Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Jessie T. Usher
Jessie T. Usher
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Survivor’s Remorse is a show about women’s reproductive health. Some people miss that, and it’s not unreasonable to do so given all the talk of basketball and product endorsement deals, but all that stuff is window dressing. At its core, Survivor’s Remorse is about a woman’s right to a fulfilling sex life and access to health care as it relates to sexual and reproductive choice. And in the guise of a show that has been repeatedly compared to Entourage and Ballers. Well-played, folks, well-played indeed.

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I’m kidding, of course, but only slightly. Between “One-Love,” which deals with the issue of babies having babies, and “The Dagger,” which takes a hard left into a public service announcement about HPV, Survivor’s Remorse has been more about female sexuality and psychology than it has been about basketball. These episodes come in the wake of “M.V.P.”, which was almost entirely about a woman’s vagina. It feels borderline ungrateful to complain about the show’s willingness to take on issues like these, because there are conversations happening on Survivor’s Remorse that aren’t happening anywhere else on television. But there’s a point at which the topicality becomes too much of a good thing within this narrative framework, and “One-Love” and “The Dagger” bring us right up to that line, if not a little beyond it.

“One-Love” is definitely the weakest episode of season two so far. It comprises two stories, neither of which comes together quite as well as it should, and only one of them moves the story forward. It’s also woefully short on Uncle Julius. Julius exists more as a joke delivery device than an actual character, but that’s an important function for this show. Mike O’Malley excels at writing rude, quippy jokes, and Julius can just saunter into any scene, spit out a bunch of those jokes at a tommy-gun clip and stroll back out. “One-Love” was kind of humorless, and some of Julius’ levity might have helped.

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Reggie dominates the main plot, which ushers in the next phase of the arc he’s been on since the season began. Reggie is a pragmatic guy, so he approaches the business of Cam Calloway just as the wisest athletes approach their careers. Cam is never more than one severe injury away from having no career. If Cam is the entirety of Reggie’s career, he’s just as vulnerable, and that’s not a position Reggie wants to be in. He makes a power move and becomes the new manager of football phenom Jupitor Blackmon after Jupitor tires of his flashy, moronic manager Deshauwn May. As comedy it works because Allen Maldonado is going to sell you a scene every single time. That dude is just funny as hell, and he can do a lot with very little, which he’s already proven in his minor appearances in You’re The Worst.

But as story, I’m still having trouble fully investing in Reggie as a character, and I’ve yet to put a finger on why. RonReaco Lee is doing phenomenal work, and the writing is strong. Perhaps it’s that I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s fueling Reggie’s ambition. That’s not to say the show hasn’t addressed it, but I really have no recollection of it that’s framing my understanding of Reggie’s choices. If Reggie is intended to be the main character of the show, it needs to be pulled more to his perspective. For one thing, there needs to be a whole lot more of Missy if Reggie is supposed to be the focal point. There needs to be House Of Cards-style marital war room scenes.

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In the B-story, M-Chuck serves out her community service sentence for the umbrella incident at the penthouse as a “Big Sibling” to a pregnant 12-year-old girl named Brittany. I struggled with the story for a few reasons. For one thing, Survivor’s Remorse frequently goes to weird places with the accents and vocal performances. I live in Atlanta, and when this show does stories about the people of the city, the characterization goes way broad. It almost reminds of the “Stone Mountain” episode of 30 Rock, which is funny, but is the epitome of Yankee smugness. The other problem is that the effort to tie Brittany’s predicament to Cassie’s decision to have M-Chuck at a young age doesn’t feel quite natural. For the first time, the show works in social commentary in a clunky way.

And then, unfortunately, the second time comes in “The Dagger,” when Cam has a fling with a beat reporter only for it to go left in an unexpected way. Cam is a major ham when it comes to interviews, so the intrepid Isa Catalano wants answers when he refuses to speak to her in the locker room. At Reggie’s behest, Cam has a lunch meeting with Isa, where he winds up revealing his raging erection to prove that he was ignoring her because of a schoolyard crush, not because he’s sexist. She returns the favor, revealing her dampened slacks in a shot I don’t feel like I’ve ever seen before. The two race to a hotel room in the hopes an afternoon quickie will allow them to get back to business, but naturally, it only intensifies the situation and the fling continues.

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The fling goes awry when Isa informs Cam that she has HPV, and that he potentially has it too. It’s a smart story in terms of how it depicts the temptation and risks professional athletes face, but it’s done in a savvy, mature way. Rather than telling a story about how Cam gets a venereal disease from a busty groupie archetype, the writers put Cam’s moment of temptation in a much more responsible package. It all happens so quickly, you can’t even blame him for not fully realizing how much of an irresponsible choice it was. Still, as much as I admire the idea, it leads inevitably to a large chunk of expository dialogue about HPV, and it’s important information to have, but it sounds like Isa is reading a pamphlet. The scene couldn’t have really gone any other way, so I have no quarrels with the execution. But it feels unnatural, and I wonder what that means for the show going forward, given how frequently it does these kinds of stories that will often realistically need that level of explanation.

But “The Dagger” has an advantage over “One-Love,” which is a winning B-story in which Cassie succumbs to the persistent charms of Bao, the Chinese athletic wear mogul. As it turns out, Bao’s attraction to Cassie has only intensified through an intermittent text exchange with Cassie. Cassie is curious, so she agrees to go on one date with him. He wants to whisk her away to Paris for dinner, but she doesn’t want to get distracted by the glamour, so she insists they go to the cheapest place possible. When they stumble into a skid row diner straight out of a Hubert Selby Jr. novel, Cassie has a change of heart and they’re back on his helicopter on the way to the jet. It’s such a lovely story because it’s clear Cassie is genuinely interested in Bao, and the money is just a bonus. And how often does an older Asian actor get to play the suave billionaire a la Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal? Even when Survivor’s Remorse stumbles, I’d almost sooner it keep walking a little crooked than straighten up.

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Stray observations:

  • I want to subscribe to Things We Think You Should Think Too.
  • Bao calls Cassie “The song of my south.” Awww! Ewww!
  • Bao: “Murder is impractical, so instead, we play basketball.”
  • Uncle Julius: “Turkey bacon is the one that feels like a waste of time.” Indeed, sir.
  • M-Chuck wants kids, but not if she has to “take the dick.” But Cassie is flattered by the gesture.
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