No Pulled Punches: Our Review of ‘Clipped’

Posted in Disney +, TV, What's Streaming? by - June 04, 2024
No Pulled Punches: Our Review of ‘Clipped’

The scandal surrounding the 2013/2014 L.A. Clippers and their owner Donald Sterling’s comments is the focus of the new limited series from FX, Clipped.  Debuting on FX in the US and Disney+ up here in Canada on June 4th, the series employs a near “take no prisoners” mentality when dealing with its subjects, rare when so many of the individuals being portrayed here are still players and executives today. HBO’s Winning Time tried to encapsulate the L.A. Lakers over years of the Showtime era and generally treated most players with kid gloves. But Clipped has almost a Jerry Springer/TMZ feel to it, and focusing on one season allows for the show to explore the situation more in depth.

The series begins with the introduction of Doc Rivers (Laurence Fishburne) as the new head coach of the Clippers, a former player who believes he knows how to handle Sterling (Ed O’Neill in a delightfully greasy performance that should earn him an Emmy nom). Rivers soon realises the depths of the issues he’s walking into as his two stars, Chris Paul (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and Blake Griffin (Austin Scott), cannot stand each other and the rest of the team is divided along the two sides. Furthermore, Sterling thinks it’s normal to drag Griffin around by the hand and introduce him like a trophy to his guests at parties. Also, Sterling has employed V. Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman), one of many aliases, to be his “personal assistant” who he lavishes gifts upon and parades around openly to the dismay of his wife of nearly 60 years Shelly (Jacki Weaver).

Rivers’ first dogfight with Donald and team management, which include the often beat-up middleman Andy Roeser (Kelly AuCoin), a yes-man who has never stood up to Sterling himself, and the opportunistic Seth Burton (Rich Sommer), comes over the signing of JJ Redick (Charlie McElveen). But this is just a prelude to coming events as Rivers’ frustrations continue. The real catalyst comes, though, when a jealous Shelly delivers a lawsuit to V’s door, suing for the return of every gift Donald ever gave her, valued north of 2 million dollars. This prompts V, who has recorded every conversation she has had with Donald, to anonymously release a tape to TMZ.  Sterling can be heard stating he does not want Black people associating with her, despite her identity as a mixed race woman, or even attending games. And this news hits like a bombshell during the first round of the playoffs where a Doc Rivers-led team is finally united and looking to make a serious run.

The biggest kudos I can give a series like this is to praise the series creator Gina Welch and her directing/producing team for not pulling a single punch in this downright nasty at times tale of deluded people doing delusional things. Hell, the opposing team for the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs that season was the Golden State Warriors, and Welch and her team aren’t afraid to show Draymond Green as the petulant child many have learned he is by now. It’s genuinely refreshing to see a series that shows nearly everything, warts and all, yet still, for the most part, manages to stay in the middle enough to not appear to be taking sides. The story does make assumptions along the way, of course, assuming it was V who leaked the audio herself despite her constant claims she didn’t. It also assumes that Sterling’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s may have played a part in his deluded behaviour. But no one, opposed to maybe Rivers himself and most of the supporting players of the Clippers, comes out of this “clean”.

While I could talk at length about the subtle yet masterful turn of Fishburne’s portrayal of Rivers – his scenes with new friend and confidant Levar Burton (played by Burton himself) are especially fun to watch – the Sterlings dominate this series. O’Neill’s bombastic performance is the more showy of the two – his Donald is portrayed as someone who feels untouchable due to his wealth and often thinks he’s the smartest in the room when often he is not. An unrepentant, egotistical dinosaur, Sterling’s fate is sealed while delivering an unadvised rant during an interview with Anderson Cooper, and these scenes are where O’Neill is allowed to flourish.

But holding her own, punch for punch, is Weaver, who plays Shelly as the put-upon wife very well. Shelly is perhaps even more deluded in her own way with her devotion to a man who has taken advantage of her for years. But leave it to Weaver’s inspired performance for the audience to pick up on little cues that Shelly may be more in tune with everything happening, a point that is even pointed out towards the end of the series.

The third part of this triangle is perhaps the most deluded of them all, and Coleman plays V as an entitled 30-year-old adolescent who feels she’s owed. At parts completely unhinged, Coleman’s V comes off not as the hero of the story, like so many at the time were praising her for outing Donald, but as an emotionally and intellectually immature glory hound that desperately wants to be as famous as a Kardashian. The fact that V states at different points of the series that she feels she will be running the Clippers in 10 years like she’s Jeannie Buss or something, or that Donald will still pick her over Shelly even after releasing the tape, speaks to the level of fantasy she has created around herself. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the bizarre world of would-be celebrity and influencer culture.

A fascinating look into the dealings of a nationally recognized sports team in crisis mode, Clipped excels mostly due to the boldness and unflinching look at an ugly situation. Based in part on the ESPN 30 for 30 podcast “The Sterling Affairs“, creator Welch employed two of the creative forces behind that podcast as writers on this series. This lends a more thought-out/investigated feel to the series as a whole and probably is why, despite all the craziness surrounding the goings on, it still feels rooted in reality at all times. Clipped proves the adage that ‘truth is usually stranger than fiction’ well, though I’m sure there is still some room for some creative licence along the way.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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