There are reveals that take just a few episodes to seek out their groove, after which there are reveals that really feel totally fashioned from the bounce. Swagger matches into the latter camp. Although it’s set in a distinct segment that’ll be overseas to most viewers — elite youth basketball within the Washington metropolitan space — creator Reggie Rock Bythewood constructs a world so richly realized that there’s little doubt in our minds it existed lengthy earlier than we had been invited in, and can live on lengthy after we depart. Add vivid characters and sharp storytelling, and it takes just a few episodes for Swagger to determine itself as the most effective new collection of the 12 months.
Our entry into this universe is Jace Carson (Isaiah Hill), a 14-year-old basketball phenom already being singled out by coaches and scouts as a possible future NBA star. In tried-and-true sports activities drama vogue, he simply wants a mentor who’ll deliver out the perfect in him. He and his mom, Jenna (Shinelle Azoroh, powerful and sleek), consider they’ve discovered one in Ike “Icon” Edwards (O’Shea Jackson Jr., magnificent within the meaty main position he deserves). If Jace is Swagger‘s rising star, Ike is its anchor, a former teen basketball prodigy who flamed out earlier than he went professional, and now makes it his specific mission to construct not simply ballplayers however younger males.
The Backside Line
A freshman collection already firing on all cylinders.
Swagger takes “present, don’t inform” to coronary heart in a means that too few different collection do. Bythewood and his writers typically go over the apparent traces, trusting the actors to speak by way of loaded gazes or pursed lips in addition to their phrases. The present has fashion to spare, however its most hanging prospers exist to not exhibit for their very own sake, or to meet some drained expectation of what “status TV” is meant to appear like, however to serve the story at hand: The body may zoom in to horror-movie proportions to convey a personality’s worry, or the audio may turn into muffled as one participant turns into laser-focused on one other.
And Swagger‘s enthusiasm for the game comes by way of loud and clear in its sport scenes. The digital camera weaves by way of intricate choreography of the gamers to allow them to exhibit their strikes (and, to my admittedly basketball-illiterate eye, these younger actors do appear like they will transfer). It captures a number of the pleasure of seeing our bodies in movement that watching actual sports activities offers, even because the scripts seize the heated drama and intense stress that may additionally include the sport. The collection is touted as being impressed by the adolescent experiences of government producer (and NBA star) Kevin Durant, and whereas I can’t communicate to its technical accuracy, there’s a worn-in high quality to its ecosystem that implies somebody engaged on the present has thought by way of each inch of it.
However Swagger is equally involved with what occurs off the courtroom. The collection doesn’t draw back from harsher, darker realities of its characters’ lives. There are storylines about baby abuse and sexual assault. Cyberbullying exists as a low however regular thrum on social media. The specter of the coronavirus (the collection begins “Earlier than ABC: Ahmaud, Breonna, COVID”) begins as background noise till abruptly it’s front-and-center. Likewise, an incident within the pilot — Jace is confronted by police merely for taking out the trash whereas wanting like a tall Black man — means that police brutality casts a shadow over the children’ lives. Later within the 10-episode season, this turns into a significant focus.
A lesser present may buckle underneath the load of all such heavy-duty points. However whereas Swagger does wobble right here and there, it handles most of those plot factors as deftly as its characters do a ball, by prioritizing the folks on the middle of the tales reasonably than reverse-engineering teachable moments or shoehorning in awkward references. By the point every of these storylines reaches a boiling level, the children’ reactions really feel true to the folks we all know them to be, nevertheless impulsive or ill-advised a few of their responses may really feel. Swagger is aware of each that 14 is simply too younger to have the load of the world on one’s shoulders, and that loads of 14-year-olds are compelled to hold that weight anyway.
Simply as crucially, the collection additionally understands there’s room even in exhausting occasions for silliness and tenderness. As somber as a number of the storylines will be, Swagger is ceaselessly a delight to observe, particularly in moments when the boys are allowed to calm down into their simple camaraderie. They rap and dance within the locker room earlier than video games, tease one another about their haircuts and take a look at their charms on women. (There’s a beautiful and distinct echo of Love & Basketball, by Bythewood’s spouse, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, within the dynamic that emerges between Jace and his greatest pal, Crystal, performed by Quvenzhané Wallis.) And for each harsh blow, there are moments of compassion — typically prolonged by Ike, who, like Ted Lasso or Eric Taylor earlier than him, is as a lot father determine as coach. In a world too fast to rob Black children of their childhoods, Ike positions himself as a protecting protect and a voice of purpose.
Ike sums up his teaching philosophy just a few occasions over the course of the season, however it’s within the finale that he places it most plainly: “A very good coach leads with love.” Greater than something, it’s love that radiates from each element in Swagger: love of this sport, love of this neighborhood, love of this neighborhood — and, above all, love for the gangly youngsters standing in its middle. What works for Ike seems to work for Bythewood as nicely. Like a staff on the prime of its league, Swagger is in excellent concord with itself.