- Nathan Vestich
Set in Watersmeet--a small, snowy town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--the series chronicles the 2005-06 season of the Nimrods, the boys basketball team at Watersmeet Township School that won the district, regional and U.P. Class 'D' championship the year before. But the series is only partly about basketball, focusing just as much on life in a town seemingly frozen in time--one where families and friends hunt and ice fish together on a daily basis, and TV use is scarce.
The K-12 school has 240 kids, with 79 high school students and 20 graduating seniors. This is one of those towns where everyone knows each other, and many graduates stay in town to raise their families. The series has no narrator, and spends just as much time talking to the townsfolk as it does to the students. It unfolds slowly, with minor stories sidetracking us in each episode as the town gears up for each game.
At the center of it all is George Peterson III, the varsity coach who is also the school's principal, athletic director...and just about everything else, including the commissioner for the county. His son (George IV) is one of three players the series focuses on ("It's difficult to coach your son, to stay fair, because you expect more," says the father. "I get on him more than I get on the other kids.") He is joined by fellow senior Nathan Vestich, a sometimes hot-headed player and the student council president; and junior Brian Aimsback, a quiet, talented shooter who lives with his grandmother and dates senior Hope Yablonski, who aches to get out of Watersmeet ("I don't like this town"). We also meet the copious Zelinski family, a huge clan that accounts for much of the series' moments off the court.
Aimsback accounts for one of the show's most intriguing stories. His grandmother perceives inequitable recognition of Brian's basketball accomplishments, which she attributes to his Native American culture. It's a divide that some townspeople frequently address: "When I was raised in this town, you hung out with a Native and it was like you were no good. I think over the years it's gotten worse," says Hope's mother Sandy Smetak. Even Aimsback struggles with the distance he has placed between himself and his heritage. "There's more to you than just shooting a basketball," advises a Chippewa tribal member.
Drama is also aptly created in theater class, with teacher Suzanne Zelinski getting frustrated with the players' lack of interest: "I would like to be able to give the kids in Watersmeet another perspective on culture." Zelinski also cares for her niece, whose pregnancy accounts for one of the show's more touching stories. Repeatedly popping up is "The Breakfast Club", a group of five old timers who talk about the team and plenty of other issues in a diner (kind of like a non-vulgar Reservoir Dogs), serving as a connecting thread for the stories. Through them we get a sense of the town's team pride--and the pressure it places on the kids. The basketball games provide the show's most thrilling moments, with some tight finishes sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Nature is another vital element of the series--frequent shots of breathtaking landscapes are unforgettable--providing an outlet for families to bond. There's plenty of hunting, and ardent animal lovers may have to look away a few times--especially during one unintentionally funny/sad scene involving a giant pig and a malfunctioning gun (I have a pretty sick sense of humor, and even I was a tad disturbed).
The show's strength is the "little moments" that speak to the joy of friends and family. Many scenes speak to the essence of the show, getting to the heart of what's really important in life: the look of a father's face as he watches his daughter figure skate, the happiness of a wood carver who presents a gift to the student body, George III playing a pickup game with his "old man", a coach's concerned visit to a student's house, an emotional locker room speech, and Smetak expressing her genuine love for Brian ("He is a big part of my life, and no matter down the road if they're not together, he is still part of the family.").
There's also some fantastic moments of humor hidden. Some quotes are priceless:
But the material here is so engaging and strong, you'll get used to the music--and might even come around to liking it. That's a testament to the power of the series: Nimrod Nation is glorious proof that slow and simple wins the race, something all of us can learn from.
For a good read about the series, check out this article from News of the North. While there are no major spoilers, you might want to read it after watching the show.