Starz Survivor’s Remorse: Series Premiere Review

The first episode of the new Starz series, Survivor’s Remorse, has just enough charm to make up for…well, everything else.

When broken down into its distinct parts, the first episode of Survivor’s Remorse (a.k.a. that show that “LeBron” show on the channel only people who watch Spartacus know exists) isn’t a resounding success. For a comedy it’s not that funny. Its characters’ “witty” banter is often forced and too self-aware. And it has a troubling habit of equating the un-PC with the hysterical. Still it’s a credit to the strength of the original “Entourage-with-jocks” premise that the pilot is utterly watchable. 

Survivor’s Remorse is produced by basketball player/international icon/Cleveland Jesus/person-that’s-most-likely-to-make-me-cry-happy-tears-in-2015 LeBron James and his childhood friend and business partner, Maverick Carter. James and Carter along with showrunner Mike O’Malley (Who should always be remembered first and foremost as the host of Nickelodeon’s GUTS) have created the show as a loose adaptation of James’ own life.

In the series’ first episode, “In the Offing,” James’ cipher Cam Calloway (Jesse T. Usher) signs his first big basketball* contract with an unnamed Atlanta basketball team. He thanks his mom for not aborting him (remember what I about the show equating the un-PC with the hysterical?) along with the rest of the family: cousin and manager Reggie Vaughn (RonReaco Lee), older sister M-Chuck (Erica Ash) and of course Mike Epps. Epps is technically playing his Uncle Julius but the experience is that much richer if you just imagine Cam Calloway’s uncle is Mike Epps. As far as heavy-handedly introducing characters in a pilot goes, a press conference isn’t a bad avenue. It’s like the plane crash aftermath scene on Lost of Starz half hour comedies.

* I imagine NBA fans will enjoy watching this show if only to spot logical inconsistencies. And Cam’s first big contract is my favorite. If Cam was still on his rookie contract with the Memphis team like the show implies, then through the vagaries of the NBA salary cap they would be the only team who could offer him a max contract. Cam left for Atlanta for a significant pay cut. Reggie Vaughn should be a lot more upset than he already is.

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Immediately following the press conference Survivor’s Remorse briskly moves onto #famouspeopleproblems. Cam wants rims on his “Ashton” Martin. Cam bought a truck for Coach Healey without even trying to find a good deal. And someone from the old neighborhood has found an incriminating video of a young, racist Cam that could prove to be a real headache.* 

*At first, I was impressed that Survivor’s Remorse was willing to go the realistic route of letting the young versions of its characters being racist little brats. They’re under-educated kids from inner-city Boston after all. My enthusiasm did start to wane, however, as Cam in present day still needed constant reminders from Reggie that you can’t call your boss’s wife an Asian racial slur. We’ll find out just how many people have Starz on their cable package by whether this becomes a Bg Deal ™ online the morning after the pilot.

This should be obnoxious, especially considering the pilot’s humor issues off the bat. But much like it’s spiritual cousin Entourage, Survivor’s Remorse is just too focused on having a good time to ever truly drag. Showrunner O’Malley is confident with the material and refreshingly exercises little restraint. A lesser debut would have tried to stagger a “Cam gets blackmailed” plotline over several episodes or a full season to really delve into the feelings of helplessness as a celebrity. But Survivor’s Remorse is just here to get paid and bro down. O’Malley knows more half-hour storylines will pop up – and they will. 

It’s also charming that Cam’s “entourage” consists entirely of his family and not a handful of friends. M-Chuck’s reminder of just what she went through to protect her little brother adds more emotional resonance to the relatively small conflicts he experiences as an adult. The fact that Cam has chosen to remain so close to his family speaks more to his loyalty and character than a slightly overmatched Jesse T. Usher can bring to the role.

The first episode of Survivor’s Remorse has charm in spades and while charm alone may not be enough to sustain it over a series, it still gets it through one episode just fine.

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3 out of 5