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Last Chance U

Last Chance U

With the current football season coming to a close, there will be plenty of folks sporting a giant pigskin-sized hole in their heart.  Whereas many look forward to watching gladiators competing at the highest levels on Saturdays and Sundays, they will now have to tick away the months until the next kick off. 

Thankfully, Netflix has a documentary series that gives an intimate and thought-provoking all access look at one of the nation’s premiere junior college football programs.  LAST CHANCE U is a 6 part series that goes on the field, in the locker room, in the classroom, and everywhere in-between.  Reminiscent of the HBO series HARD KNOCKS, it introduces viewers to a world they may never have known existed.

East Mississippi Community College has become one of the elite programs at the junior college level.  Willing take chances on student-athletes who have Division I talent, yet faced a number of adversities that have reared their ugly heads, the school competes for a championship virtually every year.  With an impressive list of alumni that includes dozens of NFL players and Division I stars, the coaching staff  takes a cutthroat approach to the game, and shows no mercy to any of their competitors.

The series begins at the start of the 2015 season, with the Lions in the midst of a 24-game winning streak.  Exuberant and hardcore head coach Buddy Stephens expects to win every game on their way to another championship.  Barking orders and screaming at anyone in his near vicinity, he viciously demands perfection from players and coaches alike.  He demands the very best from every player on the field, and makes it known that every position is up for grabs.  Despite their background, or expectations coming in, he forces each member of his squad to earn their spot.  This holds especially true for the quarterback position.  For outsiders, it seemed like a guarantee that Florida State transfer John Franklin III would be under center for the first game, and every game thereafter.  On the practice field, however, he finds it difficult to find his rhythm.  His pure athleticism is obvious, but his accuracy is simply not there.  Conversely, Wyatt Roberts is able to sling the ball just about wherever he wants, though he lacks many of the natural gifts exhibited by Franklin.  Their battle for the starting position becomes a focal point of the entire series.

There are a number of fascinating aspects of LAST CHANCE U, the least of which happens to be the games themselves.  While there is plenty of footage from each match up, it is the set of events that unfolded the days in-between that largely comprises the majority of the drama.  We learn the backstories of many of the stars of the team, and the circumstances that lead them to East Mississippi.  For most, it is their inability (or unwillingness) to commit to their academic studies that prohibits them from advancing to the next level.  Athletic academic councilor Brittany Wagner interjects herself in virtually every aspect of the struggling players’ lives, from making sure they are attending classes to ensuring that they are completing their assignments.  Ms. Wagner has a close relationship with the young men she works with, and seems personally invested in their success and failures. 

Throughout the series, there are a number entertaining and engaging characters emerge.  Many of these are players who possess talent and potential, yet often seem unwilling to put in the work necessary to help them advance to the next stage in their careers.  The most bombastic individual in the entire series, however, is Coach Stephens.  Whether he is blasting his whistle, screaming in his player’s faces, or getting into physical altercations with the referees, he makes Bob Knight look like a puppy in comparison.  It is hard to argue with the results that Stephens produces, and it is difficult to distinguish between the man and the character he portrays.  Driven by a fierce need to illicit perfection, He puts winning above everything else, and demands tangible results from everyone on the squad, whether it be a player or a coach.

At times difficult to watch, yet always entertaining, LAST CHANCE U emerges as yet another knock-out from Netflix.

Last Chance U: B+

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.