Apple TV+ sports drama Swagger returns for a second season in fine form this week. Reggie Rock Bythewood’s account of a high school basketball star and his supportive coach continues with fresh challenges for Jace and his team to face.
With Jace gearing up for college, he needs Ike back in his corner after a brief separation. But will Ike make a good fit at Jace’s new school? This week’s episode, entitled “The World Ain’t Ready,” is thrillingly alive in its depiction of life in Baltimore and the pressures of being very good at what you do.
Swagger recap: ‘The World Ain’t Ready’
Season 2, episode 1: Jace Carson (played by Isaiah R. Hill) is unstoppable. When we catch up with him, he and his teammates — Nick (Jason Rivera-Torres), Drew (James Bingham), Royale (Ozie Nzeribe) and Musa (Caleel Harris) — are crushing the opposition, which happens to include their old teammate Phil (Solomon Irama).
Phil decided to go play for another team when Jace and the rest moved to a prep-school squad because he was sick of, as he puts it, playing a supporting part in the Jace Carson show. Now, Jace’s being courted aggressively by college teams as he enters his senior year at Cedar Cove Prep school. And that means he has a lot of tough choices to make. Plus, people are starting to recognize him on the street.
He’s not the only one, either. Jace’s best friend and ex-girlfriend Crystal (Quvenzhané Wallis) just landed a full ride to college. She’d text him about it, except she still hasn’t forgiven him for how things shook out between them (a between-seasons, off-air development).
Coach Ike faces some decisions
The boys aged out of team Swagger, the local crew they played on coached by Ike Edwards (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his assistants, Naim (Sean Baker) and Meg (Tessa Ferrer). Ike’s busy raising his daughter and coaching the new Swagger players when he gets a job offer — the college his dad used to coach for. This is a loaded decision for him, as he was playing under his dad’s coaching when he was accused of throwing an important finals game.
This would be heavy enough without another bombshell: Jace’s coach at Cedar Cove is leaving, too, which means that team need a replacement. Jace and his mom, Jenna (Shinelle Azoroh), give Ike the hard sell to step up as a replacement.
Ike meets with the school’s athletic director, Dr. Emery Lawson (Orlando Jones). Although Lawson’s hardcore capitalist ethos doesn’t sit well with Ike, they bond when they go to the doctor’s office and discover his vinyl collection. Over a Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers tune, they realize their differences aren’t as great as their similarities.
A new coach for Cedar Grove
Lawson doesn’t love Ike (especially the fact that he never got his college degree). However, when Swagger’s old athletic wear hookup, Alonzo (Tristan Mack Wilds), offers to outfit the whole Cedar Cove athletic department if they take Jace and Jenna seriously, Lawson has little choice but to offer Ike the job (provided he gets his degree).
Ike accepts. Of course, just because Jace has his old coach in his corner doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing until he gets drafted into the NBA. He doesn’t even know about Coach Warrick (Al Mitchell), the guy he, Drew, Musa and Phil beat up last season when they found out he was sexually abusing Crystal and other players on his teams.
Turns out Warrick’s been watching footage of the Cedar Cove games — and he thinks he recognizes some of their voices.
Never be afraid to be afraid
It’s great to have Swagger back for a second season on Apple TV+. I like the stuff with Jace getting courted by big colleges and also knowing it may not be enough to guarantee him the life he wants. Spike Lee covered this ground in a much more heavily stylized fashion in his superlative 1998 movie He Got Game. But Swagger creator Reggie Rock Bythewood (who directs and writes this week) shoots for something quieter and, in its way, scarier.
Just because Jace has a support network (and a bigger house, thanks to his sponsorships and his mom’s cosmetic brand) doesn’t mean he’s got what it takes to hoop in the big leagues. He and Phil’s talk about the future, and how easy it would be to screw up, is a good reminder of what’s still up against them, talented though they may be. (Jace and Phil’s lovingly contentious relationship since Phil moved to a different school is perfectly drawn, BTW.)
Bythewood films much of this episode, from the games to the important conversations, in single takes to highlight the high stakes of every choice. Very fine work all around.
Watch Swagger on Apple TV+
New episodes of Swagger season two arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.