TV

“Survivor’s Remorse” Stresses the Emotional Payoff of Success

The perennially underrated Starz comedy returns for a fourth season.

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It’s that time of year again: Time to remind all you brave folks out there valiantly wading through the tidal wave of Peak TV that there is a wonderful comedy on Starz called Survivor’s Remorse, and that a new season just began, and that you might like to check it out.

Created by Mike O’Malley (depending on your age, you either know him as Kurt’s dad on Glee or the cool dad on Yes, Dear), Survivor’s Remorse — which premiered in 2014 — is about a young basketball player named Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) who moves to Atlanta with his family after signing with a fictional pro team. It’s loosely based on the early career of LeBron James, an executive producer. But it’s not really a show about basketball; it’s about family, the early bonds that make you who you are, no matter how many games you win or how much stuff you can afford.

Those bonds are a focus of the show’s fourth season, which premiered on Starz on Sunday. (If you don’t have cable, there’s, ugh, an app for that; if you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can also purchase a monthly Starz subscription via Amazon Video.) Earlier seasons centered on the relationship between Cam and his cousin/manager, Reggie (RonReaco Lee), who attempts to steer his little cousin’s career in the right direction.

But we never actually step on the court with Cam. For the most part, we hang around the house with him and his sister, the foul-mouthed Mary Charles, a/k/a M-Chuck (Erica Ash); his mother, Cassie (Tichina Arnold), and her “billionaire boo,” Da Chen Bao (Robert Wu), a Chinese sneaker mogul who signed an endorsement deal with Cam in the second season; plus Reggie and his wife, Missy (Teyonah Parris), who grew up much wealthier than her husband and his family.

Survivor’s Remorse may sound like a version of Ballers (which itself is a version of Entourage), but the show has a much fizzier tone, a fun-house sensibility that keeps you on your toes. You never know if an earnest monologue will end in a wild punchline or if a screwball setup will wind up making you cry. In a standout episode from the first season, Cam, Reggie, and M-Chuck spend the day with a dying boy from a fictional equivalent of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, who confides that he doesn’t want to shoot hoops with Cam — he wants strippers. In season two, Cassie asks Cam to pay for an unnamed surgical procedure; when he finally finds out what it’s for — vaginal reconstruction surgery — he flips out. But Cassie explains that because she had kids when she was so young, she never had the opportunity to screw around in her twenties or thirties; now that she does, she wants to tighten things up down there, not only for the sake of her partner(s) but for her own enjoyment.

The new season leaves room for plenty of raunchy gags, including a hilarious bit in the fourth episode involving Cam and his girlfriend, Allison (Meagan Tandy), and a sex act that I won’t spoil here. But the season also continues along the slightly darker path the show has walked since it killed off one of its funniest characters, Cam’s Uncle Julius (a scene-stealing Mike Epps), who died in a car accident in the second season finale. (At the time, Epps had landed a starring role on ABC’s sitcom remake of the movie Uncle Buck; it was canceled after one season. Too bad Survivor’s Remorse didn’t send Uncle Julius off on vacation instead.)

In season four, Reggie, Cam, and M-Chuck — the siblings have different fathers — all attempt to reckon with their origins. Reggie angrily confronts his recovering alcoholic dad; Cam visits his, for the first time, in prison; and M-Chuck, who in the last season discovered she was the product of rape, tries to track down the man who assaulted her mother all those years ago.

Survivor’s Remorse is a distinct kind of rags-to-riches story, one that emphasizes the emotional payoff of success over the financial. “You’ve got all this money now and you’re obsessed with trivial bullshit,” Cassie tells Cam in the new season, annoyed that her children keep pestering her with questions about their impoverished upbringing. But Cam’s new wealth doesn’t just provide his family with fancy cars and mansions and in-house Coke machines; it also affords them the time and space to confront their past, to contemplate where they came from and how that’ll affect where they’re going. That’s a luxury, too.

 

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