“Clear eyes, Full hearts. Can’t lose.”
Season 1 and Season 2 out on DVD. Created by Peter Berg. Starring Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Taylor Kitsch, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter and Aimee Teegarden.
So, if you’re like me, since the end of the television season (even Top Chef ends tonight) you’d realized, there’s not a whole lot on TV right now. Yes, it’s summer and you should go outside and enjoy the weather (high-90s with nightly thunderstorms here, which is lovely) and read a book or whatever, but it’s also a great time to catch up on shows you’ve wanted to watch but haven’t yet — like Mad Men. Watch season 1, any way you can, before season 2 starts (DVD comes out July 1st). Trust me.
That brings me to this new feature — every two Wednesdays I’ll review a show that I believe is worth watching, hasn’t been cancelled (thus providing motivation to catch up before new episodes arrive) and isn’t as popular as it should be. Today is Friday Night Lights, the critical darling that has managed to twice stave off cancellation despite low ratings. Luckily for all those who have missed it, Hulu has every single episode from both seasons available for free. So you have no excuse.
The show revolves around the Dillon Panthers, a high school football team in a small-town in Texas, a place where football is everything. The set-up is nothing new (Varsity Blues, anyone?) but other than the name and some themes, it is not a retelling of the movie or the book, both based on true events, that came before. And though it’s about football, it’s more about the role that football plays for these characters and the town itself. Like any good story, it uses the main plot point to explore more universal themes, and as a result it’s definitely a show not just for football fans — the people I know who like it most are young females.
The show begins with Eric Taylor (Chandler) and his wife Tami (Britton), whose relationship is the heart and soul of the show and absolutely the most natural and realistic marriage I’ve ever seen portrayed anywhere (it’s almost a let-down to know that they’re not married in real life), and their daughter Julie (Teegarden) moving back to Dillon so Eric can take the head-coaching position for the Panthers. He lands the job on the strength of his relationship with star quarterback Jason Street (Porter) who he’s coached since Pee-Wee. The team, also led by star running backs Brian “Smash” Williams (Charles) and Tim Riggins (Kitsch), is widely considered the nation’s #1 team and expected to win the state championship. The rest of the main cast is rounded out by backup QB Matt Saracen (Gilford), his best friend Landry (Plemons), Street’s girlfriend and head cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Kelly) and Riggins’ girlfriend Tyra (Palicki).
The acting is exceptional, almost without fail. Kyle Chandler gives what I believe is the consistently best performance on TV, and Connie Britton is not far behind. Porter and Gilford, as the quarterbacks heading in opposite directions, are both quite good. Plemons is underused in season 1 but the Landry/Saracen friendship is a highlight. Palicki and Teegarden’s characters develop into strong ones by season’s end. And while Riggins is a great character, Kitsch is inconsistent, and as hot as Minka Kelly is (and actually, every girl on the show is really hot), she’s not a great actress.
What is also amazing about the show is how well-cast and well-played the minor characters are, from Smash’s mom to Riggins’ brother to Lyla’s father, booster Buddy Garrity, to Street’s friend Herc and especially Saracen’s grandma — they’re all memorable and spot-on.
The look, style and production of the show is light years past anything else on network TV — the handheld cameras feel adds another layer of realism to the naturalistic dialogue and performances. Despite using handheld cameras and shooting on location, the show still manages a cinematic feel, and the music is uniformly excellent. The main score is taken from Austin’s Explosions in the Sky (who I thought had the best song of 2007) but a lot of other great indie rock shows up as well.
Ironically, for a football show, the football scenes are often the worst part and sometimes laughably unrealistic. It’s really the only thing that brings the show down. There are some episodes that feel like filler and don’t add much to the overall season arc, and there are some missteps in the plot development.
I won’t get much into the inferior, but still worth watching, Season 2, as pretty much any mention of it will give away plot points from Season 1 — and this review is already pretty long. I may do a write-up of it before Season 3 starts, but the quick summary is — it’s best episodes match those of Season 1, but it’s maddeningly inconsistent.
But Season 1 is really worth watching, as you follow the Panthers season from start to finish it really has a great overall story arc. What Friday Night Lightsreally does best is the sheer number of memorable, excellent scenes — chill scenes, if you will — from the duel montages in Episode 2 and the season finale set to a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town” to an impromptu practice in the rain and mud to multiple tear-jerking conversations throughout the season. The show and its plotlines definitely veer into cliche and in any other hands would be overdramatic, but it speaks to how well made the show is that they tend to work. Below I’ve included a clip of my favorite scene from season 1, it doesn’t spoil much, but if you’re similar to me and hate any kind of spoilers, don’t watch it.
Season 1 – A-
Season 2 – B
Vodpod videos no longer available.