(WARNING: This review contains spoilers. If you haven’t watched and/or don’t want to know anything that happened, don’t bother reading this post. I’m not talented enough to review a show without giving away spoilers–deal with it.)
Typically I don’t post reviews of television shows I watch, mainly as it would literally engulf all my time, but in this case I feel compelled to write. That’s because Season 2 of Netflix’s “Last Chance U” is exactly that—compelling. It’s unequivocal compelling documentary-style television.
There’s plenty of Netflix content I’ve watched religiously over the past handful of years. House of Cards, Narcos, Orange is the New Black, The Ranch and Master of None immediately come to mind.
I’m telling you guys and gals now— Last Chance U is better than any of ‘em.
Before proceeding I should dispel any potential myth. If you haven’t watched Last Chance U due to not being a football fan, you’re making a mistake. Last Chance U is an eight-part documentary series covering a junior college (Eastern Mississippi Community College) that fields fields regularly a national powerhouse football team consisting mainly of major Division-I football talent that fucked up somewhere along the line to end up there. From drug arrests, burglaries, other crimes or getting thrown out of bigger schools for shitty grades, the roster is comprised primarily of elite talented kids down to their last chance at getting a shot to play major college football again.
Even if you couldn’t give a shit about college football, Last Chance U is entirely worth your time. Both seasons dig its cleats on much more than the field and locker room. From coaches to players, families, residents in the small town of Scooba and lastly— an incredible academic advisor, this series will make you have all the feels, trust me.
I binge-watched Season two in less than two days. As good as Season one was, I found the latest batch even better. Once I sat down to watch I simply couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.
Last Chance U is HBO’s Hard Knocks on steroids.
I have plenty of thoughts on this second season but must warn again that my notes contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet watched and/or you don’t want to know anything that happened before viewing, stop reading now.
♦ On the football side, the 2015 on-field brawl (if you didn’t watch Season one you really need to) that destroyed their championship three-peat hopes essentially became a two season penalty. With the exception of head coach Buddy Stephens every member of the team from last year—including coaches, assistants, trainers and players were suspended for Season two’s opener. That included the starting quarterback, who on the night of the brawl was merely on a recruiting visit and seated in the press box. Subsequently Stephens, his small group of graduate assistants and mere 28-man roster full of freshmen and transfers narrowly lost by two points. Ultimately, despite running off 11 consecutive wins their shorthanded loss cost them an opportunity to play in the JUCO National Championship game— a complete joke and farce. Had many of the star players been eligible play that first game they likely win handily and finish undefeated.
♦ The most well-known athlete at EMCC in Season two is the aforementioned quarterback seated in the press box during the brawl last season, De’Andre Johnson. Unbeknownst to me that Johnson was on the team before watching this, he became infamous two years ago for cowardly punching a defenseless female directly in the face at a bar that was caught on video for the world to see. Johnson deservedly paid a heavy price as he was dismissed from the Florida State program following the footage’s release. To Last Chance U’s credit they didn’t shy away from it—showing the deplorable incident in its entirety. In fairness to Johnson he expresses what I perceived as genuine remorse and works hard to prove what he did was a mistake and not define him as a person. Johnson isn’t heavily recruited by D1 schools, as they’re clearly still shying away from the controversy an offer would cause. In fact, no school makes an offer until we learn near the closing credits Johnson is offered at mid-major Central Florida. I’m glad I got to see him through the lenses this season, because “fuck this guy for the rest of his life” beforehand. Regardless of how you feel, it makes you weigh the right consequence an athlete should pay for an inexcusable mistake—getting a second chance or having his potential livelihood taken away for good.
♦ Season one left me conflicted on how I felt about Buddy Stephens. He struck me as an overall nice guy suffering from a hard time keeping his emotions under control during the heat of battle on the sidelines. There’s no internal debate for me after Season two—Stephens is an asshole. He at first appears contrite over letting a few moments get away last year, but his attempts at remodeling his demeanor don’t last long. For me he grows downright unlikeable this time around. It’s one thing to flex your authority over younger players, but Stephens was often an unapologetic dickhead to members of his coaching staff, especially his offensive coordinator. Ultimately his behavior and idiosyncrasies led said coordinator to leave the staff and more perhaps more importantly drive away beloved academic adviser Brittany Wagner.
♦ Speaking of Wagner, she’s the real MVP of this series. Her devotion to the student athletes and their success is unambiguous and authentic. Wagner’s the clear conscious of the football program and her constant hearing from players of Stephens’ treatment towards them convince her it’s time to find a new career. We find out at the very end of the final episode that Wagner is starting her own counseling service for student athletes.
♦ My lone major complaint about Season two is while it’s evident Wagner struggles over her decision to stay or leave, we never see or even know if her and Stephens confront or even speak directly to each other. If there’s a Season three we’ll surely see a void a EMCC without Wagner.
♦ If Last Chance U were a movie chockfull of fictional characters, I’d nominate defensive line coach Davern Williams for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The guy is a great coach and while tough—also very fair. I love his mixture of fire and composure.
♦ It was tough rooting for some of the players the series focused on, primarily running back Isaiah Wright and defensive tackle Kam Carter. I kinda wanted to see him whip a player’s ass a time or two.
♦ Wright is a Division-I talent but it’s painfully obvious that character issues haunt him—namely an ability to simply keep quiet and listen to authority. He also has a tough time playing through an ankle injury team officials don’t regard as serious, and he makes an ultimate bonehead play on the field (catching a punt inside the three yard line) that culminates in a complete meltdown on the sideline after being rightfully scolded. In fairness to him and as mentioned previously, Stephens was a dick to many of his players and none so more than Wright, but he should’ve bit his tongue many times that he didn’t. It surely ends up costing him, as we find out he has to take an offer with D2 West Georgia—hardly suited for his formidable talent. It’s a sad story, really.
♦ Carter’s a dominant defensive tackle kicked out of Penn State for a violation of several team rules. His straight-up childish behavior if often on full display, including incidents where he disrespectfully swears at a teacher and later gets into a shoving match with Coach Williams. In fairness, Carter does suffer from ADD and proves that elite sports talent usually wins out; as we learn despite his well documented off-field flaws he scores a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.
♦ With the extent of trouble many of its athletes found before arriving EMCC, led by Johnson’s barroom punch and Stephens’ sideline meltdowns, Season two felt a little darker. There’s also Dakota Allen—a linebacker kicked out of Texas Tech three years ago after getting busted for burglary and stealing a gun, although he couldn’t have come off as nicer and more reformed than he did on Last Chance U (Spoiler alert—he ends up going back to Texas Tech).
♦ While the players and their struggles are the obvious focal point it’s Stephens and Wagner that pretty much steal every scene they’re in, which is most. The relationship—or lack thereof between the two carries, by far the most significance. Wagner’s lifework with the kids being successful her goal against Stephens actions that doesn’t appear to have the kids’ best interest at heart is Last Chance U’s biggest story arc.
♦ I have a 14-year old son playing football and he’s a decent high school prospect for his age. I can categorically tell you after watching these two seasons that if he got into trouble and any Division-1 hopes were at least temporarily derailed, I wouldn’t want him playing for Coach Stephens at EMCC.
♦ As for the football scenes and action, director Greg Whiteley does an outstanding job of capturing everything. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen on TV before. I really hope there’s a third season.
Grade: A (If you like football it’s must-see. If you don’t you should probably watch anyway.)