Starz debuts Survivor's Remorse, a six-episode 30-minute comedy that follows Cam Calloway, a budding African American basketball star who's just landed a mega contract, on Saturday at 9 p.m. LeBron's Springhill Production company is a partner in the venture, but LeBron really is involved in name only — the show really was the brainchild and result of Maverick Carter and executive producers Tom Werner (Roseanne, The Cosby Show) and Mike O'Malley (Glee).
Imagine Entourage with young athletes instead of actors, with the added bonus of timely real-life news stories dropped into storylines, some ripped from Carter and LeBron's childhood and ascent to fame, and some that feel like they're taken straight from the headlines — except that they were written long before the situations became real.
Take the first two episodes, which you can watch in full right now at Starz online.
In the pilot, Cam has just signed his multimillion-dollar deal with Atlanta when word funnels in from Boston and his childhood neighborhood that a former friend — one who, unlike Cam, was unable to escape the streets — has in his possession a video Cam and his cousin made when they were young. The video, which shows the duo smoking weed and using racist slurs, is not exactly how a new superstar wants to be introduced to the world and the inner circle is justifiably concerned with its future. There's a shakedown, hurt feelings, the predictable introspective moments of newfound privilege reflecting on that newfound privilege compared to those left behind, and a tidy resolution. (LeBron grew up in the projects and while the details don't match up exactly to Cam's, something similar was the genesis for the storyline.)
It feels real, which is one of the best things that can be said about a show about a rich, young athlete's life. And that's bolstered by the rest of Cam's cast of characters, including a mother without an internal filter, a hanger-on uncle, and a sister relishing in the family's new fame and money.
The second episode — much better than the pilot in terms of tempo, writing and laughs, for what it's worth — brings them all together for a 30-minute swing through a story that ended up dominating the national conversation just days after the show screened for media in Cleveland at the Capitol Theatre. Cam's mother gives a red-carpet interview during which, for whatever reason, she talks about disciplining Cam while growing up, including using a switch. The Adrian Peterson scandal would unfold 24 hours later. Much of the conversation and reaction to Peterson's situation is dealt with nicely and frankly in the episode. The mother nonplussed at how she raised her child, a family unwilling to apologize for how they chose to raise their children, national media and team officials battling for apologies, conflicted family debates about being told what to say.
If you have Starz, or can find it, it's not a bad way to spend a half an hour and much of what you see will probably leave you thinking, "Yeah, that probably happens." But where Survivor's Remorse falters is its tendency to wrap everything up a little too tidy. You can imagine the writing crew creating a perfect crescendo moment to each episode and struggling to pull the strings to get the story there without resorting to contrived cuteness. It also feels a little too glossy, like the fictionalized accounts drawn from real-life circumstances are given a polish that stretches credulity, more sitcom than a cable show deserves to be. Especially in a short six-episode run where you feel like Carter and company decide to tackle one big issue in each 30 minute-stretch. Here's the episode on the hood. Here's the episode on a scandal. Here's the episode about endorsements. There's little character growth and depth when they're mainly deployed as pawns to move the storyline along.
But overall? Eh, not half bad.