Clipped Review: FX Series Dramatizes an Unbelievable Sports Scandal

FX's miniseries about Donald Sterling's scandalous tenure owning the Los Angeles Clippers should intrigue even non-sports fans.

“CLIPPED” -- “White Party” — Season 1, Episode 1 (Airs Tuesday, June 4th) — Pictured: Cleopatra Coleman as V. Stiviano.
Photo: Kelsey McNeal | FX

This Clipped review contains no spoilers.

While many might still say HBO is the best American network for prestige television, FX has forcefully inserted itself into the conversation in the last few years. From the rabid animal that is The Bear to the densely historical Shōgun, the channel commands respect just by placing its name in front of a series (which is a necessary branding tactic since many of those series, Clipped included, stream exclusively on Hulu and not cable). Knowing how incredible FX’s track record in the 2020s is, it came as a pleasant surprise when it was announced the network would be adapting a recollection of Los Angeles Clippers basketball owner Donald Sterling’s racist downfall at the end of the 2014 NBA season. 

Using extensive research and journalistic fortitude from ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne, Clipped takes the already wild story of Sterling’s banishment from professional basketball and sensationalizes certain aspects of the saga for a wider audience. Both basketball fans who can quote the events verbatim and non-sports folks who want a juicy tabloid drama will be intrigued by the miniseries’ style and substance. 

To give some context to the proceedings, let’s give a rundown of the messy divorce between owner and franchise in a nutshell. The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the worst teams in the NBA for Donald Sterling’s entire three-plus decades at the helm of the organization. With a crass arrogance and nonchalance added to his closed-tight checkbook, Sterling ran L.A’s other basketball team like a petulant toddler. He also appeared to regard his majority-Black players like property and took advantage of his wife like a pet. 

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All of these atrocious qualities set Sterling up for a climactic downfall, which is set in motion by a mysterious mistress dubbed V. Stiviano (she was born Maria Vanessa Perez). These two characters form the entertaining backbone of Clipped, and this is where the action begins in episode one. Played to perfection by Ed O’Neill, Sterling is perverted, vile, and ironically hilarious. Basketball fans already know that predicting what would come out of Sterling’s mouth was a lottery of phrases, but the miniseries casting directors brilliantly understand that the old bigot needed to be portrayed by an actor who was familiar with uncouth dialogue delivery. 

Leveraging his days on Married… with Children, O’Neill never misses a beat playing Sterling. From a cringe-worthy scene asking superstar point guard Chris Paul (Alphonse Nicholson) to sing “Happy Birthday” to the way he cradles power forward Blake Griffin’s (Austin Scott) face in his hands, O’Neill eerily recreates every last mannerism and creepy quirk that Sterling possessed in real life. His Emmy-worthy performance proves that some of Hollywood’s best talent remains our cherished childhood sitcom actors. 

Sterling’s girlfriend, V. Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman), gets plenty to do as well. An ambiguous woman who recorded Sterling’s frequent rants and rambles just in case anything useful became tangible, Stiviano is the character most casual fans will become fascinated with. The show carefully carves out her motivations for taking advantage of Sterling, both financially and in his ruination, and Coleman is a revelation in the process. She combines real life inspiration and creative liberties to give Stiviano a more well-rounded personality than basketball fans were ever able to get from the often-masked woman during the actual chronicle. 

Clipped also gives plenty of screentime to the legendary Laurence Fishburne as Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers. Besides not really looking like Rivers, something that is more than a little distracting as a longtime NBA fan, Rivers’ perspective feels a little inconsequential in the scheme of the story. The pressure to win a championship against the backdrop of Sterling’s immorality won’t really connect with non-basketball fans. This audience might see Rivers’ story as an intrusive aside from the main plot line surrounding Sterling and Stiviano, while basketball diehards will already know everything about Doc’s part in the journey. This puts Clipped in a tough spot where the writers don’t know whether to cater more to the folks in the know or those learning about this history for the first time. 

The jumping between the different characters causes some uneven pacing, but the artistic expression on display makes up for this. It’s obvious that the miniseries understands every intricacy of what happened a decade ago, but this small time frame makes the series feel maybe a little too early to re-enter the pop culture zeitgeist. Sterling’s banishment made headlines outside the sports world, and even Gen Z will remember at least hearing about it in passing. Social media was still in a semi-primitive state in 2014 compared to now, but Sterling’s racist rant went viral in a way that transcended the technology of the time. 

Is it really necessary to make a TV series about nonfictional events that are still so fresh in the viewers’ minds? This question hangs over the show far too often. It doesn’t affect the quality of what’s on the screen, but it does spoil the entertainment that often defines other historical dramas. Clipped is a very good FX affair that was probably born a little too early (although O’Neill may not have been cast a decade from now, something that would change the entire dynamic of the depiction.) Those with absolutely no prior knowledge of what happened will enjoy it the most, but then they might not be as emotionally invested as basketball fans educated on the matter. Clipped’s juxtaposition of watching motivations will be the legacy of the program.

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The first two episodes of Clipped are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere Tuesdays, culminating with the finale on July 2.

Learn more about Den of Geek’s review process and why you can trust our recommendations here.


4 out of 5