It’s saying something, in this age of social-media-driven immediacy, that some of the most compelling sports TV in recent memory has involved months-old coverage of a college football team you’ve never heard of. Ask anyone who’s seen it; Last Chance U. is just that good.
The first two seasons of the Netflix documentary series followed the football program at East Mississippi Community College, a national JuCo powerhouse loaded with Division I castoffs and a slew of fascinating characters. There’s volatile head coach Buddy Stephens, beloved but overwhelmed academic advisor Brittany Wagner, and the dozen or so players — a mix of hard-luck kids trying to play their way out of poverty and hardheaded kids who can’t seem to get out of their own way — whose stories made the show as immersive as any scripted drama.
When LCU returns this Friday for its third season, it’s with a new cast of characters and a new location. The show has moved on from tiny, isolated Scooba, Miss., to Independence, Kansas, home of Independence Community College. Where EMCC was a national power battling to maintain its place atop the JuCo throne, Indy CC is a long-struggling program making a move to join the elite. As such, Season 3 promises a fresh perspective while adhering to the all-access formula that’s made the show successful.
But the drama at EMCC, which took an unexpectedly serious turn in Season 2, isn’t forgotten: The show’s creators also filmed a follow-up episode on their time in Scooba, updating the stories of Stephens, Wagner, and a handful of players, mostly notably running back Isaiah Wright, whose already difficult life took a particularly tragic turn. We caught up recently with Adam Ridley, a director and producer on the show, to talk about what fans can expect from the new season, why it was time to move on from EMCC, and what he’s learned about the game, and the business, of college football.
UPROXX Sports: Fans of the first two seasons had a lot invested in some of the characters from EMCC. Why did you guys decide not to go back for another season?
Adam Ridley: At the end of Season 2, Brittany Wagner left, and along the way I think there was probably already a mutually unspoken agreement that it was going to be the last year, just because of the element of difficulty that definitely showed up on screen.
It was increasingly clear that Buddy Stephens had lost patience with having you guys around.
Right. We were actually looking to maybe change after the first year, but the way first year ended with the fight [ed. note: EMCC was disqualified from the state playoffs when an on-field brawl marred their final regular-season game], we thought it would be interesting to see how that story would resolve itself. But by the end of Season 2, it seemed like that chapter was closing.