Why You Should Watch: ‘Survivor’s Remorse,’ The Show ‘Entourage’ Was Never Good Enough To Be

Part of an occasional series where Uproxx writers shine a spotlight on shows that shouldn’t fall through the cracks of Peak TV.

Survivor’s Remorse

What Is It: Sports Entourage — only, you know, good.

Where You Can See It: Season four debuts on Starz on 10; previous seasons are On Demand if you’re a Starz subscriber, and individual episodes are available to purchase on iTunes, Amazon, et al.

Why You Should Watch: Before he was one of the husbands on Yes, Dear, or Kurt’s understanding dad on Glee, Mike O’Malley first came to prominence as “The Rick,” an obsessive, fatalistic Boston sports fan in a series of ESPN commercials. As the creator of this comedy about young basketball star Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) enjoying his newfound wealth with the help of his family — mom Cassie (Tichina Arnold), sister M-Chuck (Erica Ash), cousin/manager Reggie (RonReaco Lee), Reggie’s wife Missy (Teyonah Parris), and, for the first two seasons, uncle Julius (Mike Epps) — O’Malley got to put his sports fandom to good use.

At first, it was often most striking to note how often O’Malley took the basic Entourage set-up and improved nearly every aspect: never showing Cam actually playing basketball, for instance, to preserve the illusion of his skills, or making the characters actually work for their happy endings, or actually putting jokes in the script rather than “Ari hurls homophobic invective at Lloyd for five minutes.”

But in time, Remorse‘s strengths become so clear and varied that it almost seems unfair to keep invoking Johnny Drama, even though the premises are the same. In particular, the series has shone in its balance of dark humor and pure darkness, never entirely forgetting the extreme poverty in which Cam and his family grew up and the ways it informs everyone’s present good fortune. (The title, which doesn’t do a great job selling the show, is about Cam’s guilty feelings for having so much when his childhood friends have so little — if they’re still around at all.) Over the years, the show has told stories about child abuse, rape, African female genital mutilation rituals, and other tough subjects, sometimes wringing surprising laugh levels from them, sometimes playing them entirely straight.

The three-parter that opens the new season is a perfect case in point. It picks up right where last year’s finale left off (all three episodes take place in the course of a single night) as Cam, M-Chuck, and Reggie each are forced to confront hard truths about their parentage. In certain moments, the episodes aim for (and earn) tears; at others, there’s room for Cassie to try to plunge a toilet in her wealthy boyfriend’s parents’ house even as she’s discussing the worst night of her life, or for Neal McDonough to make a pitch-perfect cameo as a Boston hockey fan who has no idea who Cam is. The earlier seasons have done such a good job establishing who these characters (plus Chris Bauer as the team owner who frequently bumps up against the work/family barrier) that it feels deceptively easy for the show to toggle back and forth between comedy and tragedy. Later episodes this season are more overtly silly, even as they’re asking thoughtful questions about various tensions within the black community (the bulk of one episode occurs while Cassie is recording her podcast, airing pieces of family dirty laundry along the way) or the compromises often required to encourage rich people to help out poor people. The show doesn’t always hit the very narrow tonal target it’s aiming for, but when it does, it’s both intensely satisfying and feels like nothing else on TV.

Returning so late in the summer, Survivor’s Remorse could easily be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be. It’s terrific, and well worth catching up on if you haven’t tried it before. Which brings us to…

Where You Should Start With It: While it can be daunting to see multiple seasons of a show staring you in the face these days, there are only 26 total episodes from prior years, and the series gets up to speed pretty quickly. The first episode’s a bit of a drag, but useful in establishing the characters, their relationships, and Cam’s new circumstances in Atlanta, and by the second episode — where Cassie stirs up trouble by casually admitting during an interview that she used to beat Cam as a child — O’Malley and company were already figuring out the tricky balance of silly and serious that can make the show so good.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast.