Note: Obviously there are going to be some spoilers involved with this, both from the show’s first and second season. But both seasons chronicle football seasons that have already happened that you may have heard about elsewhere on the Internet or on Sportscenter. But if you’re wanting to go into the show knowing nothing, turn back now!
Late last summer, in the dreaded days of baseball being the only sport available to watch, I and many others fell in love with the East Mississippi Community College Lions football program thanks to Last Chance U, a Netflix documentary chronicling head coach Buddy Stephens’ extremely successful football program in the middle of nowhere Mississippi.
The show returned to Netflix on Friday with its second season, and within seconds, it felt like coming home. Last summer, and again this year, it brought football I hadn’t seen into my life over a month before real football began, and it told a great story in captivating fashion.
If you haven’t watched the program at all (and really, you should), here’s the concept: Buddy Stephens and his coaching staff have turned a small community college in Scooba, Mississippi into a football powerhouse, home to transfer students galore who have been kicked out of various D1 programs and are looking for a second chance to prove their worth, while beating teams to oblivion on the field.
EMCC is the place for it.
Players don’t have anything to do in Scooba, Mississippi. No nightclubs or night life. No party scene. Just the Subway on campus, and Lions football. They hate it. Some have countdowns on their phone to the day when fall classes end and they’ll get to leave Scooba.
But in the meantime, they have one goal: competing for the JuCo National Championship.
My review is not all-encompassing, as I’ve only watched the first four episodes of the second season so far (which is impressive for me, considering I also re-watched the entire first season before starting season 2), but my initial impressions can be summed up easily: this is easily one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Season two picks up in training camp, with multiple players throwing up on the sideline during a workout in the vigorous Mississippi heat. A bad taste lingers in everyone’s mouth regarding the brawl during the last game of the previous season that ended the Lions’ championship dreams.
The fight hangs over everything, especially for the first game of the season: anyone who was involved was given a two game suspension. The first game of the suspension was the playoff game, and the second then transferred into the next season, which, given how many players were involved, puts the Lions opening game roster at 33 spots out of 55.
It’s just the first of many problems that head coach Buddy Stephens faces throughout the season. He comes into Season 2 as a changed man, working to change his attitude and tone down his foul language. But shockingly, not much changes.
Let’s talk, like everyone else has, about the level of access the camera crew gets in this series. It’s incredible. Cameras are rolling for every major moment of the season, and no one holds back anything. There are multiple moments when Stephens references the camera while he chews out his team during halftime and yells “Get outta here!” or “At least go somewhere where you’re not in the way of my players!” As a former sports reporter for Iowa football, coach Stephen’s candidness confounds me. This is a man that, despite not liking what he saw from himself in season 1, once again allows his camera crew to view pretty much every waking moment of his working life, and doesn’t care that it’s being filmed, because he’s being himself.
If, in some parallel universe, Kirk Ferentz, Gary Barta and Steve Roe allowed such a documentary made about Iowa football, it would be the most un-authentic, boring football documentary ever made. We would see every Iowa player and coach on their best behavior, because Kirk would want to heavily control the image of his program as much as possible. No one would want to watch, because no players would get to let their true personality shine.
Despite the popularity of the show, despite the fact that they directly mention in interviews how the show has changed everything, every moment is (or at least feels) candid. Are there players showing off for the cameras during games? Absolutely. And I love that. But off the field, in the office of Ms. Wagner, the athletics academic advisor and stand-out star of the show, these are student-athletes being their true selves: opening up about their ambitions, struggling in classes, and being pushed as hard by Ms. Wagner to do the very minimum in the classroom as they are by the coaches to win on the field. For the most part, the coaches and players ignore the cameras and do their jobs, and the show shines because of it.
I’ll talk more at length about the players and staff in my second part of the review, once I find out how their seasons end, but I think the show handles the difficult situations that bring each player to EMCC really well. The directors don’t shy away from mentioning exactly how each person becomes a Lion, from showing the full video of QB De’Andre Johnson punching a woman in a Tallahassee bar, to discussing linebacker Dakota Allen’s burglary that got him kicked out of Texas Tech. The show never offers concrete resolutions for any player. It promises no happy endings. But it does give every featured player, no matter their crime, no matter their personality, another chance for redemption, on the field and in life.
But wait, there’s more! Part 2 will be a more comprehensive season review and update about players and where they go. If you’re dying to know where everyone ends up, our own Jason Kirk has you covered. Also check out his review for a great gif, and some great writing.