Monday, March 30, 2009

Panther football

-- Dillon Panthers

It's been a rough week for your trusted blogger, so I come here to delve into one of my favorite topics.
Scripted television, of course.

The best show on television right now is a show not very many people watch. The best show on TV right now is not 24. It is not Lost. It is not Mad Men.

It is Friday Night Lights. This little football-show-that could is having the best season of any program I'm watching right now.

There's already been a book and a big movie about this. High school football in Texas can almost be called a cliched topic, like cop shows set in New York City or medical shows with beautiful young doctors. Trust me when I say that Friday Night Light does not deal in cliche. It deals entirely in authenticity.

That's the one word that always crosses my mind when watching this show. The characters, the situations, the dialogue, the camera work ... all bleed authenticity. The audience is being plopped into the middle of a small Texas town where football is king and the lovable teenagers just try to get by. They're not watching some shiney Hollywood re-enactment. It feels like a documentary. It feels very real.
Start with the relationship that centers the show, that between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami. They argue and bicker quite often but their chemistry is perfect. They act like a true, committed married couple. Sometimes when I watch The Office I forget that Jim and Pam are engaged. Not with this show. Their love for each other is impossible to miss and resonates in every scene, in subtle and not so subtle ways.

From there, go right down the cast list. Where there's a big stereotype trap, FNL hops right over it or veers to the side on the strength of soild writing and gifted actors. Take Tim Riggins, your typical hunky, tortured football player. On any other show, he'd be eye candy for the young ladies and nothing more than a beer-swilling, future gas-pumper to everyone else. In this show, he's a well-meaning, fun-loving yet very confused and unfocused kid who needs guidance.

Then there's Smash Williams, who would be a tired, trash-talking, brash star running back based on Booby Miles in the book. In the show, Smash is the man of the family, very smart, determined and impossible to root against. He doesn't come off as unbearably cocky, just infectiously confident.

Admittedly, some of the plot points reek of an After School Special, from the birds and bees talk with the rebelling teenage daughter to steroid use. But again, they avoid the trap because the acting and writing are relentlessly authentic and captivating. There have been several scenes that have turned me into a puddle. Yes, cynical, unsentimental me. Many of them involve Jason Street, the former star quarterback paralyzed in a terrible accident on the field who spends the rest of the show trying to cope with his new situation and establish a new identity.

It's very, very, very tough to make me emotional watching a show or movie. Friday Night Lights has succeeded in double digits (I've lost count). The goal of any form of scripted entertainment is to make the audience feel invested in the lives of the characters. That's where horror movies fail for me. I can't care about meaningless stereotypes that are getting slashed to death. Friday Night Lights succeeds in making you like every character.

Yes, I said it. EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER. How many shows can say that?

So I know all seven of you probably don't watch the show. It's on Friday nights, though that's not an excuse. I work Friday nights and watch it on Hulu over the weekend. I think you should watch. It has football. It has good looking people for both genders. It has a Tyler Hansbrough look-alike at QB right now. And it's damn good and deserves a bigger audience.

So if you ever find yourself bored, catch up on this show and come back and thank me.


  1. Steve, I'm loving this show... started watching after reading your post. We just finished the race riot playoff game.

    I am engrossed. I shant doubt you again.

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