Survivor’s Remorse: the Pre-Season

I had hoped to place this elsewhere but the clock has run out so I’m going to go ahead and post it here, and tempt Murphy. It’s my attempt at a TV review (or maybe more of a recap? or something in between). I’ve watched enough TV over the course of my life; it was bound to happen. Much like my testing of the waters and myself writing about movies.  There’ll no doubt be more to come.

There’s a moment near the end of the first episode of Survivor’s Remorse where the stakes become really, really clear.
Not the moment where a payout is made to halt the release of a VHS that would undoubtedly damage the newly bright future of the basketball star carrying his family on his back. Not the moment where one of the guys doing the shakedown threatens to shoot said star’s manager and cousin, to maim not to kill. Not the lighter moment where they reminisce about days in the old neighborhood; a contrast to the private jet flying, Aston Martin driving high life they’re currently living.

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But the lingering shot, after the major players have exited the scene where the guy who, backed into a corner and brimming with pride/shame, had threatened to leak the tape in the first place stands alone, eyes bleak and watery. There but for the grace of God, or something, go Cam. Cam and his family are like George and Weezy, moving on up. Unlike George, Cam is wracked with survivor’s remorse, per the title.

What has he survived?

A war zone, if the communities populated by the urban poor and marked by gun violence, drugs, high dropout rates, and limited opportunity, can be defined as such. And to escape such concentrated desperation, the series suggests, takes unique focus, hard work, family cohesiveness, and on top of all that effort, the luck of the draw. At one point, Cam compares his position to that of Schindler, now in a position to save lives. And though his cousin/manager quickly points out to him that it’s a false equivalency, and that he’s not obligated to bankrupt himself trying to save everyone else, when we see the one left behind, we understand that this Lebron James executive produced Starz series isn’t just about the baller life – to reference a more recent, more buzzed about sports series. In showing Cam’s life of opulence and opportunity, Survivor’s Remorse is, at least in part, forcing the viewer to think about those bereft of such privileges and maybe question why it should be so.

In that regard, the show, at least in its first season, aspired, in spite of its humorous tone, to a level of gravitas amidst the glitz. The contrast between Cam’s past life and his present plays out in other ways, such as in a later episode where his mother’s use of corporal punishment, which she insists helped make him the man he is to day, butts up against mainstream sensibilities. It’s a clash of cultures to be sure (and props to the show for being bold and un-PC in wading into the deep end of some of the issues actual society is still dancing around).

Sometimes they are out of their depth, such as when the cousin brokers a sneaker deal that comes apart at the seams or proves too uncouth (he would say good-natured, the politically incorrect might say ghetto) for the country club life.

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The clash of etiquettes make for good entertainment but the deeper meaning, the strength and struggles of family, the balance of hope against the hopelessness of the world left behind remind the viewer of what’s at stake. Survivor’s Remorse is a basketball series with none less than King James giving it the royal touch, but has yet to show a game or even a practice session because that’s not really the point. The show is about family and the contrast and tension between what this family has and what many others have not; it’s about learning to play the game of celebrity. This family’s learning curve, seeing if they’ll learn fast enough to hold on to the gains they’ve made, and what it could mean if they don’t is what it’s about. And it makes for an interesting view into a side of the game we rarely see.

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Survivor’s Remorse has earned a second season on Starz and will return on August 22nd.

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