Review: For once, the very good ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ fits its not great title

Senior Television Writer
07.25.16 6 Comments

Titles for TV series are tough. You want something that gets attention, but also captures the subject and tone of your show, and you don't want to alienate potential viewers in the process. We've all shared a sigh over the poor choices that the folks behind Terriers, Trophy Wife, Cougar Town, et al right now, and if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn't make it past its second season, we can once again rail against anyone's belief that the audience appreciates nuance and/or irony in titles.

The Starz basketball comedy (from LeBron James' production company) Survivor's Remorse has a name that's not as off-putting as some of the ones above, but it's not particularly good, either. Sure, one of the key themes of the show is the way its hero, young basketball star Cam Calloway (Jesse T. Usher) feels bad about escaping a tough neighborhood to become rich and famous, but if you asked a random sample of 100 people on the street what kind of show they thought Survivor's Remorse was, I imagine the only people who would say that it's Sports Entourage – only, you know, good – would be those who had somehow already seen it.

Yet for last night's third season premiere, the title was perfect.

(Spoilers for the episode follow, and if you're thinking of sampling the show from the beginning – the 16 episodes from seasons 1 and 2 are available On Demand and via Starz's apps, as well as for purchase from the usual places – I'd point you to this piece I wrote late last season, where I also found myself lamenting the name. Some things are hard to let go of.)

Mike Epps, who played Cam's fun-loving, weed-smoking Uncle Julius, had put the series in a bind by taking a job as the lead in ABC's Uncle Buck – which has since been canceled, but well after the Survivor's Remorse had to write him out. Since the whole point of the show is the tight bond between Cam and his family, there weren't a lot of plausible ways to put Julius on a bus out of town. So instead, he wound up in the morgue, dying from injuries sustained in the car crash we saw at the end of season 2.

As a result, the premiere was understandably heavy, as is most of the season's second episode (which is already On Demand). Though there are a few bits of gallows humor here and there, it's not really until the third episode that the show seems comfortable getting back to humor, and even that plot spins out of a connection Cam and cousin/manager Reggie (RonReaco Lee) make as a result of Julius's death. If the writers and stars hadn't spent the two previous seasons building the remaining characters up into three-dimensional humans who have complicated relationships with one another, starting off a season with two straight episodes of grief would be awfully tough to pull off. Instead, it felt real, and honest, and helped strengthen the bonds not only among the family, but the people around them. (Jimmy coming to the hospital and offering to help with funeral arrangements should come into play when it's time to renegotiate Cam's deal, and Chen scores major boyfriend points by flying in to be there for Cassie.)

In a more traditional TV world where people might be sampling the show starting with this episode, it's far from an ideal entry point. In this world, though, odds are anyone looking to try the show – if they can even be made aware it exists, what it's about, and that it's much better than Ballers – would start at the beginning, and thus get to an episode like this at a time when they felt invested enough in the Calloways to not mind watching them get serious for a bit in the aftermath of Julius's death.

You watch a TV show long enough, and the characters on it can begin to feel like your own extended family. You will roll your eyes at some of the things they do (or some of the titles their shows choose to go by), but you're in it with them. I had always enjoyed Survivor's Remorse, particularly as Mike O'Malley and the rest of the creative team developed a stronger command of the show's comic voice over that second season, but I didn't realize just how bonded I'd become until I watched these early episodes and realized I wouldn't have wanted them to jump past the immediate aftermath of Julius's death so we could get right to Cam and Reggie trying to get a new endorsement deal. There will be time for that later. Once Epps decided to leave, this is pretty much where things had to go, and they went there very well.

For those of you who watched last night (and/or have seen the premiere and maybe the next episode On Demand), what did you think? Would you rather Uncle Julius had found love on one of Cam's road trips, or did this work for you?

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