Review

'Survivor's Remorse' bounces well off the comedy backboard

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
'Survivor's Guilt' mixes basketball with class and culture to come up with a family comedy that works

"Survivor's Remorse," which premieres Saturday on Starz, is a largely satisfying comedy about a young basketball player, made rich by signing to a team in Atlanta, and the extended family he transplants there, lock and stock. (The barrel is left in the old, bad neighborhood in Boston, with repercussions.)

That LeBron James is an executive producer of the series would suggest an inside look at the sports world, but in the four episodes I've seen — and the season lasts only six — phenom Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) does not so much as dribble a basketball. And though the pilot takes a semi-serious tone — one might guess it was after something similar to "Ray Donovan," with its tensions between low life and high life — the series, as it emerges, is closer to "The Beverly Hillbillies" or "The Jeffersons," shows about moving, and moving on up, or "Entourage," with its play of private lives and public personas.

Accompanying Cam — nearly everywhere, in a bunch — are his mother, Cassie (Tichina Arnold), proud, opinionated; sister Mary Charles (Erica Ash), gay and very out; Uncle Julius (Mike Epps), the Jethro of the piece; clear-sighted cousin Reggie (RonReaco Lee), who handles Cam's business; and to-the-manor-born Missy (Teyonah Parris), who handles Reggie's business.

Like many TV families, they have no boundaries; apart from Missy, who has only married in, each has the capacity to throw everything into chaos. Managing perceptions, without losing one's soul or self-respect, is the series' overarching theme.

This is a class comedy and a cultural comedy, not particularly a racial one. Indeed, though there is the odd remark about the history of the South and an "indentured servitude" metaphor, nearly all the characters, apart from Chris Bauer as the team's owner, are African American, from a diversity of backgrounds, with a diversity of opinions, prejudices, misconceptions and stubbornly held positions. (Creator and show runner Mike O'Malley, also a familiar actor, is white, it seems worth mentioning; though possibly it's worth nothing more.)

The family has lessons to learn and lessons to teach, some substantial, some practical. Unlike many series — especially cable series — and despite the propensity of some family members to take undue advantage of Cam's new good fortune, the show is not broadly cynical about people or institutions, which makes it easy to like, despite its sometimes wobbly tone and occasional clumsy construction. (It does earn its premium cable bona fides, I wearily note, with applications of exclusively female nudity, even as the male characters are kept in line by the women.)

Some exchanges do feel overwritten — O'Malley has written for the stage, and there is a theatrical and sometimes mechanical dialectic to some of his scenes. And the insistence on keeping the whole main cast in near-constant close proximity, whether attending a charity ball, or on a trip to the hospital or shopping for a church, is not always believable or dramatically productive. But most often, the actors have good stuff to work with — lines melodious to speak and enough substance to build real characters from. All are up to the job.

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd

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'Survivor's Remorse'

Where: Starz

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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