Bad cops, COVID-19 and other horrors [Apple TV+ recap]

Apple TV + teen basketball drama Swagger faces his first game from the COVID-19 era – and the second onslaught of police brutality – in a tense and shocking episode this week. Crystal finally admits, as the Swagger team faces several real and metaphorical enemies.

This week’s episode of the great new show, created by NBA star Kevin Durant and director Reggie Rock Bythewood, is the crown of this season. It must be seen.

Swagger summary: ‘#Radicals’

The team is on its way this week for its first big game since COVID-19 interrupted its basketball season. They play against Dominion Ballers, the old team of Nick Mendez (played by Jason Rivera). It is a great match for them, an opportunity to show their brightest rivals. The last thing they need is distraction. So that’s exactly what they get.

While they are stopped at a restaurant for lunch, someone calls the police because there is a group of rebellious, mostly black teenagers inside. Two cops nearly shoot Phil (Solomon Irama) when he unexpectedly returns from the bathroom. They leave without further incidents, but it seems that there will be violence for a moment.

Jace (Isaiah R. Hill) and Drew (James Bingham) are furious. They want to challenge the police and get angry when Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) prevents them from behaving. Jace wants to say this about him and his reaction, but Ike quickly reminds him that he would rather be hated by a teenager than be responsible for his death.

It’s still time to laugh

The skillfully crafted comic rhythm here shocked me. Jace says they should have made a statement. “We were supposed to make it one of those‘ sit-outs ’like the’ 60s, ”he says.

“Seats?” Ike asks, confused.

“Yeah … you,” Jace says. It’s risky to joke so soon after their lives were in danger, but damn it if it doesn’t pay off.

Tensions do not cool even when they enter the arena. They find a school hall where they play decorated with Confederate flags. Jace decides to do something that gets everyone in trouble: he kneels during the anthem.

His teammate Phil rolls his eyes. “This is so playful,” he says. But he won’t let Jace fall alone, so he kneels too. And then Drew. The crowd turns on them like a bull seeing red. Viewers shout racist criticism of the team, and one of them almost fights with Phil. They are ready to call a match, but Jace insists on meeting the players.

We need to be together in this, family

The half-time scene in which the players talk about everything is powerful. Nick didn’t kneel because he saw Royal (Ozie Nzeribe) standing, and Royal didn’t kneel because he didn’t feel part of the team. The other kids kick him out because they think he doesn’t know how to play, but he knows how to watch and learn.

In fact, he memorized the entire book of the second team’s play – and his lessons give Swagger the knowledge he needs to beat his opponents in the second half. Or it wouldn’t matter, except the judge turned against them because Jace was on his knees. So, the referee gives the game to Dominion, even though Nick gets a point for winning the game.

The team leaves in a terrible mood, completely beaten, but they understand each other a little better than that morning. On the way home, they come across a rally. Everyone jumps up and joins him, and they instantly arrive to exhale, feeling finally as if they have clarity after such a disastrous day. Ike knows that he will postpone this in order to use it as fuel for later, and Jace tells him that he is doubling his efforts to reach the championship game in Florida.

Meanwhile, off the field…

On the sidelines this week, Crystal (Quvenzhané Wallis) is finally telling her family about coach Warrick and how she wants to testify against him at an upcoming hearing. Jace supports her decision. Meg (Tessa Ferrer )’s sick father (Matt Riedy) appears to support her during the game. He’s not super-cool with kids kneeling during the anthem – he’s a veteran – but he still encourages her. His cancer treatment is going badly and he knows he only has a little time left with it.

And after the game, Dominion Ballers sponsor Alonzo (Tristan Mack Wilds) finds out that the Swagger team was previously targeted. He goes through a moment of nicely played regret for the way he behaved.

I can’t breathe

Series creator Reggie Rock Bythewood is directing this week and his electric touch is felt. He is doing his best for this episode. He lets every moment breathe the way he should, from the way he shoots games in uninterrupted Steadic footage on the field, through the slowed-down last seconds of a clock game over Jace’s shoulder, to the restaurant scene in the early episode he goes; a terrifying few minutes of television.

Photography director Cliff Charles and Steadicam / MoVi operator Bodie Orman sweated through their clothes this week to get close enough to the players to feel their energy and mood, while allowing the action to be clearly read on screen. It’s not a feat, but I realized that cheering along with the game seems to be really happening because it is.

Playing here is the real thing. And since it’s done in long bars, you can’t fake the momentum or excitement when you see the ball enter the hoop from the middle of the field.

Everything works this week Swagger, and this must stand as the highlight of the series. It presents an intelligent conversation about a terrifying survival policy in a conscious and exhausted way, while at the same time showing an action that defines the lives of these young men. I think Bythewood knew he had something special in his hands (no introductory spikes, but a beautiful montage that Sault put on “Little Boy” people who lived during COVID-19). And he was right.

Look Swagger on Apple TV +

New episodes Swagger lands on Apple TV + every Friday. (This week’s episode arrived early for Thanksgiving.)

Rated: TV-14

Look at: Apple TV +

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of a long-running series of video essays The Unloved for He wrote for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books i Nylon Magazine. He is the author Kinemaphagy: On the psychedelic classical form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at

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Naveen Kumar

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