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5.0 out of 5 stars A great show gets even greater in its third season, February 8, 2009
This review is from: Friday Night Lights: Season 3 (DVD)
Warning! Spoilers galore! Do NOT read this review if you have not seen all of Season 3!

Season Three of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS represents one of the most interesting attempts ever to keep a great, but lightly watched series alive. After Season One the series was renewed primarily based on the huge critical acclaim the show received along with its intensely dedicated, though small (though I would like to think growing) fan base. I honestly thought that after Season One it was going to sweep the Emmys, garnering a host of awards that would propel it to the next tier in public consciousness, much like what happened to another series that debuted in the fall of 2006, 30 ROCK. For some unfathomable reason it did not receive a single major Emmy nomination. It did go on, however, to win what have come to be the three most reliable indicators of quality TV. It won a Peabody award, something that most Emmy winners never receive. It won Salon's annual Buffy award, given to the best show neglected by the Emmys (named after the greatest TV series never to receive Emmy attention). And it was named one of the ten best shows on TV by the American Film Institute. Fans of the show watched in horror as clearly inferior shows like BOSTON LEGAL, GREY'S ANATOMY, HOUSE M.D., and HEROES got recognition that continued to escape.

Still, fans hoped that Season Two would see an increased audience share. NBC hoped that moving it to Friday night (the night that most people assumed it was airing) would help. It didn't and its ratings slipped further. Normally a show with the kind of ratings FNL had would simply have been cancelled. Much to NBC's credit, they decided to take new steps to save the series. They arranged with DirecTV to have that network air the thirteen episodes of Season Three in the fall of 2008 (when many of us were lucky enough to see it), with NBC showing it in the winter and spring of 2009. According to some rumors, DirecTV was happy with the results and is interested in continuing with another season of the show. I've seen no reports on how NBC is thinking (though the head of programming for NBC Universal did, in response to a question about FNL's chances for a Season Four, said that there would continue to be a place on the NBC schedule for quality shows with a smaller audience share). In a recent interview FNL creator and executive producer Peter Berg said that the decision to continue could be as much their decision as the networks. Suffice it to say that at this point it isn't at all clear that there will be a Season Four and possibly just because Berg and show runner Jason Katims may decide not to continue.

The reason for Season Four being in doubt is very easy to see. There is a major creative question about where to take the series in a fourth season. Many of the key characters on the show for the past three seasons have graduated. At the very least, Tyra, Riggins, Lyla, and Matt are out of high school. There is debate about whether or not Landry is a senior or junior. Spoiler alert! At the end of Season Three it appears that those four are going to four different schools, Tyra to University of Texas (where Landry could certainly go if he is a senior), Riggins to the fictitious San Antonio State, and Lyla to Vanderbilt, while Matt's college plans are murky. Coach Taylor's plans were not in granite, though he was clearly confronted with a very different situation if the show continues. Apart from Julie (and possibly Landry, if he is indeed a junior), there are no established high school characters continuing on the show and no high school football players. There are three major possibilities. One is to start from scratch with Coach Taylor at the heart of things and introduce a host of new characters. A second is to introduce new high school players for Coach Taylor while continuing to follow the characters we've come to love over the past three years. This would be especially easy in Tyra's case (and possibly in Landry's if he is a senior) since she is attending UT and the show is actually filmed in Austin. The third possibility is to have Coach Taylor take a coaching job at, say, San Antonio State, where Riggins already is, and perhaps find a way to get Matt, Landry, Tyra, and Lyla all to go there for whatever reason they can think up. A fourth possibility would be for the show to say goodbye to Riggins, Tyra, Matt, Lyla, and possibly Landry in a series of episodes like they did in Season Three with Smash and Jason. One thing is clear: if they have a Season Four, it will be utterly unlike the first three seasons of the show.

Season Three of FNL just might be my favorite so far. I loved Season One, continued to enjoy the show even with some iffy moments (along with several glorious ones) in Season Two, but I was just blown away by Season Three. There were not merely no weak episodes in Season Three, but few weak moments. The way I expressed my love for FNL to a friend is that while BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is my favorite show on TV and probably has 20 episodes that I think are better than the best episode of FNL, BSG also probably has 20 episodes worse than the weakest episode of FNL. FNL is just an absurdly consistent show. It may not have BSG's highpoints, but neither does it have its lowpoints. [There are, btw, several interesting connections between BSG and FNL. The creator of FNL, Peter Berg, directed the pilot of BSG creator Ron Moore's new series VIRTUALITY, while FNL producer and frequent director Jeffrey Reiner directed the movie CAPRICA, which also serves as the pilot for the BSG prequel by the same name. There are also some stylistic similarities. Both are shot with hand held cameras, with the cameras playing to the actors rather than the actors to the cameras. Both feature rich and enormously talented casts. And then there are the convoluted connections. BSG executive producer David Eick worked on HERCULES, which was created by Rob Tappert. FNL producer John Cameron not only went to high school with Tappert and did some work on HERCULES and XENA, but Tappert married a Cylon, none other than D'Anna Biers aka Lucy Lawless.]

Season Three is the senior year of many of the major characters. The football arc centers on these players' last hurrah, the attempt to go to state one last time, and getting prepared to move on. Matt's situation is complicated by the presence of an enormously talented freshman quarterback who is clearly more gifted than he is. Riggins takes on new responsibilities and begins to grow up both on and off the field. And the team manages to overachieve and do things it clearly should not be capable of. The final game the seniors play is easily the football highlight of the series. The last scene is clearly the most poetic.

Off the field the major stories involve the rekindling of Matt and Julie's romance, which becomes one of the most realistic and sweetest relationships one can imagine. Matt struggles not only with his changing role on the football team, but his grandmother's decaying mental state, which indirectly leads to reestablishing a relationship with his mother. Tyra's story is especially interesting in Season Three. If in Season One she only gradually started to do battle with her own low self-expectations and in Season Two she fought hard to be more than the person everyone expected her to be, in Season Three he has to overcome additional obstacles to finding a more fulfilling life. She has to overcome a new guidance counselor who doesn't believe in her like Tami Taylor did, the temptation of an older and dangerous rodeo star boyfriend, and her own low self-esteem. The show's penultimate episode, in which she struggles to write her college application letter, contains one of the very finest moments in the entire series, as she finally finds the words to express what going to college truly represents, namely, "The possibility that things are going to change." And you have to love a show that has as one of the most triumphant moments a girl ecstatic in getting her college acceptance letter.

For the Taylors, life is quite different, as Tami takes on her new position as Dillon High School's new principal. Eric not only has to make difficult decisions regarding his quarterback but has to battle with that quarterback's father, who is overbearing to the point of being abusive (the mother, by the way, is nicely played by Janine Turner, who fans of NORTHERN EXPOSURE will remember affectionately as Maggie O'Connell). Buddy Garrity struggles with a series of bad decisions while Lyla is in a full-blown relationship with Tim Riggins. Meanwhile, Tim's brother Billy and Tyra's sister Mindy get engaged, which leads to the purchase of quite possibly the most hysterically ugly wedding dress in the history of network television.

One thing that is sometimes overlooked is how brilliantly executed the show is. People ignorant of film technique complain about the photography. It is all done with hand held cameras. The actors memorize their scripts and then are allowed to more or less ad lib along the direction of the script. No scenes are blocked, so that the actors are performing their actions in spontaneous fashion. They use a three camera arrangement so that even if they do only one take of a scene, they can edit the final version from different angles (look carefully at the scene in the episode "The Giving Tree" where Matt reluctantly goes to the patio where Coach Taylor is cleaning the grill and pay attention to where the cameras are during their conversation; this degree of technique runs throughout the series).

I hope there is a Season Four. Although I can't quite imagine how the series would continue, I'm fascinated to see how they would do so. For three years this has been a show that has done almost no wrong (except for the unfortunate killing in early Season Two). It has been one of the best series ever focused on the lower middle class. As a product of the lower middle class myself, I love seeing characters that are not privileged or wealthy or where all the parents are lawyers and corporate executives. I like that the closest thing to a rich guy on the show is the owner of a car dealership. I like that Tyra drives the same old ugly truck for all three seasons. Average, everyday folk have never, ever been so well served on television.

But if there is not a Season Four, the final episodes serve as a perfect conclusion to one of the most heartbreakingly gorgeous shows in the history of American television. Even if there is not another season, this show will live on. I've already watched the entire series three times and I fully expect that I'll watch it two or three more times in my lifetime. Shows like this are what quality television is all about.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 12, 2009 8:18:30 AM PST
Eddie Kasica says:
Hello, Mr. Moore. Congrats on being #18! :-) I love Fred Astaire.

I asked a question in the comment section of your "Crisis of the Old Order" review, but I realize that you may not be revisting that review anytime soon, so I thought I'd repost it here:

I'm reaching the end of the Schlesinger FDR Trilogy and while I'm loving it, I'm also dreading the end -- because I know there will not be any more volumes. :-(

Is there another author/authors you could point me to who have mastered FDR's Second Term? (I'm not that interested in the War Years.)


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2009 5:09:11 PM PST
Robert Moore says:
Yeah, there are two that you might want to read about. Leuchtenburg wrote FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT AND THE NEW DEAL, which deals mainly with the first term, but spends quite a bit of time on the second as well. But the only book I know that focuses exclusively on the second term (most either focus on his rise to the presidency, or the first term, or the war years) is the volume in Kenneth Davis's multi-volume biography. He has an entire volume entitled FDR: INTO THE STORM. But even that book starts slanting off into preparation for WW II.

I know you are not interested in the war years, but I ought to add that one of, if not the, most readable books on FDR is Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on Franklin and Eleanor in the war years. It is one of the richest books on Roosevelt that I know. Though focused on the war years, it reaches back to the previous parts of their lives. It is a big book but reads very, very fast it is so enjoyable.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2009 8:01:45 AM PST
Eddie Kasica says:
Wonderful, Mr. Moore.

Thanks very much.

Posted on Feb 28, 2009 7:23:41 AM PST
R. J. Werner says:
It's a nice review, to be sure: but from a writing standpoint - close to the end of the 'review' you state that you can't imagine how a fourth season would unfold ... but earlier in the review you spent an entire paragraph doing just that: imagining the possibilities.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2009 11:10:37 AM PST
Robert Moore says:
True. I suppose I left with an incomplete thought. What I meant is that while I can imagine ways the show would continue, I can't imagine them actually doing it given the magnitude of the changes involved.

Posted on Mar 22, 2009 12:46:31 PM PDT
doike says:
You won me when you mentioned BSG in the post and related it with FNL

Posted on Mar 25, 2009 4:40:56 AM PDT
Dear Mr. Moore:

I would first like to thank you because I decided to watch FNL after reading your reviews. I am a big fan. Both of the show and of your reviews which are usually very accurate and in-depth. I have not read your entire review of this 3rd season, as I am downloading the show from iTunes , have not seen the entire season and do not want to read the spoilers.

On the other hand, I did read the portion on whether this show will be back for a 4th season. Although I would love this to happen, I can understand why it would be a stretch considering almost all the main characters are graduating from high school. If the final decision is not to go with a 4th season, I would love for them to do a 2.5 season. Due to the writers' strike, this was one of the shows that suffered the most. I would love to see the entire process of Riggins wooing back Lyla, for example; as well as other story lines which were so awkwardly interrupted.

What do you think of this idea? And how could we start an online "drive" to get this done? Hoping to hear from you.


In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2009 8:43:14 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Nimas, some good points, but it all seems to be progressing quite independently of what we would have liked.

Today it was announced that FNL has been renewed for not one but two seasons. This is official. Two seasons of 13-episodes each. Unfortunately, it also appears that much of the cast will be reduced to guest star status. It looks like what happened to Smash and Riggins will now happen to some combo of Tyra, Lyla, Riggins, and Matt. Also, it is rumored that Jason Katims will have a lessened role to play on the show.

So, FNL will continue. The question is whether it will remain the show that we've all loved for three years.

Posted on Apr 7, 2009 10:53:15 PM PDT
I have heard that this release would be the edited version that aired on NBC and not the extended versions that aired on DirecTV. Does anybody know if this is true?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 11, 2009 5:31:02 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
That is what I have heard as well, which is a great disappointment. I recorded all of these at the time and threw them on discs. I won't be throwing them away now. I have to confess that I haven't watched its reairing on NBC so I don't know how much has been cut out. I mean, I know in terms of minutes, but I don't know if the loss is perceptible. Also, some episodes on DirecTV were much longer than others. Some were only about 44 minutes, while the season premiere was nearly 52 minutes long. I just can't understand the rationale behind doing the NBC versions.
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