For the second week in a row, Survivor’s Remorse has predicted the future.
Episode one dealt partly with a racism scandal hitting an Atlanta professional basketball team. And now “On the Carpet,” which was written well advance of Adrian Peterson’s suspension for child abuse, covers a professional athlete’s mother admitting to striking her son as a child.
There are a few ways of looking at Survivor’s Remorse modest streak of prescience two weeks in. One is that Survivor’s Remorse is just the beneficiary of random chance. Another is that there are only so many possible sports stories that they just start to repeat themselves, time being a flat circle and all. Or maybe the writers have just sold their soul to the devil (Chris Albrecht in this metaphor) for precognitive abilities?
But 60 solid minutes into the show, I’ll give Survivor’s Remorse the benefit of the doubt. Mike O’Malley and his writers are just keen observers of American culture and pretty good at their jobs.
“On the Carpet” was indeed written before Adrian Peterson was just a runningback and not a defendant, but it has the feel of being written concurrently. The episode deals with the issue of corporal punishment so delicately that one could be forgiven for assuming it was just a particularly well done “very special episode.”
Cam and company walk the red carpet for one of his 25 contractually required charity appearances. While Reggie tries to keep Cam from doing anything stupid, and M-Chuck and Uncle Julius are being their usual horny selves, Mama Calloway is pulled aside for the longest red carpet interview ever from a hopelessly overmatched journalist. During the interview, Cassie says that Cam is the confident, capable man that he is today in part thanks to childhood “whoopings.” Naturally, in Larry David-ian fashion, said charity also happens to be a charity for ending child abuse.
This aspect of the episode could have been a disaster and probably should have been. There’s really no way to win when a comedy accidentally wades into the hornet’s nest of “Today’s Hot Topic ™”
Still “On the Carpet” succeeds in addressing this sensitive plot point due to the most interesting and charming aspect of its pilot: family. Family has clearly always meant the most to Cam. His “entourage” is even exclusively made up of members of his family. And Cassie’s media tone-deaf interview and subsequent refusal to apologize means that the most important thing to Cam is now directly interfering with his meal ticket: his brand.
And it’s again a little refreshing that Survivor’s Remorse has found a subtle way to allow for growth for its characters without being preachy or unrealistic. Cam doesn’t feel that strongly about the issue one way or another until he meets a father who now gleefully beats his son and realizes that being a superstar comes with a host of unwanted influence.
Cassie, for her part remains stuck in her ways, as most headstrong women her age likely would be (and are as evidenced by some of the reactions to the Peterson story). Still, she comes to realize that her ultimate motivation is what’s best for her family. And what’s best for her family is to cry in front of a camera, and wait to meet Oprah.
Due to the episode’s conception being well before corporal punishment was on the cultural docket, the tone of “On the Carpet” is a lot looser and funnier than it could have been. It’s also a credit to the cast that the performances are a lot less stiff than the pilot and the humor is much improved. Erica Ash as M-Chuck and Mike Epps as Uncle Julius in particular graduate from “comic-relief-in-name-only” to just flat out comic relief. Uncle Julius’ courting of an admitted “fame whore” is just good comedy.
RonReaco Lee also establishes Reggie as a breakout character. As the “straight man” of the ensemble he somehow makes the guy putting out proverbial fires more interesting than the characters setting them. Lee also does the impossible in making a character who has never seen Star Wars sympathetic.
Survivor’s Remorse still isn’t uproariously funny but “On the Carpet” inches the show closer to the culturally relevant, effortlessly entertaining version of itself it could one day be. Let’s just hope the warlocks in the writers’ room don’t pen an episode about a nuclear war or apocalypse as whatever they write at this point seems bound to come true.