After the departure of a main character last November, the future looked uncertain for America’s favorite comedy/drama “Notre Dame Football.” Yet the casting, writing and performances on display this season served as a reminder that this classic show can survive and thrive despite unexpected turnover (no pun intended).
The last season ended on a cliffhanger, as Marcus Freeman (played by Marcus Freeman) was elevated to the role of head coach after Brian Kelly’s character, Brian Kelly, was written off the show. Sources say that Kelly abruptly left the set before filming concluded to prepare for his next project, “LSU Football.” Kelly was also seen working with a dialect coach shortly before his departure, presumably to prepare for his new role. I don’t know what he’s paying that dialect coach, but it’s too much.
Freeman’s promotion was met with some criticism, as certain fans believed that he was hired solely to appeal to the female demographic. He proved the critics wrong in the end, and Freeman’s performance was the standout of the season. He played head coach Freeman with a level of quiet complexity that served as an excellent contrast to Kelly’s one-note performance. Episodes saw Freeman experience a full range of emotions, such as compassion for his players, passion for the sport and determination in the face of adversity. When Kelly was the star, viewers could count on seeing two emotions: rage and extreme rage. Freeman’s transition from a supporting role to the starring role was smooth, and, incidentally, it increased viewership tenfold among women aged 19-45.
The first episode, a highly anticipated crossover with “OSU Football,” was fairly predictable but still left the audience wanting more. Yet the second episode, which featured the cast of “Marshall Football” as primary antagonists, was met with disappointment from fans. Many criticized the writers for trying to subvert expectations rather than deliver a story that stayed true to the characters and themes of the show. The second episode is the lowest rated of the season, and the show lost momentum as a result.
The frustration among fans didn’t last too long, though. The turning point of this season, and where the writing shined the brightest, was episode nine, “Notre Dame vs. Clemson.” This episode reminded fans young and old why the show rose to popularity in the first place. The story arc was extremely well constructed, as the characters started the episode as underdogs in a world that was quickly losing faith in them, and ended the episode as triumphant heroes greeting a grateful crowd of people cheering for them. Kudos to the background actors in this episode, as the scene in which they stormed the field was packed with cathartic joy that could be felt through the screen.
The season finale was a fitting conclusion and neatly wrapped up the story arcs. One need look no further than the difference between Freeman’s first bowl game as head coach in last season’s finale and the bowl game in this finale. Freeman went from an uncertain and reluctant protagonist who lost his first game as head coach to a self-assured and confident leader who emerged triumphant.
The satisfying ending did not resolve all the conflicts, however. The writers left a few story threads loose, presumably to set up the conflict of the next season. Multiple references were made to a mysterious figure known as “N.I.L.,” who hangs over the Irish like a shadow. Who (or what) is N.I.L.? Is N.I.L a secret organization hellbent on destroying the team? Is he Brian Kelly’s dialect coach? I, for one, can’t wait to find out. I am also curious about how the show will include some of the sci-fi elements it introduced this season, like the “Transfer Portal.” We don’t know much about this mysterious portal yet, but it seems like beloved characters go through it and end up in states like Oklahoma and Ohio. Very scary.
The major flaw of this season was a lack of consistency. It seemed the writers couldn’t decide how good the team was. Losing to Marshall but beating Clemson was completely unrealistic and required a great deal of suspension of disbelief. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in real life. Further, what happened to Tyler Buchner’s character? In a perplexing move by the showrunners, Buchner’s character was written off after the second episode, then brought back for the season finale. TMZ reported that Buchner left to star in a spinoff about his temporary stint as a NARP (Non-Athletic Regular Person), but this rumor has not been confirmed. Regardless, Drew Pyne delivered a passing performance as replacement quarterback Drew Pyne, who later fell through the aforementioned “Transfer Portal” and ended up in Arizona.
Overall, the story was strong, the performances compelling and the few inconsistencies did not drastically impact the season. I predict Emmy nominations for Outstanding Performances by a Lead Actor and Supporting Actor for Freeman and Michael Mayer, respectively. I rate this season of “Notre Dame Football” 3.5 out of 5 stars.