Look past the marquee producers (including NBA superstar LeBron James and his manager), and “Survivor’s Remorse” is really just a new version of “Entourage,” with a predominantly African-American cast and a new big-money setting — namely, pro basketball. And that’s not a bad thing, at least once one gets past the exposition-heavy premiere, which feels too obligated to state every beat of the premise, including the underlying meaning of the title. Starz has ordered six episodes of this half-hour series, which hits just a high enough percentage to warrant a continuing spot on the roster.
As the show begins, Cam Calloway (Jamie T. Usher) is signing a megabucks deal with the NBA’s Atlanta franchise, one negotiated by his cousin and lifelong friend, Reggie (RonReaco Lee). The contract has allowed Cam to financially float his entire family, moving his mom (Tichina Arnold) out of the Dorchester, Mass., neighborhood in which they grew up, with Cam’s older sister (Erica Ash) and Uncle Julius (Mike Epps) also eager, as Reggie says to Cam, to “suckle at your teat.”
Written by actor-comic-producer Mike O’Malley, the pilot has Cam explicitly state that, “I feel guilty that I’m surviving,” given the people still struggling with the poverty in which he was raised, and feels a sense of obligation to share his good fortune. He also spends a fair amount of time smoking pot and purchasing luxury items, many for his family, who take pleasure in reminding him about all they’ve done for him.
If the opening is too on the nose — too explicit about the question of whether Cam can make his money last when everyone has an open palm extended — the episodes get better, repeatedly dealing with matters pertaining to image management, whether that involves attending a classy charity dinner (where Mom brags to a reporter about beating on him as a child) or going to a hospital to visit a kid in a coma (a prospect Cam dreads).
Perhaps the most intriguing choice is that the audience never sees Cam playing basketball, or even training for it. Instead, the focus remains steadfastly on his off-court life, which his family, however well intentioned, has a way of complicating.
What makes it work beyond the sitcom-ish sound of that, to the extent it does, is primarily the genial camaraderie between Cam and Reggie, and the genuine warmth among the characters, even when they’re sniping at each other. Give part of the credit to director Ken Whittingham, who brings a natural, unforced quality to those scenes.
Like “Entourage,” there’s some of the expected excess associated with being young and incredibly rich, and Uncle Julius in particular appears determined to leverage his access to Cam to bed women eager to meet a twentysomething multimillionaire.
In more pragmatic terms, James’ involvement should help market the show to sports fans Starz might not otherwise reach, adding a series with likely male appeal to a network still celebrating its inroads with women via this summer’s “Outlander.”
Taking all those stats into account should add up in “Survivor’s” favor, even if the case for it isn’t a complete slam dunk.