Victory laps are usually reserved for the revered, the celebrated or the most popular. We are just going to have to settle for the best in this case. As Friday Night Lights made its final season debut on April 15th to tie for last place in the ratings, we must think whether they deserved such an awful way to end its run. DirecTV viewers have been done with the season for months, heck , this fifth season is already out on DVD right now. From a television executive standpoint, you have to wonder, why does this show, the little show that could, even bother? Well, it is the same reason why I was asked to do this article: Friday Night Lights was one of the best damn shows on television in the last decade.
I have been an avid watcher of this show when it first launched back in 2006 to mediocre ratings. I had seen the movie and thought it was worthwhile enough to give the show a shot. Obviously no Billy Bob but hey, life is not meant to be perfect. I remember the pre-launch of the show, and that it had garnered the best reviews, some even declaring the pilot to be one of the best ever made. Granted, critics and opinions do not mean much in the world today of bloggers, or just people who troll IMDB message boards (right boss?), but it was something that had to be seen and watched. I figured, if it is a show about football, it has got to be at least watchable right?
I remember the pilot being easily being unforgettable. It had several moments of intensity, sincerity, levity and just pure fun that pulled me into its grasp. Although it had the same principle plot of the movie, (powerhouse team becomes underdog after horrible injury with a twist), the episode was very well constructed and kept the pace original and fresh to make the idea seem less stale.
Now, I admit, I have a soft spot for dramas. Not only stuff like 24 or Boardwalk Empire or anything dealing with action and HBO, but I love The O.C. I get crapped on about it every once in a while, because let’s face it, it is not something someone would readily admit out loud. The reason I mention this was because for the most part (effin’ Oliver), the first season of the The O.C. was brilliant. They captured the dynamics of friendship, comedy, relationships so well that I wanted to hang with Seth Cohen, crush on Summer Roberts, and have awesome benefactors like Sandy and Kirsten Cohen. The humanity of people was prominent during the season, and the one thing I always noted was the dynamics of the parents relationship. Sandy and Kirsten acted like adults. They had their issues, ups and downs but they got through it because they did not have their heads up their asses. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) are that couple.
They keep the show, and everyone involved, as grounded as possible. I give the writers a lot of credit. They threw obstacles at them, but there was not an ex, or a ridiculous plot in order drive a wedge in between the two. It was bigger houses, money , jobs…things real couples argue about in life. They were not perfect, they had their flaws. But they were perfect for that show and for each other.
Watching the first season made me come to the conclusion that it was so good, it probably would not last more than two or three seasons. This came out around the same time that Arrested Development was still struggling to find audiences despite the perfection of that show. No one gave any hope to the critical darlings that kept people entertained, or at least those that watched it. They wanted the low-concept projects that the A.D.D generation did not have to think too much about. Which is fine, I am not here to preach about peoples’ television watching habits or their tastes. I am just happy that this show was able to last five seasons after going down to wire like the Dillon Panthers and the end of every game.
The characters drove this show, obviously being led by the Taylors (Chandler, Britton, and Aimee Teegarden) but as with any ensemble show, they are only as good as the surrounding parts. You had Jason Street (Scott Porter), Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki), Smash Williams (Gaius Charles), the Lyla and Buddy Garrity (Minka Kelly and Brad Leland), Kronner’s boy Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons – Paul), and even Grandma Saracen (Louanne Stephens) in the first season that clicked together.
As the seasons progressed, they added more characters such as Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria – The Chicago Code), Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), and Becky Sproles (Madison Burge) for the last two seasons but it was always the Taylors that took center stage.
They responded to situations in the most human way possible, whether to compromising, arguing, and not doing overly stupid things. They were the moral compass of the show and their impact showed through the last five years in the growth of everyone, even themselves.
The second season had its hiccups with a plot to build new viewership that was just unnecessary and stupid, but we still had the same base. They rebounded the next few seasons and still helped build a consistent and entertaining show to watch. It is interesting to think that people did not watch the show because it was about football. Or maybe, because it was not about football at all. This is a show about courage, compromise, family, and growing up. Football was just the backdrop. This could have been about basketball, baseball, badminton, whatever, it was just there to help get from point A to point B.
I truly believe that if you give this show a chance, you will walk away impressed and wanting more. There may not be explosions, Kiefer, vampires, or a mysterious island – and the concept may be boring to some, but it truly is one of the best shows on television. There is just something about hearing, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”, that just makes me smile. Give it shot and it may make you smile too.
Images: NBC, Universal, DirecTV