Nimrod Nation



Sundance Channel
9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26

"Nimrod Nation" is the kitschy title of what turns out to be an evocative, stylish, entertaining and sometimes disturbing eight-part Sundance Channel documentary series on small-town life from filmmaker Brett Morgen ("Chicago 10," "The Kid Stays in the Picture," "On the Ropes").

It's advertised as an overview of a town's love of its high school basketball team in tiny Watersmeet, Mich., but it's actually more about the town itself: quaint, slow, wholesome, values-driven and, yes, also in love with that basketball team.

Mind you, they haven't had all that much reason to cheer for a team in a town whose K-12 school serves fewer than 100 students. But this year's squad looks to be its finest ever. There's actually talk of going undefeated for the Watersmeet Nimrods in this, the 2006 season. Of course, the coach's focus might be a tad diluted because he also has to serve as the school's principal and possibly second-grade substitute. He's also got his son on the squad this year.

Again, the focus is as much on the colorful characters of Watersmeet -- in Michigan's isolated Upper Peninsula -- as it is roundball. We meet the old men of the town, guys who grew up there and never left who still talk mostly about basketball.

There also is the lust for hunting that drives the male populace and leads to a very disturbing conclusion to Episode 1. (Spoiler alert: Don't read the following two sentences if you want to be surprised.) It concludes with a prize pet pig getting shot between the eyes at close range, as it's time for the beast to be eaten. It isn't savage or particularly cruel but shocking nonetheless. It supplies a window into American small-town life, where there isn't much to do but shoot hoops, hang at the coffee shop and hunt animals.

This would be a horror movie for the people of PETA, but for the rest of us "Nimrod Nation" is a compelling glimpse into the heartland. It shows us a place that could not possibly be more different from Los Angeles where simple pleasures still hold true and a community can still be united behind the accuracy with which its native sons compel a ball to travel through a hoop.