Swagger_feature

Isaiah Hill, left, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. in 'Swagger,' now streaming on Apple TV+.

All right. Hold your horses. I know—another sports drama. We’ve been there plenty and have done that plenty, right? Well, fortunately enough, while Apple TV+’s Swagger may have that familiar narrative outline, the creative team behind it color in the areas of possibility with their own unique experiences and observations. It’s not a cheap ploy to recreate what we've seen before. Instead, it speaks about what’s happening right now.

Inspired by NBA superstar Kevin Durant's experiences in youth basketball, and created by Reggie Rock Bythewood, the basketball drama series moves at a compelling pace. It has vivid characters worth investing in and a visual look (wide shots and smooth movement) that keeps it from shooting too high above the rim. It's a comfortable viewing that teaches development and helps us learn or relearn resilience, respect, accountability, leadership and patience. Who can argue with absorbing these teachable moments while also taking in the thrill of the game? 

The ten-episode debut season centers on an elite youth basketball team in the Washington metropolitan area. 14-year-old Jace Carson (an excellent Isaiah Hill) is on his way to becoming the next basketball prodigy. He’s been gathering attention and popularity, but there are still obstacles in his way (keeping “the outside noise out”) that are holding him from achieving greatness. He needs a good mentor to pause his head games and sharpen his skill set — and it just might be Ike “Icon” Edwards (a never-better O’Shea Jackson Jr.).  

Swagger is more than a collection of inspiring speeches. There’s a lot of truth to be discovered and fun to be had. Take, for instance, a great scene of discipline. Rather than seeing players run drills and sweat themselves into a river, Bythewood and Co. throw some flavor on it by tossing in some music trivia. Every time a player doesn’t know the music track, that’s another lap. 

It’s not all fun and games, though. There are family struggles and a teased-about subplot seemingly inspired by the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. Don’t let that worry you, however. Swagger balances the good with the tough quite well. 

With its powerful themes and sterling performances, the next great sports drama has arrived!

Q&A

Ahead of the first three episodes of Swagger releasing on Apple TV+ this weekend, we had the opportunity to speak with its cast to discuss some of its thoughtful themes and symbolic meanings. Watch our video interview below with stars O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isaiah Hill, Quvenzhané Wallis and Caleel Harris. 

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.