apartment—Cam, eager to impress with his knowledge of history, calls it “spartan”—across the hall from a couple that prides itself on straddling the line between passionately tempestuous and clinically abusive. She resents him for living in a bubble and having the sense of entitlement that allows him to rat her out to her boss then ask for her phone number, or get free food even though he has more than enough money to pay for it. But Allison is still a person, so she can’t resist Cam’s game when he says his basketball career might have just been fate’s way of putting her in his path.

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Maybe M-Chuck’s lawn chair incident was all part of fate’s plan to introduce her to her new belle, but it’s hard to say. It was definitely part of the plan to get M-Chuck into a therapist’s chair, something she’s been needing to do for a while, but only acquiesces to as a condition of her probation. Cassie, who is busy making dumplings for the charming-but-gaunt Chen, isn’t crazy about M-Chuck’s therapy because she’s anxious about looking like a villain when M-Chuck completes her Freudian excavation. Whenever M-Chuck tries to talk about the benefits of the therapy, Cassie has shady, hostile comments to offer in a quasi-humorous tone that belies the venom behind them. Remorse has toyed with a lot of dangerous, controversial ideas and themes this season, but this doesn’t seem like a riff on the same “black people are suspicious of psychiatry” story Empire’s been telling. Those nuances are certainly present, but this is a story about Cassie and M-Chuck, their awareness of how their mother-daughter relationship differs from the norm, and the differences in how they fit that into their personal narratives. Their argument is one of the bravest, heaviest scenes the show has done.

There’s just as much bravery in the story of Uncle Julius’ ride-along, which is not quite the razor-sharp satire it wants to be, but has some interesting things to say and gives Mike Epps his best platform yet. Epps is a really funny dude, and I’d honestly watch a show that consisted solely of him dancing with an ice cream cone in a marble-floored foyer. Julius’ dance party is cut short when a white kid in a hoodie steals his bicycle, leading him on a meandering search for the culprit. They finally track someone down after grabbing dinner at a barbecue joint, but he’s just a white kid in a hoodie on a bike, not the culprit. The cops beat him into a pulp anyway. It’s an interesting angle on police brutality, as it suggests class is the main driver in such encounters. Because Julius is wealthy and related to a famous basketball player, the officers feel like they “know” him in a way they don’t know the random white cyclist suspected of stealing from Julius. It’s probably too clean a take, but why quibble? “The Date” does so much right, it feels ungrateful to focus on the negative.

Stray observations:

  • Allison is right about Cam’s shirt. It’s pretty bad.
  • Julius is a genius. Is there any ill that can’t be cured with black girls and gelato?
  • I loved the use of the bicycle thief to link the Julius and Cam/Allison plots.
  • Reggie: “Steak tartare. It’s not tartar.” Cam: “What’s steak tartar, then?” Reggie: “The shit left on your teeth after you eat steak.”

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