For the first time in several years, there are black-centered sitcoms that don’t make me want to cry out to Negro Jesus in agony. Up until very recently, all we had were the Tyler Perry-helmed shows, which worked for certain sects within our community, but like the reality-TV shows I actively consume on VH1 and Bravo, they are an acquired taste. There were a few that popped up here and there on networks like BET and TBS, but y’all didn’t watch them (and I don’t blame you). Things are much better now thanks to ABC’s ever brilliant Black-ish and NBC’s increasingly valuable The Carmichael Show.
However, there is another show that offers a smart, nuanced glimpse into a black family that doesn’t get enough attention.
Executive-produced by LeBron James, Survivor’s Remorse (the third season starts Sunday) centers on the life of a young professional basketball player and how he—along with his family—deals with the pressures of his newfound celebrity and wealth. Jessie T. Usher plays Cam Calloway, the basketball star; RonReaco Lee plays Reggie Vaughn, Cam’s cousin and business manager; Teyonah Parris plays Missy, Reggie’s wife; Erica Ash plays M-Chuck, Cam’s sardonic, lesbian sister; and the incomparable Tichina Arnold plays Cassie, Cam’s mom. Mike Epps plays Julius, Cam’s uncle and the embodiment of every crazy black uncle who would behave this way if his nephew made the league (or at least won a really big prize from a scratch-off ticket).
As for the fate of Uncle Julius, who closed the show’s second season in crisis, let’s just say that while I won’t spoil Sunday night’s season premiere, the comedian-actor has been more forthright.
On its surface, the plotline might sound too familiar—i.e., Entourage—but Survivor’s Remorse has far more depth. What I appreciate about it is that much like Black-ish and The Carmichael Show, SR not only depicts black families in varying incarnations but also addresses issues that directly impact black folks, like racism and classism. And notably, outside of one episode in the first season that saw the family attend a church in Atlanta, black homophobia is not categorized as some monstrouslike entity as it is on shows like Empire.
In 2014 Mike O’Malley, the showrunner of the series, told Slate that he wasn’t trying to make a comment on that aspect; however, when it comes to M-Chuck: “I thought it would be interesting for him to have an older sister who was also a great athlete and who was fiercely protective of him. I also wanted to show that it just wasn't an issue for them that she was a lesbian.”
And when asked about her being an aspirational character, O’Malley noted: “I’ve met many gay and lesbian folks who are like that. They're just out there. I think that maybe what's different is that she's doing it out in the world. She's not doing it in the confines of a cloistered setting. She's not ashamed, and she's not going to explain it away.”
This season, the show continues to take on its overarching theme—dealing with the reality of newfound wealth and fame—but dives into other issues that speak to the times. In episode 4, “The Age of Umbrage,” the show chronicles our current media climate—including social media—and how any public figure’s remarks can be easily taken out of context, breeding scandal. In the next episode, “The Photo Shoot,” Teyonah Parris’ character reflects on how colorism has affected her life and makes what is ultimately a controversial decision while on the job.
Everyone on this show acts well, although Tichina Arnold is such a force that she can’t help always being a standout. Even so, as some have noted in the past, this show typically depicts the female characters as the ones running the show, and the men as more or less the “eye candy.”
I’ve enjoyed this show since its premiere, though it’s noticeably not netting the kind of ratings and social media chatter befitting of its quality. Like others, I, too, am a bit frustrated about it. Hopefully, in much the way the move to Sunday has boosted the ratings for Starz’s fantastic Power, the very hilarious and bright comedy Survivor’s Remorse will see a rise in viewership.
It’s very, very good. Watch it. Don’t send us back to the dark ages of comedy, beloveds.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.