While many sports documentaries focus heavily on wins and losses, this latest addition to the Netflix franchise finds some of its greatest moments on days off.
At this point it would be almost impossible for Last Chance U: Basketball to fail. It’s not like there’s one key formula that any crew can adopt and replicate with ease. Rather, the crew of Last Chance U: Basketball, through their football origins, their parallel work on Cheer, and now two seasons at East Los Angeles College, recognized what it takes to bring a viewer into dive into a show.
We’ve spoken at length many times about this show’s ability to dig out biographical details, grab candid moments, and present in-game action with elegance and a level of immediacy that’s just as brief as putting a camera to the forehead of the buckle players. It’s all included in Season 2 of Last Chance U: Basketball. It remains one of the best Netflix shows of all genres and returns as an instant entry among this year’s best documentaries.
What this season emphasizes perhaps more than the rest is the type of character building – both in terms of storytelling and in terms of coaching language – that comes with practice. In the first episode, it doesn’t take long for Coach John Mosley to get the ELAC Huskies going and sucking wind. It’s one of the first examples of the psychological back-and-forth that runs through a long college season, especially at the junior college level. All these efforts are organized and made to make the team better, good enough for its players to go elsewhere.
While games are the more traditional way to demonstrate skill and resilience, as well as the ability to hold up under pressure, these exercise sequences tell a very different story. Instead of having five guys on the pitch at once, with a crowd and people scoring points, practice is a more level, almost democratic way of showing how this team interacts with each other. There is a chance that more of these huskies will be able to participate and see individual players get together or collide with each other.
It speaks to the patience of a series like this that there are even enough of these practice sequences to draw from. Interview a player in their bedroom or in the dressing room and there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a thread to explore elsewhere. Every game on the schedule, whether it’s a blowout or a buzzer-beater, has the built-in drama of winning or losing. At first glance, practice is practice. Crowding is so minimal that there are long stretches where the only sound is the squeak of shoes on the floor.
But of the standout moments in Last Chance U: Basketball, so many of the most telling are when players stand on the baseline, waiting for the next drill. It’s time for fiery speeches or harsh truths from Mosley, invoking body language or player commitment or playing style. You’ll see friendships and rivalries seethe in overheard conversations and who these players consult in times of stress. It’s a chance to see the limitations of certain players, whether they’re willing to defy criticism, live up to expectations, or decide that the system beyond the game just isn’t worth it anymore.
Practice then becomes the foundation to build on as you learn about the backstories of these young men. There come points where Mosley’s perception of these players’ work ethic or attitude is either confirmed or contradicted by the chapters in their lives they share in a more private place. In some cases, that setback is justified, especially when Mosley’s strong words concern something more abstract that players can’t change themselves. Series directors Greg Whiteley, Adam Leibowitz and Daniel George McDonald find the differences between inspirational practice talks that focus on technique or actionable change and ones in which Mosley projects his own insecurities to take these players “to the next level.” “ to prepare.
That’s one thing that has honed the larger Last Chance U universe for the better part of a decade. His narratives don’t automatically align with the coaches’ platitudes and knee-jerk hierarchical mindsets. Over the course of eight hour-long episodes, there is plenty of storytelling room to explore whether a particular trainer’s approach is truly the most effective. Mosley strengthens this season with a genuine self-reflection on whether he’s been able to achieve and deliver the lessons he’s proud of. Season 2 again has a sequence that almost asks, “Is there any actual, real value in doing every exercise rep with 100% effort?”
Regardless of the answer, Last Chance U: Basketball benefits from a “first in, last out” approach. Alongside those aha moments when practice is underway, there are also little gems like a player lining up against Natasha Bedingfield or assistant coach Rob Robinson (Season 2’s Stealth MVP) showing the camera crew just how finicky the team’s vacuum cleaner is is. Capturing those early morning track runs and late night weight room workouts gives the show the right to celebrate the team’s successes and failures. When an episode ends with Mosley and the team dancing in the dressing room after a big win, the show has put in the time to earn that, too.
Through one player in particular, Season 2 shows that coaching cannot be one size fits all. Sometimes a quieter, more talkative form of coaching, away from the intensity of a training session, makes the difference between a scholarship from a four-year school and a return to ELAC. Watching the changing attitude towards the team and its expectations over the course of the ELAC season is confirmation that yelling and mindless repetition and rants about mental toughness won’t always provoke a reaction. Integrate with a team for a year and you will see quite a few. The fact that Last Chance U: Basketball finds other, more fertile centers of attention as these players journey into their futures is one of the show’s enduring strengths.
Last Chance U: Basketball Season 2 is available to stream now on Netflix.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/12/last-chance-u-basketball-netflix-season-2-practice-1234792323/ Last Chance U: Basketball Netflix: Season 2 thrives on practice