Small Town Basketball: An Antidode to the Writer's Strike (and The Hills)

Writer's strike got you down? Tired of watching the faux reality of seventeen year old, artfully lit millionaires-to-be pouting through a thinly scripted breakup?

I have the show for you. It's called Nimrod Nation.

I know, it sounds like some kind of Fox reality contest pitting mentally handicapped people against one another in American Gladiator style bouts (hmmm...not a bad idea...), but it's really a short documentary (read: real reality) series about a small town in rural Michigan called Watersmeet, and the way the town rallies behind (and lives through) the local high school basketball team, the Watersmeet Nimrods.

It's a funny, touching, kind of melancholy, soulful show, as the Sundance website says, really more a portrait of a rural small town than a sports documentary. It's about high school kids, but also their parents, and also the old guys sitting around the diner talking about the high school kids (and, sometimes, their parents). It's about a small town in the same way that The Wire is about a big city, which is to say, in all the best, most complicated, unflinching, real ways there are.

And it's a real portrait of a small town, not some kind of condescending (I'm looking at you, The Good Girl starring Jennifer Aniston), Hollywood version of a small town. There are no Simple Life style yucks over the yokels and their accents, modest homes, haircuts, or their habit of walking through the woods and shooting anything that moves.

That's another thing: this is real rural America, or at least the rural America that I grew up in. People hunt not because they're taking a position on animal rights; they hunt because they need meat to make it through the winter. And the filmmakers take a very clear-eyed, documentary-style to this: after a few episodes, you may start to think, Man, those Zelinski's just love to shoot animals. But then you hear junior class valedictorian and classic small town smart girl Beth Zelinski say that she's thinking about entering the military (no mention of the war in Iraq) because it's the only way she'll be able to pay for college. This is reality for a lot of rural Americans, and the series neither panders nor criticizes, but perfectly captures the situation, just like the best documentary films.

The high school kids are the focus, if there is one, and they're refreshing and awkward and painfully real. The boys are quiet, funny, smart, and stupid, all at once, which is to say, they're high school boys. Watching them goof around in the middle of a frozen lake, cheerfully ice fishing and talking shit in subzero weather, was one of the few times I've ever had legitimate nostalgia for high school and simpler times.

The girls are there largely to cheer for the boys. We don't even know if there's a girl's basketball team, but we know there's a gaggle of cheerleaders. As usual, however, the women are smarter. There's little chance that Hope Yoblansky, cute blond cheerleader that she is, is going to show up on the cover of Us Weekly anytime soon, but every chance that she's since realized her dream of going to college and never coming back.

There are only 8 episodes so far, which makes just under 4 hours of television, but it'll be the best 4 hours you've seen in some time, at least until The Wire returns.

No comments: