Elster's World

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Elster Reviews - Friday Night Lights


Sure, I'm about a year late on this but what the hey:

When ESPN.com's Bill Simmons wrote an impassioned plea to get people to start watching Friday Night Lights (FNL), it was the final straw. I had heard many, many great things about the show (including other impassioned please from TV Guide's respected Matt Roush and the slightly less respected Michael Ausiello), I decided to give it a try. Not often are shows described as being perfect for both men and women so on a very very slow day at work a month ago (a rare occurrence but hey, I take what i can get) I watched the FNL pilot online. When the 45 minute (no commercials) episode was done, I was hooked like a brook trout. I immediately called the wive and told her that we were in for the first season. Hey, for 14 and a half bucks on Amazon (plus delivery of course) I can be a big spender.

The 5 disc, 22 episode boxed set (very weak on the extras, by the way - couldn't they have thrown in a few bloopers or an interview or 2???) arrived a few days later. I sat down with Mrs E hoping that I hadn't made a big mistake expecting her to like a show about high school football in West Texas. By the end of the first episode (my second viewing), she, too was drying her eyes and proclaiming herself in for the season.

Over the course of the next 10 days we ripped through all 22 episodes of season one and the first 4 episodes of season 2, catching us up with America.

Which begs the question - how can a show THIS GOOD be struggling this badly? It is absolutely mind boggling to me. It has something for everyone. The sports scenes and sports story lines will surely hold the interest of any football lover, the depiction of small town life is dead one perfect (or at least feels perfect) and with one notable exception, the action is some of the best you will see on TV. Starting with the show's core family, Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his with Tami (Connie Britton) and daughter Julie (Amy Teegarden) the characters are extremely true to life.

The Pilot revolves around the event leading up to the first game of the season. Dillon High School's team is rated top in Texas thanks to wonder QB Jason Street (played with a goofy Peyton Manning-like awe shucksness by Scott Porter) and stud running back "Smash" Williams (Gauis Charles). Coach Taylor is getting his first real shot at big time HS football and already the media is wondering if he got the job on the heels of Street. Meanwhile we are introduced to the other characters in the Dillon Universe - Street's best friend and always drunken fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch - who my wife thinks is really hot), Street's girlfriend and head cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelley, the worse, most annoying character on the show) Lyla's dad and Dillon football booster Buddy Garrity, bad girl Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) and footnote back-up QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and his semi nerdy buddy Landry (Jesse Plemmons).

Everyone's world comes apart when Jason Street is horribly injured in the first game of the season paralyzed (he ends up a paraplegic). While the stadium basically is in shock, Taylor rallies back up Saracen who, after performing horribly, throws a (ridiculously improbable) miracle pass for a win.

The rest of season one centers on Street's adjustment to his condition, Coach Taylor and his family, and the lives of Riggins, Saraen, Smash, Tyra and Landry - all as Dillon tries to save its season and make it to the State championship.

Sure, there is a soapy quality to the show that might be off putting to TV snobs (of which i am certainly not one - heck I watch Reaper), but as I said, what sets this show apart is the acting. Chandler, Britton and Teegarden portray the most believable family I've ever seen on television, even rivalling the likes of the Seavers, the Cohens and the Keatons. And Gilford's Matt Saracen, shy, afterthought QB thrust into the spotlight, is perhaps the finest TV acting job I've ever seen. His endearing stutter and his shyness - all while Taylor tries to mold him into a QB - he just nails is. When I watch Matt Saracen, I don't feel like I'm watching a TV character, I feel like he really exists. And that is about the highest praise one can give an actor.

Without giving away too much, the show hits on all the big issues - adultery, steroids, rape, coming of age, and they do it inoffensively and without jamming it down our throats. Of course the Dillon Panthers make it to state and of course it comes out right before the big game that Taylor has accepted a job next year as Texas Methodist University's QB coach and then - well if you want to find out what happens, I suggest you splurge on the boxed set or sit in front of your computer. All 26 episodes of the show are watchable online with limited commercial breaks.

The show is filmed with a haunting soundtrack and very interesting camera angles and closeups. Many of the cameras are handheld and shaky, which adds a gritty element to it.

And yes, there have already been complaints that the second season is failing to live up to expectations. The Taylors begin the season living apart and in turmoil over it and there is a plot twist involving Landry and Tyra that is waaaaay out of character for the show - but hey, the ratings for this show are awful and the creators are doing what they can to solve it.

And it's happened before. Some shows have just one great season in them (my wife will tell you this is the case with The OC but i have no way to confirm or deny that - and many will tell you this is true of Lost as well, but those people are just stupid). And some will say that why should they put the effort into a show that will probably be getting cancelled before the end of its second season. To which I say - hey get off your butts and start watching and maybe it won;t be getting cancelled. And besides, watching SOME of a great, but short lived show beats not watching it at all.

So there you have it. On the Elster Scale (1 to 10, 10 being the best), we are giving Season 1 of Friday Night Lights a crazy high 9.5 rating. That's right, it scores a near perfect rating. Because the show, well it's near perfect.

So what are you waiting for. Amazon.com is just a click away. In fact, I'll even link you. Go to it people and remember - Full Hearts Clear eyes Can't Lose.


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