Review of Last Chance U

Fridays, 3:00 AM ET on Netflix

60 minutes

Directed by Greg Whiteley (Mitt, New York Doll, Resolved), Last Chance U is a character driven, gut-wrenching behind-the-scenes look at the world of college football. Last Chance U follows a group of young men training to become the future stars of the NFL. The football players are the latest recruits to Eastern Mississippi Community College (EMCC), an undefeated team with 3 consecutive National Championships under their belt. The EMCC Lions have become a phenomenon in junior college sports, attracting elite athletes, some of whom have been held back by poor academic performance or behavioral issues. Under Coach Buddy Stephens, one of the most successful but least known athletic programs, EMCC graduates more than 20 players per year into football scholarships at four year universities, and nine of his former players currently play in the NFL.
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by Lucy
Jul 22, 2017 5:28PM EDT

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This is a really insightful, brilliant documentary series following the East Mississippi Community College football team and the journey several of their key players make over the course of a season. Even though I barely know anything about Aerican football, I was drawn in to the training, tactics and football games just as much as the backstories and character driven pieces. The docu-series was well filmed and had superb storytelling that brought not only the players, but the teachers and coaches to life too.

Unusually for a documentary, there is no narrator for the series, all the players, coaches and staff narrate when necessary which gives the whole season an intimate feel - as if each person is talking directly to you. I love how the film crew allowed the players to be themselves and get some honest and heartbreaking truths from all the players, helping us understand the journey and sacrifices they were making.

The show focuses on four main players and how they grow over the football season. Roland, Wyatt, DJ and John all have issues, difficult home lives or less than favourable upbrinings that are discussed during the show. Last Chance U doesn't shy away from thug/redneck culture or issues of race and poverty and hearing from the individuals to which these issues affect really grounds the series and makes it impactful in a way a narrated docu-film never could. It was refreshing to hear from locals from Mississippi and what the team meant for them and their community, highlighting how important sport is in changing lives of not just players, but of whole groups of people for the better.

Throughout the show we also learn about the history of EMCC, football scholorship process, the fans and their passion for the team. the operations of running a community college team and tactics that make a great football player. Lots of content and a great range of individuals are interviewed to provide their expertise which was wonderful to hear from.

However, Ms Wagner is the real star of the show as the players academic supervisor/mum to them all, giving them stability, encouragement and being there for them constantly throughout their highs and lows of the football season as well as the academic year. The boys all respected her and she had a great relationship with everyone. Seeing her break down in tears when the players graduated brought tears to my eyes.

Season 2 features more of the same as season 1; lots of personal stories from players, lots of learning and growth (both academically and athletically) and lots of excellent football games to watch. The impact of the first season being shown on Netflix was prominent this series, but coaches and players still but heads and there's plenty of drama to go round.

I love getting to know several key players, their motivations, aspirations, footballing dreams and backstories. This season featured a lot more from the coaches and their families too - giving a great picture of what makes EMCC and the EMCC family. It was great to catch up with a few of the guys from the previous season and see where they were (thankfully all still in school!)

Each episode in season 2 had a focus/theme and the ones about the role of religion, the importance of family and taking a look at other football playing schools in the league were very interesting and showed the complexity of being a football player and the expectations/pressures that the football business has on everyone involved.

But the biggest change in season 2 was the impact of Buddy on the players. He's got a very aggressive coaching style, which can get results on the football field, but how does it affect the young men when they're not football players? I felt that the wider issues of growing up, becoming an adult and leading a positive life where more the focus of season 2 and it was interesting to explore the people behind the players as it were.

As usual Ms Wagner is the best of the best and I love her dedication to the young men. She really cares, about all of them and their futures. So pleased she decided to do something for herself at the end of the season! I hope there's a season 3, but without a huge portion of the staff returning, it may be tricky. Either way, I would like to see a new head coach take over the role at EMCC and see what that brings to the team.


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