For a change of pace ...


So I’m about to do something that might be considered sacrilege for a blog devoted to science fiction and cult television. I’m about to encourage you to watch a standard drama. A family drama, some would say. A show that is not remotely science fiction or likely to develop a cult following. In fact, the only thing “cult” about the show is the somewhat scary, cultish devotion one small Texas town has to its high school football team. Yes, folks. I’m asking you to give Friday Night Lights a chance.

I know that Heroes and Ugly Betty are the ratings darlings from this Fall’s batch of new shows, and they are certainly deserving. I look forward to them every week and enjoy them. And I know that Heroes is probably more to the taste of Billie’s regular readers, but I honestly think that the best new show of the fall is Friday Night Lights. So much so, that I really, really want to encourage more people to watch it.

If you think Friday Night Lights is just a show about football, you are wrong. Friday Night Lights is a realistic, moving drama about how an entire community behaves when high school football is the center of their universe. The heart and soul of the show are its characters, and more often than not, the show focuses on the effects of the town’s obsession with high school football, rather than the football itself.

At first, some of the characters and the scenarios might seem like stock material from a typical sports movie. Certainly, the pilot episode has some cliché aspects, complete with a “hail mary” ending. And some things that happen have that typical teen “soap” feel. But as you get deeper into the show, it doesn’t take long to get completely invested in these characters, the issues they face, and the choices they make.

At times it can be quite disturbing. I can’t tell you how many weeks my husband and I have yelled at the TV while watching some townie put hideous, insane pressure on these high school kids or make nasty remarks to the coach and his family because the team lost one game. It is maddening! I also can’t tell you how many times the show has moved me to tears or made me grin from ear to ear.

I give tremendous kudos to Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach Taylor and his wife, Tami. They play the best, most realistic couple on TV. Every scene they have together shines, whether arguing or playfully teasing. Sometimes I’ll rewatch an episode just to enjoy their scenes again. I’m also very impressed with newcomers, Zach Guilford and Scott Porter. Guilford plays Matt Saracen—the new starting quarterback—a shy, likeable guy with a ton of responsibility in his home life and on the field (and a massive crush on the coach’s daughter). Porter plays Jason Street, the former starter who is paralyzed in the season opener and is now coping with his life-changing injury. Both actors truly inhabit their characters; sometimes it is easy to forget that Matt and Jason aren’t real people. All the actors are good, but these four really create characters you can’t help but care about and root for.

If you only like your television entertainment to be escapist and fast-paced (I know we sci-fi lovers enjoy our escapism), then Friday Night Lights probably isn’t for you. But if you occasionally enjoy a good drama that is thoughtful and engaging, a drama that is alternately amusing, uplifting, and heartbreaking, then give Friday Night Lights a chance. You won’t be disappointed. At least, I hope you won’t. Because I really want more people to enjoy this show while its around! Check it out Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern) on NBC.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am in complete agreement. This show is outstanding. I think anyone could fall in love with it if they gave it a chance because most of the time football is just the backdrop to dealing with real issues such as the war in Iraw, Hurricane Katrina, paralyism (thats probably not even close to being spelled write), and life problems in general. You can catch up on nbc. com/video. Give it a chance!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes. I can't see how someone could watch the pilot and not be hooked.

memz_ said...

"I know that Heroes and Ugly Betty are the ratings darlings from this Fall’s batch of new shows, and they are certainly deserving."

I think it's funny how things turned out. Both HEROES and UGLY BETTY were canceled and FNL turned out to be an Emmy-winning and critically acclaimed drama. The "freshness" that Heroes and Ugly Betty had went away fast.

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks for commenting all these years later, memz! Re-reading my initial review now, I still feel exactly the same about Friday Night Lights. It went off the story rails occasionally, and I think it sometimes required some major suspension of disbelief regarding the plot mechanics, but it almost always got the characters and the emotional beats right. Coach and Tami are still the single best portrayal of a married couple I've ever seen on television, and for all five years of the series, I would occasionally rewatch episodes or parts of episodes just to enjoy their scenes together again.

It's funny that I said the show wasn't likely to develop a cult following, because I think actually did. It never developed a wide audience, but those small numbers that watched it loved it passionately (myself included).

So, I'll just re-say now: "But if you occasionally enjoy a good drama that is thoughtful and engaging, a drama that is alternately amusing, uplifting, and heartbreaking, then give Friday Night Lights a chance. You won’t be disappointed." Check it out on DVD! (And don't let some of the craziness in Season 2 deter you from continuing. It gets back on track in the later seasons!)

Anonymous said...

Normally, I would never watch a family drama (Not my thing), but this is one of the best (If not the best) show that I have ever seen!!!!!! I am extremely picky so that's saying something. It does have a cult following actually. People who watch it don't just like it, they LOVE it. I have heard critics say of the show that their are two types of people: People who love Friday night lights, and people who have never seen Friday Night Lights. The fact that so many people have not seen it or posed any interest in watching it, is the same reason that it never became a number 1 show when it originally aired: People were misunderstood about what the show was about. They wouldn't give it a chance because they thought it was a "Football Show" which it isn't. I particularly love the relationship between the Coach and his wife. Everyone should be so lucky......

ChrisB said...

Jess -- you've mentioned this show in several things you've written that I've read and, frankly, I had never heard of it. A couple of months ago, a channel over here decided to run the entire series from the beginning and I've had it sitting on my DVR ever since. There always seemed to be something else that I wanted to watch more.

Last night, after an absolutely horrible three days, I plopped (there is no other word) onto the couch with takeaway and a beer and thought, why not. Suffice it to say that I never got off the couch. I woke up this morning having fallen asleep in the middle of episode eight.

I am a Scott Porter fan because I love his character in Hart of Dixie, but he has completely wowed me here. In some ways, he's better at playing a seventeen year old handicapped kid than he is a thirty year old lawyer. And, Zach Guilford just makes me want to break the fourth wall and cuddle him. What an amazing performance. The coach and Tami go without saying.

So, I just wanted to thank you for this recommendation. This is the first show since Supernatural that has completely swept me away. Now, how to avoid the temptation of giving over my entire Saturday to Dillon football...

Sooze said...

I just started watching...and now I am on Season 3. This is a GREAT show. Not usually what I go for, but I am truly enjoying it. My one quibble is that plot lines occasionally get dropped from the end of one season to the beginning of the next...like time has passed and stuff has happened that we don't see. In some cases it is no big deal to me, but in a case or two I really wanted to see what had taken place "in between".