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Review: ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ Season Three

The show continues to be one of the best on television at examining class

Leading into season three of Survivor’s Remorse, the Starz comedy from producer LeBron James, there wasn’t a question of if Uncle Julius — the funny, filterless character played by Mike Epps — would die. There was only a question of how his exit would be treated.

That’s because Epps let everyone know his character’s fate back in January at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

“I asked for some more money and they killed me,” Epps told reporters.

So the show, which follows the life of NBA star Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) as he enjoys the fruits of his first big NBA contract and attendant endorsement deals, had a unique mission in how it would depict the aftermath of the car crash that killed Uncle Julius at the end of season two. Would it do justice to the character? Or would the show’s writers, led by showrunner Mike O’Malley, quickly and unceremoniously dispatch with Uncle Julius because of Epps’ indiscretion?

[He stars in LeBron’s ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ and the new ‘Independence Day’ — is Jessie T. Usher the real MVP?]

The answer is that viewers are in store for a sensitive, yet mirthful, well-paced, properly considered goodbye to an audience favorite that feels extraordinarily true to the character. In real life, our attempts to memorialize the dead tend to collapse them into the best, most flattering portraits of themselves. Survivor’s Remorse honors the good in Uncle Julius, but it’s also honest about his hilariously enormous character flaws as well, and it allows his family to be honest about them, too.

“I asked for some more money and they killed me,” Mike Epps told reporters.

UPDATE, July 23, 2016: On Friday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published comments from O’Malley, who is also the show’s executive producer, on Epps’ exit. Epps was written out of the show so he could take a role starring on ABC’s Uncle Buck, which was canceled after an eight-episode run this summer.

“Mike Epps is a star,” O’Malley told the newspaper. “Mike should be in the center of his own show and he wanted to be at the center of his own show. He came to me and said, ‘I have this tremendous opportunity. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Can you let me out of my contract?’ He’s very very popular but I’m an actor, also, and I know what opportunities mean to actors. Mike’s been around a long time. So Starz graciously let him of his contract.”

Epps is hardly the first actor to spoil his own character’s death — many Downton Abbey fans knew that Dan Stevens’ character, Matthew Crawley, was bound to perish long before his death actually aired because Stevens had already left the show.

Once again, the main storylines of season three are filtered through the prism of class, a theme on which Survivor’s Remorse only continues to improve as it follows the lives of Cam, his mother Cassie (Tichina Arnold), his sister M-Chuck (Erica Ash), as well as those of Cam’s manager and cousin Reggie (RonReaco Lee) and his wife, Missy (Teyonah Parris). If the first two seasons were about Cam and his family adjusting to the new realities of Cam’s job and his newfound tax bracket, this season is about what it’s like to settle into those new realities with the addition of Cam’s new and very serious girlfriend, Allison (Meagan Tandy). Cam wants to be happy, and the people around him do too, but they’re understandably suspicious of strangers.

If Tandy, whose character was introduced in season two, looks especially familiar, it may be because she’s currently appearing on Lifetime’s UnREAL, where she plays a woman nicknamed Blifey (as in Black Wifey) vying for the attentions of the suitor on Everlasting, UnREAL’s show within the show.

This season, she’s back and viewers will see Cam work through his complicated feelings about this burgeoning yet very serious relationship while dealing with his own guilt about Julius. In the first season especially, it was easy to wonder when viewers would ever be treated to actual game footage of Cam, and by the second it became clear that Survivor’s Remorse would be about every other aspect of being a pro athlete besides competition. But that elimination has revealed a strength in Survivor’s Remorse: It and Shameless rank as probably the two best shows about class on television. While Shameless illustrates all the ways the day-to-day struggles with poverty can complicate a family’s life, Survivor’s Remorse uses the backdrop of an enormous leap in wealth to explore and critique all sorts of subjects.

Unlike the decidedly more playful Ballers, which airs opposite Survivor’s Remorse on HBO, the near total elimination of the depiction of Cam as an athlete on the court playing with four other men has allowed Survivor’s Remorse to take advantage of the depth of talent of its supporting cast.

In seasons past, this has resulted in fabulously funny interactions like the one between M-Chuck and Cassie after Cassie underwent vaginal rejuvenation surgery and was nervous about the results. Hopped up on painkillers, Cassie asks her daughter, who is a lesbian, to check her newly freshened up lady parts to make sure everything’s in order.

But where Survivor’s Remorse really shines is the lengths it goes to avoid the easy answer to complicated questions by shifting the frame of reference. It’s made the refined, uber-educated and self-assured Missy realize that she’s no match for the Wonderlic test. By having Julius make friends with two Atlanta police officers and use them as his own personal bounty hunters when his bicycle is stolen from Cam’s front lawn, the show ends up making an important point about abuse of power when the same cops beat up an innocent white teenager and expect Julius to be OK with it.

This season, the show continues to explore life in the way it’s become so good at, leading to a couple of really engrossing episodes about self-righteousness which feel especially necessary given the ways people have become so entrenched in their own versions of truth that it’s impossible to see anything else.

Survivor’s Remorse returns July 24 at 10 p.m. EST on Starz.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.