Swagger savors a party before the storm [Apple TV+ recap]


Isaiah Hill in ★★★★☆
It's party time for Jace (played by Isaiah Hill) ... until he gets some very troubling news.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ Review This week on Swagger, Jace and Ike’s latest victory is a short-lived affair. When Crystal comes to Jace with worrying possibilities for his future, he shuts down — leaving Phil, Drew and Musa to panic.

Meanwhile, Jenna and Tonya start making plans. And Ike and Emery decide to hash out their differences the old-fashioned way. The episode, entitled “Rise + Fall,” is good and tense. And it points the way toward much darker events to come on the Apple TV+ basketball drama.

Swagger recap: ‘Rise + Fall’

Season 2, episode 3: In the wake of the Cedar Cove basketball team’s first victory of the season, Dr. Emery Price (played by Orlando Jones) remembers a passage from his childhood. His father instilled in him a sense of professionalism, of never letting a white world perceive you as anything less than the absolute best there is.

For him, that meant a suit and tie, punctuality, performance. Seeing Cedar Cove’s new coach Ike Edwards (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and the team make a spectacle of themselves in victory, throwing their shirts over their heads and screaming, awakens some resentment in Emery.

He doesn’t know it, but Christa Cook (Jennifer Patino), the journalist who asks for a minute of his time after the game, is going to give Emery all the cause he needs to feel justified. She’s been told Jace and his team beat up former coach Warrick (Al Mitchell) after he abused their teammate Crystal (Quvenzhané Wallis).

A party, a problem and a challenge

Emery may not be the only one celebrating Jace (Isaiah R. Hill), but it’s close. The whole team — Nick (Jason Rivera), Musa (Caleel Harris), Phil (Solomon Irama), and Drew (James Bingham) — is headed to Royale’s (Ozie Nzeribe) house for Jace’s 18th birthday party, along with Jace’s mom Jenna (Shinelle Azoroh) and sister Jackie (Jordan Rice).

Jenna jokingly yet sternly gives Jace a box of condoms as a gift just before Jackie reveals she made her mom a Tinder profile. Everybody’s got intimacy on the brain. So when Crystal pulls Jace aside at the party later, he’s thinking very different things when she says Cook knows who beat up Warrick. He says he’s just going to keep quiet and hope for the best.

Ike is over the moon that the win means he’s being promoted to coach instead of “interim coach.” However, he makes an error in calculation after the victory. He challenges Emery to a one-on-one game after everyone else goes home. Things start out a little heated but friendly. Ike beats Emery in the first game, then Emery bounces back. By the third game, they’re getting real with each other. Ike demands that Emery get off his back and lift the “interim” from his title if he wins. Ike loses.

Any truth to this?

At the party, Tonya (Christina Jackson) overhears Rae (Catherine Owens), the girl Phil has a crush on, talking about the lack of diversity at Cedar Cove. As the school’s newly appointed diversity and inclusion liaison, she promises to do something about it.

Jace, Phil, Drew and Musa accidentally let their teammate C.J. (Shannon Brown) get drunk at the after-party, so they take him home to his dad, retired pro basketball player Camden Ryder (Christopher B. Duncan). Afterward, Jace tells Phil, Drew and Musa about Cook’s knowledge of the beating.

Musa agrees that Jace’s plan to just deny, deny, deny is the smartest one. No one wants to go to jail, and no one wants to derail their chances at college and the NBA. Phil and Drew are less convinced, but they don’t have much say come the following morning. As the team boards the bus for an away game in New York, a different reporter breaks the story.

Emery tells Ike that he’s following through and making Ike head coach despite his loss. But the victory is short-lived when he sees the story about Jace and the boys beating up Warrick. Ike asks Jace point blank if it’s true, and Jace lies to his face.

One heck of a party

Christina Jackson, Shinelle Azoroh, Jordan Rice and Ozie Nzeribe in "Swagger," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Jace’s 18th birthday party brings some lighthearted calm before Swagger’ impending storm.
Photo: Apple TV+

Swagger’s party scene blesses us with a lot of great stuff, from Jenna dancing to old-school hip-hop in front of the kids to Musa trying to help Drew hit on a girl. (Drew looks to Musa for an answer to a question, and Musa instead says he’s going to get a drink, at which point Drew just says a panicked, “Oh god.” Very charming, very funny.)

Jace clamming up after his talk with Crystal doesn’t make for terribly good TV because it means he can’t play more than the one note. Still, I understand why it was necessary. Swagger seems primed to head to a dark place, and it’s a relief to know the creative team can handle it.


Watch Swagger on Apple TV+

New episodes of Swagger season two arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch 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.


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