Your appreciation of Survivor’s Remorseas anything other than an above average Entourage with basketballs will likely depend on one factor: how bad you’re willing to feel for an athletically gifted millionaire.
Anybody who has ever listened to a Jay-Z song, read The Great Gatsby or rightfully chuckled at this album cover knows that fame and fortune come with their own perils. Survivor’s Remorse has flirted with the concept of mo’ money, mo problems for two episodes but the opening minutes of “How to Build a Brand” offer as clear and concise a statement on the matter that the show has offered yet*
*You know…beyond being named “Survivor’s Remorse.”
Cam and company are making their way down a hospital hallway while Cam is voicing his discomfort with having to visit a terminally ill teenager, Johnny, as part of a Make-a-Wish obligation. Reggie tells him that it’s just part of the “new costs of being Cam.” Fame costs and this is just one particular area where he gets to pay up.
Cam has some nice words for the coma-stricken Johnny and his mother and feels better about having been able to fulfill his responsibilities despite his discomfort. Then Johnny wakes up…and things take a turn for the slapstick.
The phrase “the new costs of being Cam” is both pleasant to the ear and a a solid thesis statement for the show itself. The problem is that the episode that introduces the clearest direction for the show thus far also does the least with it.
“How to Build a Brand” is not being as groundbreaking or clever as it thinks it is in offering that Johnny would only care about the baser things in life having confronted death. And asking a young actor to find the humanity in a horned up brat who just got out of a coma proves too tall of an order.
It’s also never quite clear what Cam is supposed to be even taking away from this experience. In episode two, “On the Carpet,” Cam really does get a sense of the new consequences of his life of fame when he realizes that parents (albeit weird ones) may be motivated to strike their children in the hopes they’d turn out like him. And still that episode found the time to be quite funny while “Brand” struggles.
The emotional climax of “How to Build a Brand” isn’t when a teenager suddenly dies at dinner but rather when Reggie and Cam joke that Nike will likely call tomorrow. Granted it’s not an entirely inappropriate or unfunny coda to the macabre proceedings. Previously, Survivor’s Remorse has depicted a universe where all non-team-Cam individuals and organizations use one another for their own purposes: contracts, shoe deals, seeing M-Chuck’s boobs, etc. The difference is that the first two episodes found the humor in that, while this just comes across as flat out unpleasant.
“How to Build a Brand” is a slight step back for an otherwise strong debut for Survivor’s Remorse. The elements of solid comedy and narrative purpose are both there. The show just needs to find a way to depict the “new costs of being Cam” in a clearer, more concise and ultimately funnier way. Not killing any more teenagers might be a solid move too.