Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a sports nut – hell, I’m not even much of a sports fan. I’ve watched the occasional World Cup game or Superbowl or whatnot, but that’s about it. However, for all sorts of reasons, I was captivated by Friday Night Lights (the series, not the movie) last year.
* Uniformly strong writing
* Fantastic actors
* Clear examples of simple stories well told
I would argue it was one of the best written series of all last year, and I was looking to the premiere of the second season with much anticipation last Friday…and was very disappointed.
Fans of Texas high-school football, as those of us who were strangers to the ways of Pigskin Planet learned last season from the NBC small-town drama “Friday Night Lights,” live in the hope that their team will “go to State”—play in the state championship in Dallas, in the Cowboys’ stadium—and make their home town’s dreams come true.
It’s hard to say what’s great about “Friday Night Lights” without feeling that you’re emphasizing the wrong thing, because although the show’s particulars are distinctive and special, it seems not to be made up of parts at all—to just be an organic whole. In short, it feels like life. The show isn’t merely set in the world of West Texas football; it is that world. Watching it, you have a feeling of total immersion—in the (fictional) town of Dillon, in the lives of the football players and their parents, and in all the elements that determine people’s fates in that dry, desolate, and depressed part of the country. This sensation is triggered in part by filmmaking technique and in part by the writing and the acting; but much of it is simply alchemical and wonderfully indefinable.
The radio is usually on as the camera shows us the town, and is often playing while the Panthers’ new head coach, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), is driving his car. Taylor can’t get away from the pressure and the expectations of his job, even when he’s alone; as soon as Monday morning rolls around, the local sports-show gadfly, Slammin’ Sammy, starts talking about that week’s game and whether Taylor is up to the challenge. Slammin’ Sammy’s show is a great device: every time we hear him and his call-in listeners blabbing away, we’re reminded of how irrational and intense people’s love—need, more than love—for the Panthers is, and how the coach’s job depends on their fickle support.
As good as it is to have “Friday Night Lights” back, the first episode of the second season may leave you with some worries about the show’s direction. The principals don’t disappoint, but there’s a twist in the episode that is absurdly melodramatic and unbelievable, and will have enormous consequences. The plot thread could easily overwhelm the show and kill it. If that happens and the ratings go up, executives at NBC will think they’ve scored a touchdown, but fans of the show will know that the network dropped the ball.