Sunday, July 24, 2016

REVIEW: 'Survivor's Remorse' - A Tragedy Hits the Calloways Hard in 'The Night of the Crash' & 'The Ritual'

Starz's Survivor's Remorse - Episode 3.01 "The Night of the Crash" & 3.02 "The Ritual"

The family copes with the tragic loss of a family member and the sudden hole it leaves in their lives. The family comforts one another as they try to navigate their way through the most trying ritual of their lives in Atlanta.

The second season of Survivor's Remorse ended with an embrace of happiness that came from Cam having his first successful, mature relationship and Reggie receiving an exciting new sports management opportunity. But that happiness was punctuated by the tragic death of Uncle Julius. And yes, Julius did die in that car crash at the end of the finale. It was a cliffhanger ending over the hiatus. But "The Night of the Crash" confirms that he did in fact die. That's a stark contrast in tone for the show. Survivor's Remorse tackles many sensitive and important subjects. But it has always done so with a completely outrageous and hilarious tone. A death of a regular character promises to change up the entire structure and rhythm of the show. These opening two episodes are some of the most dramatic and emotional ones the show has ever produced. It's a significant change from what the show does so well. And yet, the characters, the writers and actors are strong enough to handle this twist with so much confidence and reverence.

Honestly, Uncle Julius probably was the most expendable member of the show's ensemble. It's not surprising that he was confirmed to die in the car accident here. It's too bad Mike Epps left in order to star in ABC's poorly executed and short-lived sitcom Uncle Buck. But it is what it is. Uncle Julius had a big and important function on the show. Whenever the show did a big group scene with the entire family, he always had a hilarious and unexpected reaction to whatever conversation was going on. His various subplots over the previous two seasons were hit or miss though. Julius accidentally killing a dog was pretty dreadful while him becoming involved with police brutality was poignant and insightful. But this is a huge loss for the show. Uncle Julius was the character who most enjoyed the lavish lifestyle Cam's professional basketball career could afford for the entire family. He was living his dream of luxury. He loved everything he could now afford. It didn't come from a place of malice or manipulation either. He was proud of everything Cam had accomplished and was simply along for the ride to make sure someone was enjoying this new lifestyle. He still provided lots of advice for the family. He was simply a good uncle who cared about his family and wanted them to succeed.

And now, Uncle Julius is dead. There was no saving him. His injuries were just way too severe to bring him back. The family is thrown through the emotional ringer and don't know how to react. Everyone wants to take the burden of being responsible for his death. Cam wants to blame himself for buying Allison a car to replace her broken one. Julius only died because he was driving Allison's car to the mechanic. Everyone wants to put guilt on that action. It's a curious situation. Why was he the one driving that car? That's what Reggie and Missy want to know. Allison didn't want any of this to happen. She simply didn't want Cam to shower her with luxuries just because he can. She turned down the car and Cam was showing it off to her. Cam is the only one in the family who really knows Allison. She's important to him largely because she's the only girl he's dated for more than one episode. In the show's timeline, they've only been seeing each other for a month. Reggie didn't even know Cam got Allison a car. That's how out of the loop he was because of Jupiter's problems. And yet, Julius was very supportive of the gift. He encouraged Cam to do it because he was in love.

These opening two episodes really do work a lot because of the little cutouts of happiness with Uncle Julius before he died. The audience learns that there was more to the conversation between Julius and Cam about love from the finale. Sure, Cam still doesn't know who broke Julius' heart all those years ago. But he's still able to guide Cam though this tricky emotional journey. In fact, he's the one who helps Cam drive the new car over to Allison at the hospital as a surprise. He was there for the whole journey. He was happy to help. Cam loved that he did that and cherishes those memories. And now, there is nothing but those memories. All the family has is looking back at all the times Julius was there for them and supportive of them no matter how stupid they were. They were there for him in the end too. They were able to hear his humorous final words - "I wish I believed in God." And they were right by his side on the ambulance ride over to the hospital. Sure, it wasn't enough. But the family does more than enough to honor Uncle Julius over the course of these episodes in a way that he really deserved.

And yet, Uncle Julius is to blame for the accident that killed him. He was smoking weed while driving. He blew through a red light because he bent over to pick up his pipe. That's why the truck driver plowed through him. Plus, he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The entire family is trying to make sense of what happened. They theorize that the brakes on Allison's car went out or that the truck driver was drunk. M-Chuck holds most of that anger and Allison receives so much of the vitriol. Instead of holding her close, Cam pushes Allison away. He's dealing with his uncle's death by needing to focus on what comes next with the body and the funeral. It's a difficult time for all involved. But Cam also goes on to play in a game the following night. Not only that but he scores the most points he has ever done in the series. Sure, it's laughable when a reporter bluntly asks him about his uncle's death in the press conference afterwards. But it's still important that Cam and Allison's relationship is still strong after all of this happens. Cam just needed some time alone to react to this tragedy that happened right in front of him. Sure, that time was spent setting the new car on fire. He didn't quite think through his actions with that though because it later exploded on the driveway. But that's how he needed to let out his anger.

Plus, Cam gave a beautiful eulogy at Uncle Julius' funeral. He perfectly encapsulated everything that made him such an important person and role model in his life. Julius was always there for Cam and the rest of the family. And now, he no longer will be. They have to wrap their heads around that. They don't know how to keep on living without him. And yet, they must. They have to find a way to move forward with their lives. In the process, they also make sure to honor Julius' memory as best as they can. So, they decide to bury him in Atlanta because that's where he was the happiest. They make sure all of his friends from Boston are able to attend the funeral. But the show also honors who Julius was as a character. So, this premiere also enjoys the fact that Julius was a liar who took free food from the homeless and who had some unseemly friends back in Boston. That's simply who he was. So, that's the life and reality awaiting the rest of the family as they prepare to bury him. They find solace in the fact that maybe he did believe in religion after all and will make it to heaven in the aftermath. Of course, the show makes sure it's not that simple for the audience. Cam takes comfort in the prayer card he discovers in his uncle's wallet. But the premiere ends with Uncle Julius going out on a high - quite literally. He snorts cocaine with a priest. And that wonderfully covers exactly who he was as a character over the entire series.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Night of the Crash" was written by Mike O'Malley and directed by Peter Segal.
  • "The Ritual" was written by Mike O'Malley and directed by Victor Levin.
  • Chris Bauer and Robert Wu have both been promoted to series regulars this season. So expect to see more Jimmy and Chen this season. They've always been such strong parts of this series. It should be exciting to see what they do this year.
  • During the chaos at the hospital, M-Chuck lets it slip that she wants to go back to college. But more importantly, Jimmy is helping her do so. That's an awkwardly introduced plot point that will likely become important later on this season. Plus, Cam gives her his support and will pay for it.
  • It's probably significant that Missy and Reggie bring up the fact that Cam's contract with Atlanta has an opt-out clause after one season. They bring it up as pillow talk alongside birth control. Of course, they then get pulled into the Julius' tragedy and never talk about it again.
  • Cam jokes in his eulogy that Julius never had a wife or kids unless there are any secret offspring at the funeral. But then, a kid shows up at the party reception talking about Julius being very supportive of him while he was dating his mom. Should anything be read into that?
  • Missy is there for Allison and is supportive of her and her decision to turn down the car from Cam in the first place. Sure, it feels like a conversation the audience comes into halfway. But it's important nevertheless.
  • The whole cast was terrific in these opening episodes as they transitioned to more dramatic material - especially Jessie T. Usher, Erica Ash and Tichina Arnold.