There’s some irony (and savvy marketing) in Spectrum Originals‘ Long Slow Exhale making its debut on the same day as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. As basketball fans nationwide celebrate the pinnacle of the college game, the new drama tears it down—but not in the ways audiences might think.
The first episode, “Traveling Violations,” establishes that Colton State University wins a national championship and then immediately falls apart. Their star player, who sits on the bench at the end of the title game, accuses an assistant coach (Ian Harding, reminiscent of his smarmy arc on Chicago Med) of sexual assault. Head coach J.C. Abernathy (Rose Rollins) is rocked by the accusation, especially because she’s been having an affair with the same coach. So is it his body in the trunk of her car, or someone else’s?
There are certain things about the show that are clearly there for dramatic effect. Long Slow Exhale‘s players check all the boxes that viewers have seen in more typical sports shows: one has an absent parent, another is abusing prescription drugs, the team fights in the locker room before practice. Then there’s the extramarital affair, and the fact that J.C. takes matters into her own hands rather than following university protocol. It’s amusing that she calls her assistant coach mere moments after being explicitly told not to, while her athletic director (Josh Lucas, uniquely capable of handling the part) is still in his car behind her.
But if one looks past those elements, there’s an interesting through-line about the machinations of college sports and the people who are part of the machine. J.C. says to her husband Garrett (Rookie Blue‘s Lyriq Bent) that she’s not defending her assistant coach Eddie Hagen, she’s defending herself. J.C. has a compulsion to find out everything she missed and prove she’s a capable leader. Whether it’s covertly meeting with Eddie or showing up on the now ex-player’s doorstep to ask why she didn’t come forward, she feels like she’s owed answers.
Yet as Shannon (Samantha Bartow) points out, J.C.’s entire focus was on her undefeated season and the national championship. Aside from the single-mindedness that competition can often bring, college sports is a business that many universities rely on to survive. There are reasons that elite coaches get millions of dollars in salary: if a basketball or football program is successful, it often funds countless other programs at the institution. It’s not just about right or wrong; Colton State’s whole future is jeopardized by one person’s alleged wrongdoing.
That may seem bizarre from the outside, but anyone who’s participated in school sports or been a sports fan can understand the reasoning. Sports are important in our society because they create a sense of community and they provide mentorship and other opportunities during the formative years of someone’s life. Some players look to sports as their solace from difficulties elsewhere, or a financial pathway to support a struggling family, or just someplace they can become better. Sports are their own culture. But what happens when someone loses sight of the people who make up that culture? And how far will they go to make things right?
Which brings viewers back to the body in J.C.’s trunk. The murder victim’s identity isn’t explicitly revealed off the top, but there’s a very big clue as to their identity in the final scene. It’s disappointing in the sense that Long Slow Exhale seems to be going down a dark road (literally and figuratively), and there are plenty of stories told about the negative side of college sports. But all the same, it’s exciting because it forces the audience to ask how J.C. got to that point and if there’s any coming back from that. The series offers great character study underneath all the drama, and bolstered by a supremely underrated cast, it’s worth tuning in just to see how the mighty end up falling.
Long Slow Exhale airs Mondays on Spectrum Originals. The first three episodes are available free and on demand now.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.