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Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I'm not into basketball.  I mean, like, at all.  Fortunately, SURVIVOR'S REMORSE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, which is about a pro basketball player, has very little basketball in it.  In fact, the main character might as well have been a rap singer or the star of a TV show on Starz, since this series is about dealing with the fame and fortune that go along with extreme success in one's occupation rather than the occupation itself.

The show is a comedy with just enough dramatic touches now and then to keep it from needing a laugh track, especially when the leads overact like they're playing to a live studio audience.  But since most of them don't strive for realism, that style kind of fits the show.

Jessie Usher (BEAUTIFUL BOY, the upcoming INDEPENDENCE DAY sequel) plays callow young sports star Cam Calloway, whose basketball skills have gotten him out of the hood and into a highly lucrative contract with a major Atlanta team.  So he moves there along with his entourage (that is, his family) who are all along for the ride.

Cam, as the series title suggests, feels guilty for lucking out and being so successful while those he grew up with are still stuck in their dreary lives with little hope of bettering themselves.  Some of them, unfortunately, see Cam as a way to get ahead, which leaves him vulnerable to moochers and blackmailers. That's where Cam's cousin Reggie (RonReaco Lee, RETURN OF THE SWAMP THING, PARIS TROUT) comes in. 

Reggie Vaughn, Cam's lifelong friend, cousin, and manager, is the voice of reason in the midst of all this chaos and we fear that if Cam and his family don't listen to Reggie more often (which they rarely do, of course) then they're all going to end up in the poorhouse before this series is over.  Reggie's the one who makes Cam put everyone on a fixed salary and give them definite jobs to do rather than letting them simply pump him for insane sums of spending cash at their every whim.

Cam's mom, Cassie (Tichina Arnold), is a brassy broad with old-fashioned attitudes that don't always suit Cam's politically-correct fanbase, which displeases his boss Mr. Flaherty (Chris Bauer), the team's owner.  Cassie's fondest dream is to live the "Oprah" lifestyle and she wastes no time in following it. 

M-Chuck (Erica Ash, SCARY MOVIE 5, "MADtv") is the "funny lesbian" sister who horndogs after all the sexy women she meets.  Uncle Julius (Mike Epps) is the "funny dirty old man" who does the same thing, acting as a "taste tester" for Cam's potential groupies and dishing out advice that's only rarely worth listening to.

Each of the six half-hour episodes focuses on some unforeseen aspect of sudden wealth and stardom that must be dealt with by the unwary Cam, even as his friends and family lay a guilt trip on him whenever he tries to impose limits on their newly lavish lifestyles.  In the first episode, Cam himself has to be reined in by Reggie after he rents the most expensive penthouse in town and goes on his own spending sprees when the temptation to spend all that money becomes too much. 

In episode two ("On the Carpet"), Cassie's vivid account of how she used to physically discipline the young Cam during a red-carpet TV interview brings charges of child abuse from an outraged public.  "How to Build a Brand" clumsily goes for Larry David-style shock value when Cam's visit to a comatose teen turns from publicity opportunity to nightmare after the kid wakes up and turns out to be a total jerk.  (I found some of the sexual themes in this one questionable but maybe that's just me.)

"The Decisions" finds the family joining both a black-owned country club and a new church, with disastrous results.  The latter adventure is played for yet more over-the-top shock value when a church service lapses into utter chaos due (predictably) to homophobia directed at Cam's sister M-Chuck.  The overall anti-religion vibe of this episode will probably offend more than a few viewers.

The final two episodes of the season find Cam and Reggie weighing the pros and cons of various multi-million-dollar athletic shoe deals and then scrambling to avoid trouble when one of Reggie's old flames, Adina (Nafessa Williams), shows up to cause a potential rift between him and his lovely wife Missy (Teyonah Parris). 

The shoe dilemma is interesting and at times funny, but the Adina situation is part of that drama aspect of the show which I think is one of its weak points.  This is especially true when we find that Jessie Usher isn't a particularly outstanding dramatic actor.  Here, as in the rest of the series, the majority of the acting responsibilities are handled by RonReaco Lee, who, more than anyone else in the cast, is just plain good. 

The 2-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a brief  featurette entitled "Meet the Cast."

SURVIVOR'S REMORSE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is slickly-produced, lightweight entertainment which, with its "movin' on up" theme, actually reminded me a little of "The Jeffersons."  I found it mildly enjoyable but hardly essential viewing, and I think that the show must improve both as a comedy and a drama if it is going to survive.

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