“The Night of the Crash” & “The Ritual”
There’s no denying2 the potential staying power of a comedic force as dynamic as Mike Epps, but when Survivor’s Remorse took its darkest, deepest turn a year ago the famed funnyman’s most engaging TV persona yet lost out to an eventual disagreement between star talent and a plea for a pay raise. If you happened to be in the camp that found the emergence of ABC’s latest (but most certainly not its last) single-camera family sitcom Uncle Buck as the straw that broke the camel’s back: sorry to disappoint. Nevertheless, demands were made, and amidst the turmoil that concluded the series’ most recent slate of summertime episodes we were all very much keen to the results of whatever behind-closed-doors affairs amassed when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Clearly Epps and his former superiors have moved on; the former well engaged with his latest television project as the lead role, and the latter saying goodbye in a two-part celebration of a fictional life gone too soon. And in a sense, season three of Survivor’s Remorse will probably always have that big “what if?” lingering in the backburner, because season two looked like it had bigger, better and happier plans for its main cast looming on the horizon. In the series’s one-hour premiere, seeing how much the landscape has changed isn’t difficult – and in a way that drags the proceedings a bit. First of all, there’s little to no tonal consistency within the first fifteen minutes of “The Night of the Crash”. Plenty of little quips and a few sight gags are thrown in to lighten the mood, but besides maybe a couple lines and the flashbacks between Cam and Julius they ultimately fall flat – but even worse is how awkwardly they interrupt the initial grieving. Survivor’s Remorse always kind of tip-toed into its darker reaches, but with season three’s premiere truly embracing them the awkwardness of both the script and the overall feel of Julius’s death’s aftermath suggests that the series works better as a grounded satire of sorts.
Luckily, the episode – and the show itself – is carried sternly by its flavorful, razor-sharp cast. From Jesse T. Usher evoking the unshakable guilt and anguish of Julius’s death as Cam, all the way to Chris Bauer’s absolutely fantastic family consoling as Jimmy, the emotional girth of the Calloway’s latest tragedy is ever-present. Also, the cerebral impact of it is felt in the performances, with some of these individuals’ greatest efforts in this series yet. Perhaps the most impressive feat in “The Night of the Crash” is how it manages to use said performances in non-linear ways – like how Cassie clinging to the perception that Julius became a firm believer in religion eventually molds into a reveal that Julius was anything but (and, in a way, somewhat worse).
Furthermore: along with boosting the importance of the life Julius lived, the character beats at play have a good portion of the main cast reflecting on their own days on Earth. At the very least, having Cam and M-Chuck evaluate the extent of their contributions makes for some compelling one-off television, especially since we know all about their upbringing and their vastly different levels of success. But what “The Ritual” does – and does exceptionally well – is lingers on the topic and lets it fester, opening up the door for some much-needed character growth. M-Chuck just might fail miserably in her return to college, and Cam may never fully realize how caring and ungrudging he’s been since his basketball dreams came true – but at the very least they’re now both willing to acknowledge the mutual influence surrounding their relationship and use it to benefit themselves.
Lastly: “The Ritual” is simply a demonstration of what this show is like when it hits its sweet spot. Where “The Night of the Crash” largely fails to find a solid balance between brooding drama and dark comedy, part-two floats along as smoothly as a baby’s bottom, furthering the dejection spurn from last season’s finale episode while figuring out clever, amusing ways to lighten the mood. Whether you consider the subtle uplift in tone, or an airtight script that plays to the strengths of its cast far more than the oh-too-common trappings of the usual single-camera family comedy, the “dramedy” that Survivor’s Remorse has yearned to evolve into is in full effect here, and it shines throughout the installment.
“The Thank You Note”
At this stage of the game, it’s pretty clear that Survivor’s Remorse doesn’t care too much about basketball or the actual theme of surviving in a brand-new environment with lavish material riches. The night following Julius’s death, Cam dropped fifty-one points and his team won by four; you wouldn’t know it weren’t for that brief press conference afterward. Three seasons into the series, and not a single member of the Calloway family has wallowed in debt, regressed into a high-stakes incident involving civil authorities, or stumbled upon an overwhelming political circumstance that would eventually chase them out of Dodge; They’re smart, self-aware people who’d rather grow their riches together than excessively indulge in what they have now.
In “The Thank You Note”, we see exactly where the show’s ambitions truly lie: getting us enthralled in the characters. For the most part, the central cast has been fleshed out rather comprehensively – yet there are still plenty of skeletons left in the closet, and character arcs to explore. This is where the episode flexes its muscles, and despite another round of impeccably strong performances it’s actually the underlining themes surrounding the episode’s separate story arcs that most impressed me. M-Chuck’s repeated trips to her therapist, for example, table a fantastic diatribe by Erica Ash, but beneath her pent up rage and ever-increasing frustrations is a longing for moral support from Cassie and some form of closure in regards to her absent father; whether it be the discovery of his whereabouts, or the reasoning behind his withdrawal. Judging by the podcast gone wrong and Cassie’s eventual giving in to attending a session with her, this season’s only scratching the surface of what it aims to uncover for M-Chuck.
Reggie and Missy’s mailbox-hopping crusade that inherits the title of this episode also shines for its self-awareness and amazing character beats. I’m truly surprised with the sheer amount of depth behind this B-story, particularly in regards to the actual act of writing the thank-you letter. Seeing this supposed power couple butt heads never gets old, but for the show to expose Reggie’s lack of professional courtesy towards the letter as a character flaw wound up becoming a powerful bit of social commentary. And since we’re keen on Reggie doing what he can to jettison his opportunity to work alongside Cam as a means to expand his business and market his skills, I’m glad that the principle – and the reverence surrounding – the act of writing back to the Freemans is never overlooked.
Even though he only dips in and out of the majority of the episode, Cam’s presence is still felt in a big way here. Between M-Chuck’s yearning for substantive counseling and Cassie’s best efforts to honor her late brother, Cam is the wedge that brings the two Calloway women together. Without his insistence, it’s very likely Cassie would continue to heckle her daughter over the frequent therapist sessions instead of swallowing her pride and attending one with her for a change – which becomes even more necessary for the family as a whole once we learn that Cassie birthed both children from separate fathers. Through Cam, we see things from both Cassie and M-Chuck’s respective perspectives (say that five times fast) a bit clearer – but most important is how he uses their pasts and their struggles to find an emotional center: a small window that allows the two women to connect and air out without the usual verbal conflict.
And sure, it was just therapy – but Cam actually got his mother there, and convincing Cassie to welcome anyone’s form of premium counseling is a remarkable achievement all its own.
Here are some extra notes and lines I’d like to cover from these first three episodes of the new season:
- I couldn’t respect Jimmy more after he gave that inexperienced doctor and her mentor/fellow colleague a piece of his mind. That announcement of Julius’s death to the Calloways was absolutely horrible, and I was quite stunned that it wasn’t Cassie who verbally ripped them apart. Not only did that scene invite us to the fantastic level of self-awareness this series has developed, but it also went far and above at cementing Jimmy as an invaluable piece to both Cam and his family.
- The morgue scene was another perfect instant in “The Night of the Crash”, although that mostly stemmed from Reggie’s immensely frustrated reaction. It should be impossible to even dream of a hospital staff member considering the possibility of getting a photo with an admired athlete in mourning – let alone act on it.
- I think it’s safe to say that Robert Wu honorably replaces the void left by Mike Epps – at least in this half of the season. His comedic timing is great, and he carries plenty of endearment as Cassie’s latest lover. Even more surprising is how easily he gels with the rest of the Calloway clan (it does help that Da Chen Bao dishes out his own bit of pop culture insults along with them).
- “If you make promises you plan on breaking while having sex with people who are not your spouse, you run the risk of bullets entering your skull.”
Sad, but true.
- Reggie and Cassie’s feud over the arrangements for Julius’s funeral was perhaps the most entertaining aspect of “The Ritual”. What makes it work so well is that it’s incredibly easy to see things from both characters’ points of view, and seeing RonReaco Lee and Tichina Arnold cross swords through dialogue is as visceral and stern as you can imagine.
- Clay warning Reggie about his wife’s lasagna being veggie lasagna is the funniest thing that no one will remember from “The Ritual”.
- “So I shouldn’t show any part of my titties?”
“To me? Yes. To the funeral? No.”
Gotta love Da Chen Bao.
- So, we got to meet a couple of Julius’ old friends from Boston at the funeral, and my reaction was generally lukewarm. Cakebread (Owen H.M. Smith) is just another creepy uncle trope, but Squeeze (Catfish Jean) is the one who’s apparently here to stay for the rest of the season (I’ve seen episodes four and five to confirm such), and I could see him being fun to have around over time. The only thing about the latter character that I’m concerned about is whether or not Julius’s prior relationship with his mother will resurface in conversation.
- “Duck, please?”
“Nope, as in your head. I do not wish to Dick Cheney you.”
- “People who say I’m Cam’s sister, when they really should be saying that he’s my brother because I’m older.”
As both an older brother and younger brother in my family, this has actually been a glaring problem that may never find a concrete solution.
- “They name their kid Diane and they say, ‘You know what, we gotta rich this up. Let’s add a H to it.'”
- Allison continues to look and feel two steps behind of the entire cast whenever she’s on-screen. Some of this is Meagan Tandy’s fault as an actress (frankly, she lacks chemistry with everyone else), but the show has made no effort to assimilate her; she sort of just floats around in the background most of the time. I’d bet a million internet dollars that she gets written off by the end of the season.
- “Anyone ever told you ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’?”
“Has anyone ever told you, ‘Go fuck yourself’? Oh, I just did.”