Top positive review
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Simply the best series on network television
on July 6, 2007
HELP SAVE THIS SERIES! February 8, 2008 -- There is an extremely good chance that this evening's season finale (the decision not to make any more episodes for Season Two has apparently already been made) could be the last episode of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS forever. Unless fans get involved. There are things we can do to save this, which is still one of the two best series on network television (I have to include PUSHING DAISIES on the best of the best list -- the other greatest shows on TV are on cable, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, THE WIRE, and MAD MEN). Here on Amazon you can do either of two things. One, you can watch individual episodes of the show on Unbox. Two, you can buy Season One on DVD. Hey, it's only $18.99! That is the cost of a large pizza with three toppings! The other thing you can do is to go to any online FNL websites (either the official board on [...] or just about anywhere else -- Google it -- and find out about letter writing campaigns. Fans last year saved what is quite frankly a pretty average show, JERICHO, from cancellation. Surely the same can be done of one the most brilliant shows on TV. Although NBC president Ben Silverman seems intent on cancelling the show, there is a legitimate chance that it could reappear on another network (come on CW! it would instantly be your best show by a gigantic margin!). I'll revise this as developments occur.
Warning! Some spoilers are contained in the following review.
So many of my favorite shows seem afflicted with names that make nonviewers dismiss them without actually watching them. Based on the name alone or the most superficial knowledge of the show, they feel they known enough to ignore them. I've had a tremendous time convincing people that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is not only not silly, but one of the most intelligent shows in the history of television. Likewise, I've struggled telling people who I know love quality television that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has nothing in common with the old Lorne Greene/Dirk Benedict cheesefest and instead is a television masterpiece that even someone who hates Sci-fi would love. And so now I have, largely without success, tried my hardest to get my TV-savvy friends to grasp a very simple fact: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS really isn't about football. Yes, there is some football in it, but like BUFFY and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, this is a television series that utterly defies expectations. All three shows are more about people and the decisions they make. The vampires, the space ships, and the football are just window dressing.
With the possible exception of LOST (which is fully back on track after a shaky Season Three start), FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is the best series on network television (though I would add that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and THE WIRE are at least as good, but BSG is on the Sci-fi Channel and THE WIRE on HBO). It came terribly close to being cancelled due to absolutely horrible ratings but managed to survive for a very simple reason: it is a stunningly great show. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS represents television at its finest, a show as good as the very best that TV has produced in the past decade. It belongs alongside BUFFY, THE SOPRANOS, THE WEST WING, SIX FEET UNDER, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and other shows of that quality. There were other very good shows to debut in 2006-2007 such as UGLY BETTY, HEROES, DEXTER, and MEN IN TREES, but FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is easily the best of those shows. It received critical acclaim and accolades unusual for a network series with such dismal ratings and perhaps its lone chance of survival past Season Two lies in its performance at the Emmys. I could be wrong, but my gut tells me that this could be one of those shows that finally wins an audience by the awards it will win. I think there is an extremely good chance that FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS will win the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series and that perhaps two or three acting awards will be picked up by its actors. I would lay even money that Kyle Chandler will win Best Actor in a Dramatic Series while Connie Britton will certainly receive a Best Actress nomination and deserves to win. On the supporting actor and actress side, I wouldn't be surprised if three or four additional performers received nominations, especially Zach Gilford for his portrayal of sophomore quarterback Matt Saracen, Adrianne Palicki as sometimes bad girl Tyra Collette, and Minka Kelly for her remarkable, nuanced, and compelling job as Lyla Garrity. And to be fair, there are three or four others who should receive consideration. This is simply the most talented cast on television. There are many, many reasons to watch this show and the quality of the acting is one of those reasons.
If you have not seen FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS repeat the following mantra over and over until you come to believe it: "This show is not about football. This show is not about football. This show is not about football." To be honest, if this show was about football I wouldn't watch it. It is about people struggling to live their lives. Take Matt Saracen. As the sophomore backup to the team's star quarterback he didn't go into the season to play much if at all. But after Jason Street, the team's greatest star, goes down with a crippling injury, he has to assume a job he is not prepared to take on. Meanwhile, he has to continue to care for his grandmother who is suffering from mild dementia and requires a great deal of care. His father, who is serving in the army in Iraq, is able to provide little direct assistance. And if his life isn't complicated enough, he is deeply attracted to the coach's daughter Julie (with yet another marvelous acting job handed in by Aimee Teegarden). Meanwhile, Matt struggles to keep friendships alive as he finds football success, which creates tensions with his musically astute Christian nerd friend (and member of a Christian hardcore rock band). Yet another mark of the show's brilliance is that Landry Clarke, his friend, is not presented as in any way a simplistic character (and again, he is wonderfully played by Jesse Plemons). He isn't one of your stock nerds nor is he in any way a stereotyped Christian. He is literate, intelligent, socially awkward, and a really caring, compassionate friend. His awkward attempted courtship of the party girl Tyra is one of many wonderful wrinkles in the season.
There are so many things to praise about this show that one could almost not come to an end. But clearly at the heart of the show is the Taylor family. I find this the most believable and compelling television family that I have ever seen. Coach Taylor is not a perfect person, but he is a wise one, fully capable of admitting his mistakes. His wife Tami (I did mention how extraordinary Connie Britton is in this role, didn't I?) is fully his equal on every level. She is smart, insightful, empathetic, caring, and implacable. With their daughter Julie they form a family that feels so real that at times you truly don't feel that you are watching actors performing but magically eavesdropping on a real life family. There are many scenes between Coach Taylor, his wife, and Julie that left me agog and asking myself, "Was that really acting?"
Another pole around which the show is constructed concerns attempt of Jason Street and his girlfriend Lyla to come to terms with his serious spinal injury, which leaves him without the use of his legs. If there is one bit of unreality to the show it is the speed with which Jason adjusts to having suffered such a serious injury. I understand why they did this. It would have been tedious to stretch Jason's adjusting to being a paraplegic over a couple of seasons. Instead, they took a process that should have taken over a year and shrank it for dramatic purposes to two or three months. But the emotions and dilemmas that his injury creates for both Jason and Lyla make wonderful television.
I simply don't have room to mention all the wonderful characters on the show. Even mentioning only briefly characters like Lyla's father (and president of the booster club), Jason's best friend Tim Riggins, star running back Brian 'Smash' Williams, or the minister's intelligent but bipolar daughter Noannie Williams doesn't do justice to all the wonderful performers on this show.
Nor do I have time to do justice to how intelligently this show is written. Even though it takes up themes that a host of other shows have dealt with, it always manages to do so freshly and innovatively. The finest example is the episode that deals with the fallout from some crudely racist remarks made by an assistant coach. The controversy builds to the point where it appears that all the black players will quit the team unless the coach is fired. I won't spoil the resolution, but the episode ends with one of my favorite moments in the entire 2006-2007 season.
If there are two series currently running that I could make anyone and everyone watch, simply because they are so extraordinarily good, they are FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. There are so many similarities between the two shows. Both have huge and talented ensemble casts. Both are brilliantly written. Both are filmed using handheld cameras and have a gritty, documentary feel to them. And both defy all the expectations people have formed in thinking that they don't want to see them. Both these series represent television at its very best. Please do both yourself and this show a favor: watch it.
In closing, I have to point out that one of the problems the show had in its first season was that no one knew when it was on. The problem is the title. NBC didn't want to put it on Fridays because that night is considered the kiss of death. But the fact is that it is probably the only night they could ever schedule it. No matter what they do everyone is going to assume it broadcasts on a Friday. So, NBC surrendered to the inevitable and placed it on their Friday schedule. Tune in and watch it! And kudos to NBC! Without any serious competition NBC has emerged as the leading purveyor of quality entertainment on television. The irony is that they rank fourth in viewership. CBS, with absolutely no critically acclaimed shows, ranks first. With other networks willing to pull the plug on a show regardless of their critical acclaim (such as the CW killing their only critically acclaimed series, VERONICA MARS), I tremendously admire NBC for sticking with this and other excellent shows that may not get the greatest ratings. Let's just all pray that the outstanding series gets the viewership it so richly deserves.
NBC Universal seems to be doing their part to increase the popularity of the series. Many series retail for as much as $89.99 before discounting down to a lower figure, while the standard retail price for most series is around $59.95. But they are offering FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS initially at $29.99 and only $19.99 after Amazon's discount. No other show that I have ever heard of starts off at a price this low. It truly is unprecedented. To my mind they are making us an offer that we can't refuse.