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The Best Season Yet of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
on January 14, 2009
This is a no spoilers review. Anyone who is planning on watching this in the winter NBC schedule will not want warnings about what is going to happen. Those of us who have caught it on DirecTV were delighted and stunned. I'm going to try to be fairly nonspecific and most of the plot details that I discuss will occur in the first episode, so not much will be revealed. The review does assume that you've seen Seasons One and Two. If you have not seen those, this review will contain some spoilers.
Season Two of FNL was great, especially the second half of the season, but all in all it was hurt for two reasons. First, there was the rather melodramatic killing of Tyra's stalker by Landry Clarke. Pretty close to universally fans objected to this, though most also enjoyed the time that Tyra and Landry were forced to spend together as a result. Second, the series was hurt by the writer's strike, with the series ending uneasily with Smash being unable to play football for several games. Other fans complained of Lyla's sojourn as a born again Christian and how whiney Julie was in the first half of the season. Along the way, however, there has been a host of marvelous storylines. I gave Season Two five stars without any hesitation, though I also was the first to admit that it wasn't the work of perfection that Season One was.
Frankly, based on pure business considerations, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS should have been cancelled at the end of Season Two. The ratings were just miserable. And despite every TV critic in America just going crazy over the show (I honestly prefer it to THE WIRE and THE SHIELD), it curiously has not garnered any awards attention. How is it possible that Connie Britton has not won a couple of Emmys for Best Actress (no one can seriously tell me that Sally Field has been a better television actress than Britton over the past two years)? Why no awards for Kyle Chandler? Why has Adrianne Palicki's astonishing work as Tyra Collette gone unrecognized by the awards? Omissions like this are an indictment of the awards themselves. And why has FNL not received two straight nominations for Best Drama? It is simply absurd that it has not.
Miraculously, NBC did something uncharacteristic for a major network: it found a way to save a show that deserved saving. They worked a deal with DirecTV to show the 13 episodes of Season 3 in the fall of 2008 with NBC showing the show in the winter of 2009. Kudos to NBC! I have been horrified by some recent decisions by the majors. How ABC could even have considered canceling a masterpiece like PUSHING DASIES, let alone doing it, is simply inconceivable. And how NBC, despite the very good thing it did in saving FNL, imagines that it is doing quality TV a service by gutting five hours of scripted TV next year so that we can get stuck with the repellant Jay Leno is unimaginable. Still, I wish more networks would take the effort that NBC did to save their best shows.
Right now there is no word on whether there will be a Season Four of FNL. My assumption is that after some of the ratings for the winter come in, NBC and DirecTV will sit down and figure out whether they want to do this again. If they do, the format is difficult to predict. There are a few major changes on the show, but within specifying what those are, there will clearly need to be a decision as to whether to stick with the kids who have graduated from Dillon High or keep Coach Taylor in high school football with a new group of players. Personally, I've been hoping that the main kids go to the same college, where Taylor will be named the new head football coach. But if there is no Season Four, they have left Season Three in a place to where it can serve as a series finale. The final two episodes are brilliant summations of everything wonderful that we've cared about for three years.
Season Three is, in my opinion, the best yet. Nearly ever major character has some wonderful story arcs. Because of budgetary considerations and also perhaps the pressure of giving all the characters enough time with only 13 episodes, two major characters has to be written out of the show, though each one gets a several-episode arc to say goodbye. Those two are Smash Williams and Jason Street. Given that both have graduated from Dillon, this was a logical change. Also apparently for reasons of time and budget Santiago, who in Season Two was living with Buddy Garrity, simply disappears with no comment. But the other familiar are back. Season Two ended with Tim Riggins ardently pursuing Lyla Garrity, Tyra and Landry dating as an official couple, and Julie pining for Matt. All those relationships get shaken up (though I won't say in what ways). But nothing is so completely shaken up as Coach Taylor's involvement with the new school principal. And nothing is so funny as the new principal coming to terms with two simple words, "Jumbo Tron."
I especially enjoyed Tyra's arc in Season Three. If you rewatch Season One of FNL, it is clear that early on they didn't quite know what to do with Tyra. Adrianne Palicki, who plays Tyra, is an amazing beauty with incredible onscreen charisma, but for the first three-quarters of Season One she is just in the show simply because she is. She is not integrated into any of the show's major storylines. But once Tami Taylor takes an interest in her (fascinatingly, just shortly after she had forbade her daughter to be friends with her), we get one of the best stories of an individual coming to desire a better life and doing something to achieve it that I've ever seen on TV. And I'll slightly break my promise not to reveal any spoilers by stating that one of the entire highlights in all of FNL comes in the next to last episode where Tyra reads aloud her college application essay. It is as moving a moment as you'll encounter on television and it also marks just how far Tyra's character has come since Season One. And along with Tyra you get her endlessly fascinating relationship with Landry Clarke. If you don't like their relationship one week, check back the next. The tension between his never ceasing adoration of her and her flittering back and forth between valuing him for all his outstanding qualities and her reign as the queen of mixed signals produces many of the show's best moments. And any conversation that the two actors have is special.
This is a season filled with surprises, a plethora of marvelous small moments, a few heartbreaks, and a few shocks. I've gotten about eight or nine people to watch this show and every one of them has become a passionate lover of it. If you already love the show, you'll love this great, great and hopefully not final season as much as the first two.