Sunday, August 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Survivor's Remorse' - Cam Learns Just How Powerful His Words Can Be in 'The Age of Umbrage'

Starz's Survivor's Remorse - Episode 3.04 "The Age of Umbrage"

Cam's words during an interview are taken out of context and twisted into a scandal that the whole family is drawn into - one that leads to the creation of the Calloway Philanthropic Trust.

"The Age of Umbrage" is a type of episode Survivor's Remorse has done before. A member of the Calloway family does or says something in public that chaos a scandal that threatens Cam's career. It's a story the show has been very successful with in the past - including Cassie talking about beating her children when they were younger and M-Chuck punching Cam in the face. All of this has happened because the family is still getting adjusted to life in the public eye. It's hard to believe that all three seasons of the show still only encompass one year of Cam's basketball career. Not even that really. So, it's surprising when Jimmy notes just how much trouble this family has gotten into in just a matter of months. And these scandals have only somewhat carried consequences in the past. Cassie and M-Chuck both had to apologize in order to save Cam's career. Cassie hasn't changed all that much since her scandal while M-Chuck has had to go to therapy. That's been an interesting story for her too - though we don't get to see the fallout of her session with her mother here. But this episode changes the formula by having Cam be the one to say something that causes public outrage. That's a significant change even though the execution is a little wonky.

The episode gets off to a really somber start as well. Cam is still struggling to cope with Uncle Julius' death. He's looking to the prayer card for hope. Hope that will help him sleep through the night. Hope to grow and learn from this tragic situation. It's also important that Allison is standing by him through this difficult time. She isn't running away just because things are hard. She's here for him. She's aware of just how difficult this time is for him. Their relationship has only been a thing for a relatively short period of time. And yet, it already feels like a vital part of the show. Allison is Cam's confidant. A woman who makes him a better man while also standing up for herself. That opening scene is sweet when she convinces Cam to stay at her place first with pancakes and then with sex. Moments like those are necessary to help this feel like a meaningful relationship. It actually exists on the screen. The characters aren't just telling the audience that the relationship is strong and healthy. The audience is actually seeing it through its ups and downs - even though it's pretty minor in the grand scheme of things in the narrative.

It's also significant that Cam is the main driver of action in this episode. In giving an interview, he's the one who causes the big scandal of the episode. In the moment, it seems like a genuine conversation too. Sure, Cam can be easily manipulated into being generous. The guy who wants to interview him knew him in college. And now, the guy has a journalism career and wants to interview Cam the breakout basketball star of the season. It's not long into the interview until Uncle Julius' death is brought up. And yet, it occurs in a very natural way that doesn't feel too exploitative - unlike the season premiere where Cam was asked it bluntly in the post-game press conference. Cam takes the moment to reflect on his life. He has a conversation about what it means to live. He has truly thought about more than basketball over the last few weeks. Uncle Julius' death has shone him that he should do more with his life. He has always been a kind and generous person. But now, he wants to do more so that less people can struggle like he has. That's a beautiful sentiment. And yet, the details of the interview are soon misconstrued and erupt into a scandal.

The purpose of this story is to critique today's culture and the public's willingness to take quotes from celebrities out of context to create huge scandals. We live in a 24/7 media society. Everything can become a story. People need to continually mess up in order to feed into our obsession of consuming as much content as possible. We pride ourselves as being better people who speak out against injustices once a light is shined on them. But it's even more important to do so when the issue isn't in the public spotlight. Cam starts a national conversation about Frozen Nostril Syndrome. As he puts it, it's a fucked up situation that requires too many surgeries to fix. In the moment, when he's giving the interview, it's easy to understand what Cam is trying to say because the audience has had the luxury of watching him grow as a character across three seasons now. That provides us with some valuable insight into his thought process. He doesn't share any controversial opinions. He simply wants to be a better man while he's alive. The trouble comes from people who don't know Cam all that well. They take a statement filled with profanities and build it into a scandal just to get a rise out of people. Cam didn't mean to offend anyone. But now, he has to deal with the fallout of what he said.

The episode does criticize the media a little bit too much though. It serves some harsh judgment for those people who so willingly post things without providing any of the meaningful and necessary context. It also has quite a bit of disdain for people who sign petitions and pledges but then don't do anything to actually confront real problems in the world. The moment where Cassie is confronted by a concerned citizen criticizing Cam is wonderful. Through her own specific and very profane way, she provides the context that changes this person's perspective on things. Sure, that's very aspirational when it comes to opening meaningful dialogue with people too oblivious to research before speaking. But it works incredibly well as a moment here. It also comes after the weird beat of Cam issuing a non-apology apology just because the fixer Jimmy hires tells him to do so. Jimmy always hires the best of the best for the Calloways. And yet, he really dropped the ball here. Any competent person would know it's a mistake to release a statement apologizing for anyone who may have been offended by a statement. That's just a basic PR mistake. How did the family allow that to happen in the first place anyway? Did no one have any concerns about it? It happened just to build momentum and public outrage over this scandal.

But the resolution to the story does fix things a little bit. Cam never felt he needed to apology. And then, Missy provided him with the context so that he could understand what's happening in the outside world. Yes, the scandal started just because one reporter created a story out of nothing to embarrass Cam. But Cam still had to learn that his words carry meaning. He can't just say anything while in the public spotlight. He has to be very careful with the words he uses because his words now carry so much meaning. He understands that now. Sure, he'll probably still get into trouble in the future. But it's also so much fun to watch him go rogue and prove just how powerful his words can really be. It adds to the final moment of judgment for people who get offended solely to be offended. This scandal has brought so much attention to this cause. And now, Cam is making sure those concerned people actually do something to help raise awareness for this disease. Because that's what all of this needs to be about. So he forces everyone who stoked the fire of this scandal to pledge as much money as possible to fixing this disease. All he wanted was to be more philanthropic. And now, it seems he has achieved that. Hopefully, this isn't the last we see of Cam's charity foundation either. That could be a really interesting place to find story moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Age of Umbrage" was written by Mike O'Malley and directed by Ali Leroi.
  • So there has to be some big reveal with Squeeze coming, right? Right now, he's solely filling the void left by Uncle Julius. He's the fun and silly member of the family. But why would Reggie hire him? He has always been very cautious when it comes to Cam's need to help people who were a part of his journey to this point in his life - no matter how small.
  • Why didn't Cam just ask for Missy's advice on how to handle this scandal in the first place? She doesn't add anything to the conversation when the fixer is in the room trying to help. But it's ultimately Missy who is able to pull Cam out of this situation.
  • It really is great to see the bonding between Cam, Reggie, Missy and Allison. Cam and Reggie are best friends. Who they date should be important for their friendship. So they have to get along. It's awesome that the four of them share a number of scenes together to truly bond as friends.
  • It's also wonderful that the show remembers its past and is able to call Cam out for refusing to apologize for his words. Cassie and M-Chuck had to do so for him in the past. And now, it's his turn to accept all responsibility for his actions.
  • A fairly minor week for M-Chuck though. We don't know how her therapy session with her mother went. Plus, she only pops up to interrupt Cam's interview at the top of the episode and then takes offense by people always describing her as a lesbian before being Cam's sister.
  • Jimmy knows exactly what he can and cannot say in any given situation. That's just a fantastic and hilarious part of his character.