Saturday, April 23, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!

Nobody watched it. 

I had shit to do this weekend.  But I also just got the final season of one of my all time favorite shows, Friday Night Lights, on DVD.  I expected to watch an episode or two to break up the monotony of the holiday weekend, but, well, 48 hours after I started I watched all twelve and am now spending time writing about it.  

In October of 2006, NBC premiered a show they figured would bridge the gender gap by providing a unique family drama with the world of high school football as a backdrop.  On the heels of H.G. Bissinger’s best selling book and a movie version with a gross that doubled it’s budget, the TV series bearing the same name was sure to have a following. 

But it never did. 

In fact, after two seasons of horrible ratings, and despite incredible critical response,  NBC pulled the plug on the show until DirecTV swooped in to co-finance it, making it their first produced drama to launch their original programming arm (with NBC agreeing to air it during the summer on friday nights). There is a litany of reasons as to why Friday Night Lights never gained viewership, some blame poor marketing, others bad timing, and it’s a shame because Friday Night Lights was easily one of the greatest shows in television history. 

The brains behind the show knew the core to every good story:  great relationships.  And the relationship between Coach Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), was probably the most genuine husband/wife relationship I’ve ever seen on screen.  We fell in love with their connection and banter, supported by the showmakers’ decision to create a loose environment in which the scenes were mostly shot with hand-held cameras and the actors were encouraged to ad lib.  The style created a fly on the wall type of atmosphere that let the actors delve into their emotions without the shackles of dialogue points and over direction.  The two effortlessly challenged each other in each scene to create a genuine relationship with emotion that spanned every complexity a human may encounter, and with incredible subtlety that can only come from channeling real life experience without limits. And it caused us to want to spend as much time in their living room as possible. 

Fortunately for us, every other relationship in the show also took advantage of the style, allowing the characters to pull no punches and for the actors to inject their own personality to give their respective characters more life.  And kudos to the casting directors on the show because they really nailed it with each choice.  In addition to this, the creators brought a sleepy town to life even though it was, what most may consider, a “hick” town, full of bias and racial division, that was way too caught up in high school football.  But through the featured characters and the town’s overall passion, a unique atmosphere was created that breathed life and hope into a seemingly dull area.  Much like the island was a character in ABC’s LOST due to its magical elements, Friday Night Lights’s Dillon, Texas became special due to it’s relatability, even for people who never grew up in a small, poor town.

Ironically, one of the show’s “failures” (its exclusion from the main NBC line-up) probably allowed it the freedom to take chances it normally wouldn’t have been able to.  Had the show been a runaway hit, I’m sure the network would have encouraged the creators to keep the cast in tact, probably forcing them to follow the characters once they left high school, causing incongruous storylines that would suffer the same fate as the many shows that did it previously.  But after the third season, the show turned over the majority of the cast (not to mention the setting) to preserve the integrity and the ability to create fresh storylines with completely new characters, while still giving us small glimpses of the old cast in well appreciated bits and pieces.  This could have easily been its shark jumping moment, but instead they used their new tools to create a fantastic companion to the first three seasons, while tying them both together in the final few episodes. 

I’ve recommended the show to many over the years, assuring them it wasn’t just a show about football.  And it wasn’t.  It was about Community. Love. A small town. Pride. And, most of all, the power of family. 

I encourage anyone who has a beating heart and some time to sit down with all five seasons. It's that good.  

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