© 2020
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Final Season Of 'Last Chance U' Focuses On Laney College Football

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Netflix's look at junior college football in "Last Chance U" debuts its fifth and final season today. It's set in Oakland, Calif. This is a season that touches on race, family, gentrification and the struggle of young men who may only have one shot. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: If you've watched previous seasons of the immersive docu-series "Last Chance U," you know the most flawed characters on the show are often the head coaches. But this time, the series is focused on the 2019 football season at Laney College led by John Beam. Beam is a much-admired Oakland football legend who transformed Laney's program, as a succession of former players will attest.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

UNIDENTIFIED BARBER: Coach Beam is the man - real talk. He really kept brothers off the street, kept them out of trouble. He was a father figure.

KEVIN PARKER: 'Cause we all come from a lot of broken homes in Oakland. And he was that guy who was married, two lovely daughters, showed how a family supposed looked.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMROLL)

DEGGANS: Beam is starting a new season after winning his first state championship at Laney after 40 years of coaching at the high school and junior college level. But California's junior college system is full of challenges. They don't offer scholarships. They have no housing. They don't provide meals. And because Oakland is becoming more gentrified by the minute, most of the school's players must commute long hours by car or public transportation or worse as a few assistant coaches observe.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

KIYOSHI HARRIS: We used to have guys sleeping in a locker room. We didn't even know it. You know, I got some guys that didn't eat for two days.

ADAM ROBINSON: There's dudes on this team that are coming from nothing. If you weren't playing football, you wouldn't be going to college at all.

DEGGANS: "Last Chance U" climbs into these athletes' lives, unearthing poignant stories of young men giving their all to succeed despite crushing circumstances. One of the team's most promising wide receivers, Dior Walker-Scott, is living in his car.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

DIOR WALKER-SCOTT: Do my mom know what's happening right now? No. And am I going to tell her? No. I don't need her stressed about me. She got four other kids to worry about.

DEGGANS: Another struggling wide receiver, RJ Stern, admits his grandmother is successful author Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was accused by Stern's mother of sexually abusing her when she was a child. Stern's grandfather, coin expert Walter Breen, was no better.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

R J STERN: He thought that pedophilia was, like, cool essentially. He was like, OK, yeah, this is - you know, there's nothing wrong with this. You know, I don't even like calling him my grandpa. I just call him Walter. And he died in prison before I was born.

DEGGANS: Beam explains his players' situation simply.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

JOHN BEAM: We're starting to use this term now, PTSD, for our kids because of what they deal with every day. We have to understand that there's mental health issues going on there, and we need to provide that safety net somehow, some way.

DEGGANS: Still, the core of "Last Chance U" is its thrilling coverage of Laney's games. The show builds suspense carefully, showing Walker-Scott floundering after dropping two passes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

WALKER-SCOTT: That's two in a row.

BEAM: Don't worry about it. Make the next play.

WALKER-SCOTT: Yes, coach.

BEAM: If you worry about it, I'll put someone else in, right?

WALKER-SCOTT: Yes, coach. Yes, coach.

BEAM: It's done.

DEGGANS: Then making a crucial catch to turnaround the team's momentum.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST CHANCE U")

BEAM: (Shouting) Down the pike, down the pike, down the pike (ph). Got him.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Walker-Scott, he's got it, falling backwards inside the five.

BEAM: Told you.

DEGGANS: These moments are the core of "Last Chance U's" brilliantly emotional, brutally revealing season showing young men reaching deep inside to achieve as if their lives depended on it because, in some cases, they surely do. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN AND YONDERLING'S "NIGHTSHIFT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.