How Netflix’s Last Chance U remains one of TV’s most compelling sports docuseries


As any sports fan – and all the art that goes into it – can tell you, masterful displays of physical prowess, where mind and body synchronize in competition, lend themselves well to creating a good performance. story. Sporting achievements, and the structures that make them possible, can amaze observers. And in trying to relate this astonishment to others, sometimes these observers end up doing something beautiful. by netflix Last chance u is such a beautiful thing.

Last chance u is a documentary series on junior college athletic programs that benefit from being the last and best chance for players who might be talented enough to make it to the top sports division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (played by institutions four-year-olds), but either did not have high school grades or had a cool head when they were in four-year schools – this could mean academic problems , legal issues or not getting along with their coaching staff.

During its airing, the show focused on a number of different locations and, later, on different sports. During the first four seasons, Last chance covered football programs at East Mississippi Community College (in Scooba, Mississippi) and Independence Community College (in Independence, Kansas). The last season of Last chance uThe football episodes of, which take place at Laney College (Oakland, Calif.), Were released in July 2020. Then earlier this year, the first season of spinoff Last Chance U: Basketball, which takes place at East Los Angeles College (Los Angeles, California), made its debut.

When I watched the first season of the docuseries, I was struck by the art of chronicling cinematic practices, as well as the natural way the multiple narratives unfolded through the convergence of tensions on and off the film. field: athletes struggling with their game and their families; disagreements between players; the ability of coaches to plan a play call system and motivate players; the problems players had in motivating themselves to maintain a decent GPA. It was this last part that was the most shocking and familiar. These young men were not stupid, and some of them were very capable academically, but those who did not show intelligence in the books revealed an obvious tension at the heart of all school athletics and college, a sort of enigma that is repeated endlessly: children play sports to enter university, but during their stay at school (before university), they were especially trained to play sports. sport. Not to research or study, not to think critically about the world, or even – in the most cynical capitalist assessment of requirements – how to be a good employee or a good entrepreneur.

Athletes play sports in the hope of entering a graduate university in four years, as this will open doors for them. They don’t all assume they’ll go to the NFL, although a disproportionate number do (and some even do, like former East Mississippi / Texas Tech University and Jacksonville linebacker Jaguar Dakota Allen). There is a well-founded assumption that they will have access to more resources for tutoring, but they must also get there. And the show is about how hard it is to get there.

Over the course of two seasons at EMCC in Mississippi and two seasons at ICC in Kansas, an exciting element of infotainment has developed, first on football programs at the respective junior colleges, but more interesting still about the worlds they inhabited. College sports are captivating because of the weirdness of young people who risk their bodies for a chance to go to school and perhaps become a professional athlete. This is especially strange with the NCAA and its member schools generating billions of dollars in revenue from the talents of these students. But at the college level, things are less prosperous and less centralized. Yet at EMCC, a perennial National Junior College Athletic Association championship contender and up-and-coming ICC (both undefeated at the time of writing), the resources allocated to football programs contrasted with the economic realities of their surrounding communities. . The children of Mississippi were outspoken about trying to get out of Scooba, while former Independence community leaders have openly stated how the city’s population has shrunk and its economy has withered.

In Oakland and Los Angeles, players experience a different reality. Compared to rural Mississippi and small town Kansas, urban California is booming. Yet this makes the gap between the haves and have-nots even more present. We never saw anyone sleep in their car in Scooba or Independence. We didn’t see any guys working outside. The players had dorms and purses; this is not the case in California, a state so populous that they have their own California Community College Athletic Association of 108 schools.

During Laney’s season, Oakland’s gentrification was a central theme regarding the surrounding social circumstances, as the team had a relatively disappointing season due to quarterback injuries. The Laney Eagles are led by California coaching legend John Beam (also athletic director), the only person to be recognized as the State Coach of the Year for high school and college levels, who has produced over 100 athletes. of Division 1 and 20 NFL. players. One of those former NFL players is defensive assistant coach Derrick Gardner, whose thriving parallel career in real estate serves as a partial introduction (or reminder) to the ubiquitous background theme of urban development.

At ELAC, athletes came from every other country in Southern California, from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire, to play for John Mosley, a pious man (sometimes too pious, but always humble and never sufficient) and an ELAC alumnus who built the program in over ten years after an average long history. He strives to motivate his players to work as a team, while also cleaning the gym floors and giving a spin class. His efforts, and those of his team, have been more than successful during their star season. They lost a two-point game in mid-November, then went undefeated for three months. As they were on the bus to play Santa Rosa College at West Hills Lemoore College in the quarterfinals of the CCCAA Championship tournament, the documentary film crew told them the tournament had been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which brought all normal life to a halt in the United States and around the world in 2020.

The unique personalities and life experiences of the players are what make Last chance u– and the associated mini-series on Texas college cheerleading, Applaud– worth watching. Seeing the players triumph through their hard work and determination in the face of adversity on the pitch, as well as academic challenges and real personal tragedies, is truly inspiring.

Plus, the production choices show just how good directors Greg Whiteley, Adam Ridley, and Luke Lorentzen have a keen eye for capturing real-life drama and comedy. The docuseries highlight the specificity of the places it captures, from the aerial shots of I-105 and the Bay Bridge, to the small apartment that two players rent near a viaduct, to the murals of Mac Dre in Oakland and Kobe. Bryant in Los Angeles (one episode focuses on players in ELAC’s response to the death of the NBA legend). A nod that I’ve especially enjoyed over the past two seasons – being born in the Bay Area and growing up mostly in Southern California – has been the musical choices. Luniz, Mac Dre and Too $ hort were among the prominent voices recounting the highlights of the Laney season. There is a time when the song “Big Fish” by Vince Staples arrives Last Chance U: Basketball on the highlights while the team is on a mid-season run that immediately added it to my workout playlist.

More can be said about the incredible people who make up the student-athlete rosters between the two California schools. At Laney, there was handyman Dior Walker-Scott, wide receiver RJ Stern (grandson of fantasy writer Marion Zimmer Bradley), sire and offensive lineman Nu’u Taugavau, and cornerback inherited from Oregon State Rejzohn Wright, among others. At ELAC, to my untrained eyes, almost every player looked like they had NBA talent, though maybe Joe Hampton stood out above the rest. Yet Deshaun Highler (a young man living alone with his girlfriend after his parents passed away), Malik Muhammad, KJ Allen and LJ Zeigler each showed the talent and skills that made them such an impressive team together. And they’re insightful, lovable dudes – one episode shows them going to a weekend retreat in the mountains set up by Coach Mosley where they play a game of improv, mimic the coach, and analyze and rank. their favorite rappers.

The show also doesn’t shy away from showing the support structures players have across the management teams and, more importantly, their personal relationships. There are a lot of reliable friends, girlfriends and mothers, not to mention the wives and daughters of English teachers and coaches. Women are verifiably and consistently the backbone of these stories, even though the scope of the documentary doesn’t provide them with the same screen time.

For all his excellent polish, Last chance u is a series that succeeds because it retains its authenticity, thanks to the unfiltered access that coaches and players give to the documentary team. This allows viewers to get an intimate portrait of those featured, and to understand their surroundings and journeys. Last chance u uses sport as a catalyst to educate audiences about people and, really, this country.

Last chance u worth watching from start to finish, but even if you start with both seasons in California, you will still have some fun and informative entertainment. As the soccer series is over, Last Chance U: Basketball returns to ELAC in 2022.

All seasons of Last chance u are currently streaming on Netflix.

Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer and Paste intern. He enjoys video games, film, history, pop culture, sports and human rights, and can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, listings and features follow @Coller_TV.


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