Many years ago, Cedric the Entertainer took the stage of The Original Kings of Comedy tour and hilariously broke down the definition of a Grown-ass Man. It became one of the most popular phrases to come out of the special and if, say, you went to high school in Cleveland, OH., you likely couldn’t get through a single day without hearing someone reference themselves as a “grown-ass man” or “grown-ass woman.” As Key & Peele more recently highlighted for us, sometimes the people who most want to be considered grown are just little babies on the verge of a massive tantrum.
In the Season Two premiere of Survivor’s Remorse we bear witness to Cam Calloway preparing to head into his first season of pro-ball, and he’s experiencing some serious growing pains. Jessie Usher told Paste recently that this season we’ll get to see him mature, but it’s clear that this maturation is going to be a slow and painful process—as it should be. More importantly, it’s going to be a pretty funny process to watch unfold, if this premiere is any indication of the rest of the season.
Once again, Cam appears to be making a fresh start. We saw the Calloways looking for a new Atlanta home last season and this episode opens with them running through their gorgeous new mansion. It’s a cliché that’s immediately tempered with a stab at this cliché when Cam says something to Reggie about all those haters who said he wouldn’t make it. I wanted to stand up and applaud the writer’s room when Reggie asked, “What haters?” and added that Cam had plenty of support both within and outside of his immediate family. It’s a great way to poke fun at the people Cam is supposed to be like (or would be more like in another show)—he’s not going to be one of those guys from the hood who blows up and constantly big ups all his haters, Shawty-lo style. His family won’t let him, and that’s what makes them so cool to watch.
The other interesting thing about the presentation of Cam’s maturation (or lack thereof, for the majority of this episode) is that Survivor’s Remorse uses this storyline to subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) address cultural issues. Cam feels disrespected after he’s forced to attend a bowling charity event with some overzealous white fans. It’s a great montage, with the white Dad who asks him to hold one son who’s been throwing up all day, whilst standing beside the goth pre-teen who clearly has no idea who he is. The Dad snaps the photo and emphatically says to Cam, “Thanks, Malcolm.” There’s the white woman who demands that he call her sister and leave a voicemail about how heroin is bad and ruining her life. And there’s another white woman who straight up jumps on his back and tries to ride him (and yes, also the black woman with the “massage business”). When the team owner (played brilliantly by Chris Bauer) calls him over with those two menacing fingers, it’s fairly easy to see why Cam feels so disrespected. As far as he’s concerned, Flaherty might as well have called him “Boy” in that room full of white people who felt so entitled to his time and physical space.
However, Cam throws such a fit about this night and the following day’s parking lot fiasco that it immediately becomes difficult to feel bad for him, even if we want to. The show does a great job of highlighting the fact that, in some ways, Cam does belong to the team’s owner. But, as Reggie tries to stress, he’s picking all of the wrong battles and, in the end, it’s not a good look for the brand.
The other character struggling with new changes in this episode is Reggie’s wife Missy (played by the excellent Teyonah Parris of Mad Men and Dear White People). On the one hand, a black woman’s hair narrative is a great and easy way to appeal to a certain demographic—which makes it feel a little cheap. I also think this development was too soon for Missy’s character. We didn’t see much from her last season that would suggest she’d ever do something rash. While I can see her going for the big chop, I don’t see her doing that right now, without some kind of catalyst. Still, it made for a hilarious salon scene, with great jokes from M-Chuck and Cassie about women cutting off their hair, hoping to look like Lupita Nyong’o—but looking more like Lawrence Fishburne. With tits. The good news is that I assume this means Missy will have an interesting narrative arc this season, and while I do wish this particular development had been presented more organically it’s important to note that Missy had some of the most varied character moments of this episode. We saw her angrily destroying that racist lawn gnome; we saw her try to cheerily convince everyone that bowling’s “fun for everyone”; she was introspective in the salon and then had her meltdown in front of Reggie at home. I’m excited to see her avoid the cliché of the one-note smart, funny, gorgeous supportive wife. As Uncle Julius (Mike Epps) declares, “The more that I’m around her, the more I like her.”
Reggie and Flaherty are the other characters who stole this premiere. Their exchange about transatlantic boat rides (and whose ancestors had it worse—Reggie won that one pretty easy) on the basketball court was incredibly well-written. In fact, so much so that it felt a bit inauthentic, but it’s easy to forgive that because it was just so fun watching them. RonReaco Lee is a great supporting actor and his character perfectly balances out the high-strung attitudes of so many of the other characters. His effortless delivery sometimes highlights a certain clunkiness from Usher and Ash—one gets the sense, at times, that they’re still not complete comfortable in their roles. But it’s something I believe can change with time—they’re both highly capable actors.
In the end, Cam gets it together when Flaherty shows up at his mansion, all decked out in his dashiki for Nelson Mandela. Without condescending him, he teaches Cam the true meaning of “grown-ass manhood” and it’s another great scene in this strong premiere. Two characters from two different places have to come together and explain themselves—how they misunderstood each other and how it can be resolved. It’s a very moral moment in a show with so many offensive one liners (the worst this time around being “Fuck Nelson Mandela!”), which is what makes the scene more believable. Like a true comedy, the audience never quite gets to catch its breath—just when things seem to be wrapping up sweetly and Cam and Flaherty are standing beside each other at the event, enjoying the choir, we’re forced to look at a painting of the late Mandela, ridiculously depicted as a NBA baller, soaring through the sky MJ-style.
Survivor’s Remorse comes out of the gates with a heavy-hitting 30 minutes of comedy, drama and good writing. It did this last season, but with 10 episodes instead of six, and more eyes on the series, there’s more to prove now. This is one of those shows that it pains you to watch, because you know the whole world isn’t watching with you yet. Get it together, TV viewers! You’re missing out.
Please note Tichina Arnold as Cassie was drinking from a flask while in the salon. It was glorious.
“White people only smell when they’re wet.” Well damn, Reggie!
I’m very happy that there’s still no love interest for Cam. It shows that they’re not interested (yet) in relying on the most obvious drama-inducing storylines.
“It ain’t murder if you eat it.” Uncle Julius’s one-liners are great, but I’m looking forward to seeing Mike Epps contribute more in this role.
“Heroin has ruined your life.”
“I don’t wanna pass judgement.”
“Her teeth are really fucked up.”
Best Quote of the Episode:
“I’m like that—unpredictable when provoked.” (Flaherty)
“Maybe you should go into law enforcement.” (Reggie)
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor & a film critic at Paste, and a writer for Salon, Pink is the New Blog and Heart&Soul. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.