Should You Study Netflix Juco Football Docuseries Last Chance U?
It rushed Sarah D. Bunting's heart in record time.
Worthwhile Show Attempted
Last Chance U
Netflix looks to continue its buzzy-documentary dominance in the sports genre with Last Chance U, a six-part series about the NFL hopefuls of East Mississippi Community College. EMCC is an undefeated team that's won three of the last four national junior-college football championships, so it gets some hot recruits -- but it's "juco," so everybody at EMCC is trying to get out of there and into the Division I programs that may have rejected them (or kicked them off a team they'd already made) as bad behavioral bets or unable to meet their GPA benchmarks.
Coach Buddy Stephens's approach seems to work on the field; he's got nine former players currently in the NFL (most Div I schools, we're told, average about seven). But what happens, or doesn't, off the field may get in the way for guys whose only shot is EMCC.
How Far I Expected To Get
I thought at least a couple episodes in. Director Greg Whiteley isn't a groundbreaker or anything, but he knows how to craft non-fiction story, and his Mitt is solid work that got Netflix to bring him back for a multi-part series. I liked New York Doll a lot.
But I've watched a lot of 30 For 30s lately, and thought extremely highly of OJ: Made In America, and I wondered how essential LCU would feel after OJ: MIA, or whether Whiteley could avoid the treaclier precincts of college-football filmmaking.
When It Won Me Over
What Did It
The first half-hour of Last Chance U is standard stuff, introducing our players and Coach Buddy Stephens, giving us a sense of what it's like to find yourself in tiny near-ghost town Scooba, MS to throw or rush for your professional life. It's cagier than I'd like about what brought some of the EMCC Lions to the team; there's a lot of "the grades weren't there" that can't be the whole story.
Where it shines is with the appearance of Brittany Wagner, a sunny heels-wearing academic advisor who is quick and wry to correct her job description to "eligibility specialist," and I like how direct LCU is about that aspect of the proceedings. Nobody's sentimental about school, God, and country blah blah. Everybody's there so that they can go somewhere better or more helpful. Wagner's trying whatever den-mother tactics she think will work to get these guys up above the GPA red line and eligible for a Division I program.
Her relationship with the players is delightful to watch. She is a hundred on their side but a hundred not having their bullshit either; her wrapping a team academic-status meeting with "Act like you care. Okay? ...Loooove youuuu" cracked me up. Later, Wagner asks a couple of Lions what hip-hop terms mean, and is businesslike in her pride that she already learned that "purple" means weed; quarterback John Franklin III is all "well look at you."
But it's Ronald Ollie buying wireless headphones instead of a notebook that sold me on the whole series. He's unwrapping them in Wagner's office, and she busts his chops while trying them on; dismayed that she put them on before he had a chance to, he's reaching for them when she snaps, "Don't mess my hair up." Ollie, a defensive lineman the size of a one-bedroom who does not have delicate fingers, does mess her hair up, but conscientiously smooths it back down.
There's a no-bullshit respect between Wagner and the players that makes you wish someone would remake The Blind Side about her instead.
She's not the only heart of the show, and I look forward to getting to know everyone else -- not least DJ Law, an oft-beleaguered-looking running back whose Mars Blackmon tee won me over instantly; and QB coordinator Clint Trickett, because he swears a lot and has the chewiest and most southern name in the world.
Worth Taking A Run At It?
Surely, even if you're not a sports/football person; yeah, it's "about" juco football, but only in the sense that Friday Night Lights was or 30 For 30s are, namely that they are, but they use football to talk about other things. Give it until Law busts out his uniform runway walk in the locker room at least.
For Star Trek Week we suggest:
Trek mockumentaries we'd like to see!
- The making of Data
- A Behind The Music Wesley Crusher episode
- Space School: A Semester At Starfleet Academy
- Below Holodeck Mediterranean