The five-season saga of Friday Night Lights has been one of the strangest ones in all of TV-land. The show was spun off from the hit film Friday Night Lights (2004), which chronicled the real life Cinderella story of the Permian Panthers’ 1988 high school football season in Odessa, Texas. The “underdog team makes good” scenario made for a wonderful story, and director Peter Berg felt that he could bring this magic to the small screen on a weekly basis.
Friday Night Lights debuted on NBC October 3, 2006. For the show, the director decided to fictionalize the characters and town, to allow for dramatic license. It was a choice that would haunt the series throughout its five season run.
Initially, the football team’s fortunes were emphasized – which wound up turning off a large portion of the show’s female audience. Midway through the first season, NBC switched tactics and aggressively pursued the female demographic. Predictably, men started tuning out.
Since this confusing beginning, the show has struggled to maintain a steady audience, despite a delirious campaign of reruns in just about every place imaginable. Online, basic cable, the network itself – everything has been fair game for the producers to get the word out that Friday Night Lights is one of the best dramas on TV.
Add to the confusing initial positioning of the series the fact that the decision was made in season four to relocate the story to a different school, and you have the makings of what I would politely call “schizophrenic” television. And the bewildering programming choices continue. On April 5, 2011, Friday Night Lights: The Fifth And Final Season will be released as a 13 episode, three-DVD set. NBC will begin airing the 13 episodes weekly beginning April 15, 2011.
This bizarre method of presenting the series to the public would be laughable if the show was not as good as it is. The fact is, the fifth season of Friday Night Lights is fantastic! I would place it next to such greats as My So-Called Life and Freaks And Geeks in terms of “getting it right” about high school.
These shows capture all of the angst of teens, the drama of football, the all too real difficulties parents and teachers have when trying to help their kids, and so much more. It feels genuine, and that is a very rare quality in a show like this.
When the college scouts come to the small town of Dillon to check out the players, the desperation is palpable. Like the real life Hoop Dreams(1996), many of these young men’s only hope of bettering their lives is with a scholarship. These scenes are incredibly poignant. Although the scenes are fictional, we are completely aware that these scenarios are played out daily.
Coach Taylor’s (Kyle Chandler) wife Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) is the guidance counselor at West Dillon High, and it is through her that we are introduced to some of the kids who have “fallen between the cracks.” Again, the situations ring incredibly true. There is the drunk girl who becomes a viral sensation when she is filmed passed out and passed around to various guys. She is celebrated on a You Tube-esque site as “Puppet Girl.”
I would nominate the final season of Friday Night Lights as one of the very best series of 2011. The 13 episodes are uniformly excellent. There is a rhythm to these shows that is undeniable. Between the various coming of age situations all of the characters are experiencing (most especially the adults), there is the background of the football team. I found the combination to be a perfect blend.
The bonus materials included on the DVD include deleted scenes and a “Yearbook” featuring stills from all five seasons of the show. The most significant extra is on disc three, a 30 minute documentary titled “As The Lights Go Out” which chronicles the history of the series.
This review is of the Friday Night Lights: The Fifth And Final Season DVD, and I completely recommend buying it. But the truth is, even if you are not sure about spending the money right now – watch it for free on NBC. I believe without hesitation that this season of Friday Night Lights is one of the best shows you will see this year.