Saturday, June 05, 2010

Friday Night Lights: Game Changer

I just realized that haven't blogged about Friday Night Lights in awhile. Despite my complete ignorance of all things football and especially Texas high school football, I was totally in love with this show from the start and was kind of distressed at how the ratings were never good and how it was always on the verge of cancellation and how it got no love from the Emmys or Golden Globes. Season 2 took a bit of a dip creatively though, and I was sure that it was going to get canned but then NBC did something really surprising and made a deal with DirecTV to "share" the show, with DirecTV airing the season first, then NBC later on. Seasons 4 is currently airing on NBC now, and season 5 is already guaranteed (and possibly the last). It's pretty amazing to think that we're going to have 5 seasons (well 1 full season and 4 half-seasons) of a show that was so close to being another "brilliant but cancelled" situation.

Anyway, because of the strange airing schedule, I somehow missed out on talking about season 3 altogether. It's been kind of a long time since it finished but I really did love it. Like I said, season 2 had a lot of problems, call it a sophomore slump or something, but season 3 really brought things back on track. Matt Saracen is probably my favorite character and I despised his storylines in season 2, so I was really glad that season 3 brought him back together with Julie (in a nice, slow natural way too), and I also loved the arc that got him demoted from QB1 because of young phenom JD. The conflict in both him and Coach Taylor was just so well done. Of course Matt is almost family to the Taylors and he's led the team to a state championship so demoting him during his senior year was pretty terrible but outside pressures concering JD's raw talent were palpable. I also liked that Matt admitted that he knew he wasn't as talented as JD, and that with Julie's help he found himself another role on the team. And of course I loved that he got to step back in during the state game when JD had a meltdown, even though they still ended up losing.

Season 3 also brought us goodbye arcs for original characters Smash and Street. While I was initially kind of annoyed that Smash had an offscreen injury that prevented him from taking the scholarship that they spent so much time getting him to in the previous season, his goodbye episode was really fantastic. (That's one thing that I've noticed about me and FNL...there are so many contrivances and inconsistencies but I'm really forgiving because of how great the acting and writing and emotions can be. On a lesser show those things could have been a dealbreaker for me.)

As for Jason Street, I was never a big fan of how the show could never really figure out what to do with him. He seemed to just always be repeating the same cycle of finding something that he really thought he was good at and putting his all into it (coaching, wheelchair rugby, selling cars, etc), only to have it be crushed or just peter out. I thought it was pretty random for him to become a dad from a one-night stand, and even more random that he ends up a with a sports agent job in New York, but I'm glad he got out of Dillon and got a somewhat happy ending. (Another funny thing is that while obviously I love Dillon as the setting for the show, I still want all the teen characters I like to eventually get out.)

In other storylines, I did like Tyra and Landry reuniting, although Tyra was sort of another character that just seemed to be going through the same thing over and over again, in her case with her ambition/college plans. The scenes with Landry where she reads her college essay and then later when she gets her acceptance letter to UT were really poignant and wonderful. I also found Tim and Lyla to be a strangely perfect couple and kind of loved how Buddy Garrity's life fell apart but he ended up being a much more likable person because of it.

The season 3 finale really set up a lot of interesting things for this current season. Lyla, Tyra, and Tim were off to college, but Matt was not. (Julie and Landry somehow did not graduate...don't ask.) The tensions that had been escalating all season with JD and his heinous dad (FNL's only out-and-out villain) resulted in Coach Taylor getting fired from the Panthers...but then hired as coach for the new high school being reopened across town, East Dillon High.

And just like that, the Panthers we've loved and been rooting for all this time are suddenly...evil! JD becomes a total douche over the summer, all the remaining teen characters left (Julie, Landry, Devin) transfer over to East Dillon, and all the new teen characters are there as well. Because of all the crazy zoning and gerrymandering that Buddy championed last season, Dillon has retained nearly all the Panthers, and so the Lions have to start from scratch. East Dillon is the "bad" part of town (although for some reason this means the school is predominantly black and not Hispanic like I would have thought) and we're introduced to Vince, who's never played football and is forced to join the football team as an alternative to juvenile detention. Also on the team is Luke, a former Panther whose "official address" turns out to just be a mailbox on an empty lot but actually lives on a farm in East Dillon. (Oh, and Landry, who the coach still calls Lance.)

At first I was skeptical of all this change, but it's turned out to be a really good thing for the show. With most of the original characters gone, it makes sense to basically start over. Instead of the pressures of being a team with plenty of success in their history, with kids that have played football their entire lives, now we're following a team that's starting from nothing, which is a completely different challenge. Friday Night Lights has never been shy about about tackling race and class issues and now it's in the forefront more than ever.

As for our old favorites, Tim pretty much immediately drops out of college (disappointing but not all that surprising), Landry finds yet another girl, and Matt has stuck around town for his Grandma and Julie and is attending community college and delivering pizza (I love him but he's another one that really needs to get out of town). Yesterday's episode found Matt dealing with the news of his father's death overseas and was really one of the best of the series overall. Zach Gilford was so fantastic in it, I'm definitely sad that he's going to be leaving the series soon as well.

So if you've forgotten about Friday Night Lights or are just behind, definitely come back! Seasons 1-3 are streaming on Netflix and the current season is streaming on Hulu. No excuses!


Katherine said...

I just spent two hours this morning watching Season 3 on Netflix. I'm also watching Season 4 as it airs though so I'm a little in both worlds right now. LOVE this show though!

burkie said...

you know, i grew up with texas high school football, and i really liked the movie "friday night lights," but i've never been interested in watching the show. maybe FNL & Glee are just too High School-y for me.

Kevin said...

This is probably one of the most genuine shows on TV. And the acting is seriously top notch. I think in terms of characters you come to know and care about this show ranks really high. I think for me, LOST is probably the only other recent show that is comparable in that respect.

Jennifer said...

Burkie I really think you should reconsider watching FNL. It is about high school kids but I wouldn't describe it as being high school-y at all. Definitely not in the same category as Glee!

burkie said...


on your recocmmendation, i watched some FNL last night (on demand). it was good! you're right; it's not high school-y. it's a family drama with great local color, and the political shenanigans that go on with texas high school football? dead on. desperateness & trappedness (i'm sure it's a word) that young people can sometimes feel in remote texas places? dead on. the coach & wife are great characters. i'll check out more of this. thanks :)