Weekend watch: The snap of the East Mississippi Lions

Our weekend watch takes us over to the USA as an interesting tale of sporting and academic prowess plays out under the microscope of Last Chance U.

The first season focuses on East Mississippi Community College in Scooba (population: 716, number of working Coca-Cola machines: 1) and how it offers salvation to young men via good ol’ American Football.

The EMCC Lions were struggling at the turn of the century but massive investment (a 5,000 seat stand! A working cannon! Pitchside exercise bikes!) and the appointment of coach ‘Buddy’ Stephens sees us join them hunting down an unbeaten league record in 2015.

The drama isn’t confined to the field however; the Lions’ roster consists of students whom have perhaps fallen from loftier perches, fallen foul of the law or flunked out of school. A good year at EMCC could offer a route back up the ladder, but the guys also have to complete their school work lest the axe fall on their place in the squad.

This documentary is a neatly crafted slice of real-life drama that gets under the skin of its subjects like local boy Wyatt Roberts competing against promising out-of-towner John Franklin III for the quarterback position. We also meet defensive linesman Ronald Ollie and forward DJ Law (billed as ‘the one most likely’) both of whom struggle with the academic sides of things.

Of the adults present, two stood out for this author: Coach Stephens (who reveals why he felt the need to take the moniker Buddy) comes across as a man who cares, who is passionate, but who is also unassumingly comedic (flashes of Frank Drebin and Mike Bassett occur at times), while Brittany Wagner (catchphrase: “Do y’all have a pencil?”) is EMCC’s charming athletic academic advisor who has to ensure the students keep on top of their studies.

Also, as it’s a hot topic within sport at the moment, it was also riveting to see various attitudes towards Ollie whom suffered a concussion, but his visit home to recuperate leads to a heart-breaking backstory.

Episodes four and five of Last Chance U really dial the drama up to eleven  (The Lions’ season really doesn’t end the way their form suggested) meaning there is a lot to unpack during the finale – which side of the fence would you fall on?

Written by Stoke & Dagger contributor James Barrett-Sterling (Twitter: @jimothyshondell). All five seasons of Last Chance U are available now on Netflix.