Erica Ash, RonReaco Lee, Tichina Arnold, Jessie T. Usher, Teyonah Parris, Mike Epps
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Earlier this month, at the Television Critics’ Association press tour, there was a limp noodle of a kerfuffle between highly compensated cable television executives about their networks’ respective pro sports-themed comedies. It’s not a terribly long story, but to shorten it further, HBO’s Michael Lombardo made some derisive statements about Survivor’s Remorse in response to a press release touting the show as a sharper alternative to HBO’s recently launched Ballers. Chris Albrecht of Starz shot down the notion of a rivalry when he spoke to reporters on the following day, but of course he would say that. The person yelling “You guys, it’s not a competition,” is invariably the one winning the competition.

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Such facile comparisons aren’t terribly helpful, but they are irresistable all the same. And the fact is, weak ratings be damned, Survivor’s Remorse is a superior show to Ballers by a wide margin. Albrecht called the Starz publicist who made the comparison overzealous, but who can blame the person? It’s natural to crave a little equity in this world, some faint indication that just maybe The Fat Jew, who has cruised to infamy and fortune on the strength of his cropping abilities, is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise meritocratic world. If there was justice, Survivor’s Remorse would be the show with millions of viewers. But success isn’t just about skill or craft. It’s a combination of incredibly hard work and incredibly good luck.

That’s also the central theme of Survivor’s Remorse, a theme important enough for creator Mike O’Malley to encapsulate it in the unwieldy title that is undoubtedly a factor in the show’s emaciated audience. In “Grown-Ass Man,” a premiere that suggests a season two that could deliver on the first season’s promise, Reggie summarizes the idea for anyone who missed it in season one:

You’re the guy who, once we signed this big contract, you compared us to survivors of a shipwreck, obligated to help everybody we know to pay back the universe for all of our hard-earned blessings, you remember that? Now I’m trying to reconcile that guy with this guy.

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Reggie’s come-to-Jesus chat with Cam is a nifty way for O’Malley, who wrote the premiere, to refresh the audience on the ideas presented in the first season and to show how Cam is now in a different place. He’s in a different place literally—thanks to a mishap involving M-Chuck and a lawn chair, the Calloways have moved out of Cam’s Atlanta penthouse and into a palatial estate in the tony Buckhead district.

He’s also in a different place psychologically and emotionally. In the first season, Cam was wracked with guilt knowing he was living high on the hog while people he grew up with in Boston continue to struggle. But that was back during the phase when the heaviest lifting Cam had to do was to pick up a pen to sign lucrative contracts, or maybe to reposition a groupie during a threesome. Now it’s time for the real work, which much to Cam’s chagrin, comprises much more than two-a-days, yoga, and pilates.

Cam has long struggled—as celebrities often do—with the idea of belonging to anyone he doesn’t want to belong to. He loves being able to provide a life of luxury for Cassie, Julius, M-Chuck, Reggie, and Missy, but he hates the politics. He doesn’t want to shake hands or kiss babies. As we saw in season one’s “How To Build A Brand,” even the perfunctory bedside visit to a terminal child is more than Cam feels like dealing with. He’s not ungrateful, necessarily, he’s just early enough in his career that he still thinks he can choose when his success has broader significance and when he’s just a simple basketball player from which no more should be expected.

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Naturally Jimmy Flaherty, the owner of Cam’s team, sees things differently. Flaherty understandably thinks that because he’s signed Cam to a multi-million dollar contract, requests like an appearance at a bowling night are perfectly reasonable. And on some level he’s right. As Cam’s employer, he gets to compel Cam to perform professional duties above and beyond showing up to practice and games. But Flaherty isn’t grasping the nuances of working with grown-ass men.

Specifically, Flaherty doesn’t understand how the subtext of his professional relationship with Cam informs their interactions. No, Cam is not literally a slave or an indentured servant, he’s a stupid-rich professional basketball player. Still, there are racial undertones that have to be considered if they’re going to work constructively together. Flaherty wants to be respected as the man holding the purse strings, while Cam wants to know that Flaherty understands the difference between owning the team and owning him. While I’m glad O’Malley’s script doesn’t hit the nail so squarely on the head, it would have been forgivable to invoke Donald Sterling’s name.

That these conversations are taking place at all is impressive considering how little is expected of a little cable comedy like Survivor’s Remorse. On the surface, it’s male-skewing wish fulfillment draped over a black family sitcom, but the premise has depth, and “Grown-Ass Man” shows O’Malley isn’t scared to explore it.

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Stray observations:

  • Missy decides to go natural only to find it more emotionally fraught than she imagined. I know nothing about women’s hair, so I’m not necessarily nitpicking here, but tell me someone, is “transitioning” the language black women actually use when they give up the perm life?
  • I love how M-Chuck is neither the overly femme lipstick lesbian or the butch tow-truck operator. She’s a little of both, like she was a tomboy who one day got a glam makeover and decided to keep it up.
  • Cassie: “Ease up on the rum, Julius.” Julius: “Hey, our ancestors was bartered for rum.” Cassie: “I thought you said you don’t eat nothing our ancestors were bartered for?” Julius: “Drinking ain’t eating.”
  • Nelson Mandela got game! Also, he was a Carpenters fan or something!

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