Clipped (2024) Review: Basketball’s Biggest Scandal Gets The Prestige TV Treatment

Clipped Review FandomWire
Clipped Review FandomWire
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Clipped, the dramatization of the real-life 2013 racism scandal of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling adapted from both the real-world events and the ESPN 30 for 30 podcast covering them entitled The Sterling Affairs, presented a unique challenge for me as a critic because I don’t follow sports. I never have and what familiarity I do have is mostly related to Philadelphia teams, not Los Angeles.

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So, having no prior knowledge or investment in the real-world story, though as far as I can tell it is largely accurate, the LA Clippers, or even professional basketball, would I be able to even follow the narrative, let alone get invested in it? The answer, shockingly enough, is yes. Clipped is a remarkably strong drama with some brilliant performances and a surprising amount of biting political commentary. How did they pull it off? Let’s discuss.

Clipped Plot

Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers, Ed O’Neill as Donald Sterling, and Jacki Weaver as Shelley Sterling. in Clipped
Pictured: (l-r) Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers, Ed O’Neill as Donald Sterling, and Jacki Weaver as Shelley Sterling.in Clipped

After a 9-year career with the Boston Celtics during which he received his first championship title, NBA coach Doc Rivers, played by Laurence Fishburne, transfers to the LA Clippers, a team he played for during the 1991 to 1992 season; hoping to turn the infamously cursed team around and take home the gold. But the team’s owner, the erratic and easily angered Donald Sterling, played by Ed O’Neill, keeps making that harder.

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On top of simply getting in the way and generally being obnoxious with both him and the players, things take a turn for the worse when Donald’s assistant V Stiviano, played by Cleopatra Coleman, leaks an audio tape to TMZ, wherein Donald makes shockingly racist remarks, naturally causing public outcry, protests, and even calls for a boycott.

Now, with the team wondering if they should even play at all and the tape inciting a power struggle between Donald, V, and Donald’s wife and business partner Shelly, played by Jacki Weaver, all eyes are on the Clippers and the NBA as they decide how to deal with Donald, moving forward in the playoffs, and whether or not the situation at hand is bigger than basketball.

Clipped Critique

“CLIPPED” -- Pictured: (l-r) Jacki Weaver as Shelley Sterling, Ed O’Neill as Donald Sterling, Cleopatra Coleman as V Stiviano.
Pictured: (l-r) Jacki Weaver as Shelley Sterling, Ed O’Neill as Donald Sterling, and Cleopatra Coleman as V Stiviano in Clipped

Clipped‘s biggest strength is also arguably its biggest weakness: it does such a great job at getting you invested in wanting to see certain characters succeed or fail that you forget that this is something that happened in real life. And real life has a tendency to have unsatisfying or unfair endings.

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Each side of the story has something worth investing in. Doc Rivers and the Clippers working hard in spite of what Sterling puts them through to win the championship feels like a classic underdog sports story. V struggling through trauma and owning her power to achieve a life beyond Donald Sterling is a deeply human and relatable narrative even as she betrays former friends along the way.

Shelly Sterling navigating her feelings for her husband with the shock and disgust of his remarks, how to handle the financial fallout, and her own personal vendettas against V is a very refreshing and captivating look at a side of these stories we often don’t see. Aided by Jacki Weaver’s impressive ability to turn from sympathetic to reprehensible on a dime.

Even Donald Sterling himself, a man so utterly hatable that they built the entire series on people dealing with the consequences of how much he sucks, manages to be captivating in his own right because of the way Ed O’Neill is able to tap into the man’s inner psyche and portray him as a real person. A horrible person, but a person nonetheless.

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The show does not shy away from moral nuance while taking a hard stance against racism and other forms of bigotry. There are characters we want to win and there are characters we want to lose and when the show is able to provide that catharsis, it hits hard. But when it can’t because that’s not what actually happened, when good guys lose and bad guys get away, it feels that much more disappointing.

But this is also something that can’t really be helped. The story would feel inauthentic and likely not have the same impact if you changed the outcome for the sake of a happy ending. And even from a purely narrative perspective, the disappointment is at least partially by design. Clipped wants its audience to be angry at the outcome and really examine the why and the where of that anger. And for the most part, it works.

Also Read: Outer Range Season 2 Review: Josh Brolin’s Second Plunge Into Chronological Confusion

In Conclusion

Clipped
Clipped

In many ways, Clipped is hard to watch. It deals with uncomfortable subject matter, the most morally good characters don’t get a happy ending, the most morally evil characters largely walk away unscathed, and the show very frequently denies its audience any narrative catharsis because that’s not how the real world works.

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But all of that is also exactly why it’s worth watching. On top of its excellent performances and solid cinematography, Clipped forces its audience to engage with the world around them, process uncomfortable systemic issues, and question where the line is between enjoying entertainment and standing up for what you believe in. And it got me, someone who has never and likely will never care about sports, to get invested in basketball.

It’s gripping, thought-provoking, inspiring, heartbreaking, and infuriating all at the same time. I do think it could’ve used one or two more episodes to fully flesh things out, but the story as presented is still not only great, but undeniably important; and easily one of the most compelling TV dramas of the summer season.

9/10

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Written by Callie Hanna

Articles Published: 68

Callie Hanna is an up-and-coming writer, aspiring actor, and full-time nerd. She grew up in a small town in Delaware and was instilled with a love for superheroes, science fiction, and all things geeky from an early age. When she's not catching up with her comically large backlog of movies, games, shows, and comics, Callie can be found working, writing, chatting with friends, or browsing the dying husk of Twitter.