The camera’s return to the small town of Scooba, Mississippi; specifically to the East Mississipi Community College to follow the Lions; and American Football Team who specialise in taking on players who have fallen out of bigger and more renowned college systems – sometimes because of on-field performance, but often due to academic and even legal issues. Like Season One the level of access is unprecedented and uncompromising, especially when compared to the NFL’s All or Nothing.
If it lacks in having big name stars to follow, it sure can make up for it in drama and in personal conflict.
If the events of episode one happened in a film, it’d be dismissed for being unrealistic. Facing suspensions for the mass brawl that featured in season one, the Lions are forced to play their opening game with 32 players vs. their opponents 55. As fatigue sets in late in the game the fate of the match comes down to a nail-biting finale. The entire situation could be a far-fetched Hollywood cliché – only this is real.
This is a longer season than season one – the episode count is up to 8 from 6 and the average episode length is longer. Mainly this is a positive as you feel like you get to know more about the players and their struggles and issues which have brought them to Scooba and there is added focus on the coaches too. The focus also widens a little in places: Episode 6 heavily features the head coach from a winless rival as he tries to motivate his team for a match they realistically have little chance of winning. He points out that unlike the Lions, none of his team have scholarships and none were offered the opportunity to play football anywhere else. To him the Lions are second-chance U while his team is truly a Last Chance U; offering these young men a final opportunity to show what they can do on a field. While mostly positive, the added run-times do mean that one or two episodes feel a little podgy and directionless; a little brevity here and tightening up there would have benefited the series.
Season two is full of conflict. Not just on the field: there are several instances of players arguing with coaches – including a memorable square-off between a player and his defensive line coach, Davern Williams – one of the coaches who benefits from an expanded role. Then, of course, there is the Lions Head Coach Buddy Stephens. He says he didn’t like the man he saw when he watched Season One and has decided to make a concerted effort to change. He’s trying to eliminate swearing for one; but the quick temper which made him both a compelling and controversial figure in season one soon rears its head. He’s quickly shouting down players, raging at officials and even tries to have the mother of a star player ejected from the stands for heckling the team, before ending the season arguing with his own Offensive Co-ordinator and trying to remove him from the sidelines. He also faces criticism from the show’s beloved Academic co-ordinator Brittany Wagner – who feels under appreciated by Stephens – who talks about true change needing to come from within.
There are plenty of player stories to enjoy following as each have their own redemption stories and obstacles to overcome, including the star running back who has to battle a series of injuries and personal tragedies, the Quarterback looking to make amends following a heinous crime and the players seemingly inevitable struggle to get the required grades to launch back into a more prestigious college program. Again, Last Chance U is a triumph of unprecedented levels of access and the time and care taken to develop the stories and make you care about these young men striving to achieve their dreams.
The Verdict: Essential viewing. It may lack an episode with the drama of the brawl from Season One and possibly lacks a true fan-favourite character like Roland Ollie (who makes a brief appearance); but as a whole this is an even better show than last year.