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TV Review: Friday Night Lights – Hello, Goodbye

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Perhaps like me, now that it has broadcast what is supposed to be its last show and been nominated for an Emmy, you have finally got around to taking a look at the critically acclaimed TV drama, Friday Night Lights.   Sure, there were people who had been heaping praise upon it for years, but since I’ve just finished watching the fourth season of The Wire, you can see how it might take awhile for that praise to make a dent. Finally, in conjunction with the show’s imminent demise, and a valedictory revisit with Peter Berg its creator and two of its stars on Fresh Air, I figured it was time to see what all the noise was about.

Luckily video of the show is readily available in a number of places on the net, and I have now, in less than two days, gotten through the ninth episode of the first season, and let me tell you those praise heaping critics know what they’re talking about. This show is great television. It is addictive—once you get hooked, you’re stuck for the ride. Plot lines are emotionally satisfying. Characters are complex. Besides, the writers are big on cliff hangers. It’s hard to wait for the next episode, and that’s the nice thing about watching on line. You don’t have to wait a week for the next fix.

So what is all the hoopla about. It’s kind of late in the game for a synopsis. Suffice it to say, the show, set in the small Texas town of Dillon, focuses on a high school football team and its central role in the town’s social life. Major characters are the coach and his family and players, but it is the town, its citizens and the stakes they have the team and the Friday night game that give the show its power. Football is king, but football is a trope that stands for anything that dominates the culture of a community and binds together all social elements. There is plenty of football, but as many others have pointed out, this is less a show about football than it is about human problems and interactions. It just happens that these particular humans are obsessed with a game.

The acting is superb. Kyle Chandler plays the coach, Eric Taylor, with convincing restraint. Connie Britton reeks with Southern charm and strength of will as his wife. The young actors (too many to mention) that make up the team, the cheerleaders and the student body are varied and convincing as they work through the turmoil of youth. If at times the townsfolk are pushy smarmy stereotypes, they are nonetheless played with conviction. The writing is smart, and the photography is exciting. This is a show that has everything going for it.

And yet . . . and yet, it has never been a ratings success. Of course, there have been plenty of attempts to explain the show’s lack of mass appeal. Viewers, especially the ladies, think it’s about football, and weekends with the Big Ten and the NFL are football enough. Viewers, especially the men, discover very quickly that there is less football than they expected. Once viewers get an idea, it’s hard to change their mind. Scheduling, if not plain bad taste, may have been the problem.

Still it managed a decent run, and there is a good deal of buzz suggesting that this current demise might not be fatal. In a recent interview on NPR, Berg admitted that there were talks in the works about a future for the show. He wouldn’t say what that future might be, but it would seem there is hope. A variety of sites on the net have indicated that Berg has confirmed that a feature length movie is in the works. One can only hope. In the meantime, there are still four and three quarters of its five seasons waiting for me to watch.

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About Jack Goodstein