Last Chance U has always been more than a story about a football team. But its second season, which was released on July 21 on Netflix, proves just that. Instead, it tells a story about how easily humans make mistakes, the process of redemption, and what it takes to fully reclaim your life.
There is no doubt that our second glimpse into the East Mississippi Community College football program is a lot heavier than the first go-around. This season’s team (season two was filmed during the 2016 football season) is looking to bring glory back to their program after a bench-clearing brawl in the final game of the 2015 season (which we saw at the end of season one) derailed their chance of winning a national championship. The brawl is still very much present in season two; everyone involved in the program this go-around, whether they were actually part of the brawl or not, is looking to clear their name and move forward towards winning another national championship.
Just as it was in season one, every “character” featured on the show is not always easy to root for. Head Coach Buddy Stephens is an old-school football coach who, despite trying, has not changed his ways; he is still brash and irate despite knowing that his actions in season one drew a lot of criticism. The football team has its fair share of complex “characters” as well. The 2016 team features ten transfer players from division I schools that are looking to re-start their careers. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson got kicked out of Florida State for punching a woman at a bar, LB Dakota Allen was forced out by Texas Tech after being charged with burglary, Tim Bonner is a rush end who was asked to leave Louisville after police searched for but did not find a gun in his dormitory, and both Chauncey Rivers and Kamonte Carter were kicked out of Georgia and Penn State respectively for marijuana use. These stories are told by the players and the people closest to them, which adds another layer of drama to an already dramatic show. But, this extra layer makes for some of the most compelling television I’ve seen in a long time.
Despite the content being heavier, season two feels a lot more real and authentic. The players briefly discuss how Donald Trump becoming president seems to have provoked racist attitudes in the community even more. The topic of religion also had an unexpected but large presence in season two. “Ain’t It a Sin“ was an episode primarily about how religion easily intertwines not only with the world of football and sport but also in the South as a whole. We saw Allen finding Jesus during his time in Mississippi and choosing to get baptized, Stephens asking how Jesus’ apostles landed their jobs, and Marcus Wood, an assistant under Stephens, using his football lingo to help demonstrate a point while leading a Bible study for the players. Both topics are parts of life that could have easily gotten thrown under the rug in a typical football documentary, but director Greg Whiteley chooses to highlight and focus on it, giving that sense of realism that makes Last Chance U stand out.
It’s not just these more hard-hitting issues that makes Last Chance U seem more authentic this time around. Season two also feels more real because members of the documentary crew, and the fact that this entire season is being filmed, are constantly acknowledged. We see Brittany Wagner, the athletic academic advisor, ask players who are hanging out in her office whether they’ll act out for the cameras. Stephens, more times than not, yells at camera operators to move out of his way or unplugs his microphone so that he can keep a private conversation that most likely contains inexcusable language to himself. There’s no hiding the fact that the documentary and its presence has changed this program forever, which is why even though it’s out of necessity, I’m glad it is being addressed in season two.
One thing in particular that was missing to me were the players that were focused on last season: DJ Law, Wyatt Roberts, John Franklin III, Ronald Ollie, and Marcel Andry. I knew that they wouldn’t be the main characters anymore, as they have all graduated from EMCC, but I was still really excited to see updates on their lives. That being said I felt slightly gypped after I saw that we only got very brief updates on them for the first 7:25 of the last episode, “Last Man Standing.” Personally, I would have loved to see more of them interspersed throughout season two. These guys accomplished what all EMCC players dream of during their time in Scooba: getting out. They are inspiring examples that show that it is possible to dream big and achieve those goals with hard work. I think stories of them succeeding at the next level would have added some lightheartedness to the heavier content that made up a bulk of season two.
With all of that being said, this show is beautiful and heartbreaking, grueling and inspiring, and a million more adjectives that I could list. Season two was well worth the year long wait as Whiteley takes you deeper into the raw world that is Scooba, Mississippi. It makes for some fantastic television, whether you know anything about football or not. Last Chance U outdid itself in season two and is a must-watch for anyone.
Photos courtesy of Steve Dietl/Netflix