Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Night Lights: The Best Show You're Not Watching

Every year you'll find hundreds of articles from TV critics and bloggers alike spouting about what they believe is the most underrated show on the tube. Ususally they'll have differing opinions or be speaking out of loyalty because they've been watching it since the Pilot back in August or September - whatever the case may be.

This year, however, I've noticed a major change from the norm. This year everyone - every single article I Google with the search keywords "2007 best show you're not watching" - is rallying around one specific little primetime drama that could. That show is NBC's Friday Night Lights, and I can't remember the last time when I agreed with the critical acclaim of any show more.

The one thing I adore about all of this acclaim is that it's *not* coming from devoted fans who've been sticking by it from day one. Many of the blogs and articles I've read have been written by people who randomly tuned in mid-season because they had nothing better to do or had been saving it on the TiVo all year just in case they ever felt like giving it a shot. I love this fact about the FNL fans that openly sing its praises, because I am one and the same. I haven't been watching this show all season. I haven't even been watching this show for a month. I just started watching a couple of weeks ago, and I've yet to see a new episode "live" on NBC. My viewing habits of this show are currently restricted to the Season Pass that I purchased on iTunes and the weekend re-runs you can catch on Bravo.

Hearing such strong love and support for a show from people who have hardly had any time to genuinely know anything about it... well, to me that's really saying something. And I will tell you right now that if you're NOT watching this diamond in the rough, you're missing out and you're going to regret it. NBC is currently in talks about whether or not they're even going to renew the show for a 2nd season - the time to tune in and show your support is now. FNL can't afford to wait any longer for people to realize the brilliance of what it offers. And brilliance is exactly what this show brings week after week.

If you're not already watching this show, I can guess it's probably because you heard just enough about it to know that it's "a show about high school football." That fact may be true, but the show is so very much more. This is a show about relationships; about strength of heart and the power of simply making an effort. It's about learning as you go and realizing just how good it feels to pick yourself up once you've been beaten down.

Football is simply the backdrop of their weekly stories. The real heart of this show is the relationships that exist, the relationships that are being created anew, and the relationships that are falling apart before our eyes. The chemistry between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton make them one of the most realistic couples (and by far the best parents!) that I have ever seen on the small screen. The relationship that their characters, Coach Taylor and "Mrs. Coach," have with their teenage daughter Julie is something to be admired and learned from. Even more, the way Coach Taylor interacts with the boys on his team is incredibly moving and realistic; if you ever played on a sports team for a coach worth looking up to, you can automatically connect with this coach and his team.

Two of the other dynamics worth paying attention to are the ones between Julie Taylor & newly appointed QB 1 Matt Saracen, and the slowly-but-surely changing relationship of Lyla Garrity & Jason Street. First of all, I'm not sure there is anyone more adorable in terms of personality than the constantly nervous and awkward Saracen. You gotta give the boy props, though, for actually having enough balls to start dating the daughter of the very same coach he's terrified of disappointing. His inability to form complete sentences around anyone other than best friend Landry is something that consistently makes me adore him more, and the cuteness between him and Julie is indescribable. As for Jason and Lyla, my main intrigue there lies in Jason's battle to find himself again now that he's been paralyzed. He's becoming a different person, and it's honestly a person that I truly like; but becoming that different person is making Lyla very frustrated, and therefore she's becoming very annoying to me. Nonetheless, the drama is real and I'm so grateful that it's believable on so many levels.

To jump away from the relationship dynamics for a moment, there is one thing about this show that makes my heart go pitter-patter even though I'm sure most viewers don't even realize the effect it's having on them during every episode: this show is filmed almost entirely with two or three steadycams. For those of you unfamiliar with the film industry speak, a steadycam is one that is not... well, it's not steady. The name of the camera is a bit misleading, but basically what it means is that the camera is being hand-held and it's the responsibility of the cameraman to keep the shot steady. Except that usually the whole point of using one is to get shots that, ya know, aren't steady at all. And pretty much everything outside of the game shots are done using this technique. The shot is always shaky and moving around. It gives every scene a very intimate and realistic feel, because if you were standing right there with them you would see it through your own eyes in very much the same way.

What's more, they never script any blocking and they hardly ever rehearse. The actors begin the scene and the steadycam operator *finds them* wherever they choose to be during that scene. A good deal of the conversations are semi-improvised as they talk with a basic scripted topic and make it sound much more in-the-moment and realistic through simply talking to one another. Just like the use of the steadycam itself, this technique of zero blocking and half-scripting works magnificent wonders on the realistic feel of the series. No matter how many times I watch an episode or how aware I am of these techniques being used, I still find myself drooling over how brilliant it is and how in love I am with it all.

So here's the deal - tune in on Wednesday nights and watch this show. I promise you (no, seriously.) that if you simply watch one episode, you will be unable to stop ever again. Kyle Chandler may be a bit bias (obviously.), but he made a very valid point when he said, "there are two types of people: those who have never seen the show, and those who are addicted to it." There is no inbetween, and once you give it a chance you will realize exactly what he means and how undeniably true that statement is.

Please, I beg of you, don't let this beautiful gem die out just because the stingy Peacock is too impatient to give it a fighting chance. Tune in, and then get everyone else you know to tune in. And DO NOT just set your TiVo to record it while you watch American Idol instead. You know why? Because TiVo recording ratings do absolutely nothing at all to help a show in the overall ratings battle, therefore will do nothing at all to help in the fight to save this show.

You love your American Idol and I suppose that I can respect that if I have to. But seriously? It's like the number one show on television. It will be just fine if you take your ratings away from it and give them to FNL instead. TiVo the Idol - it's better that way anyway; you can fast forward the commercials and speed through all the boring singers.

If you ever loved shows like Dawson's Creek, My So-Called Life, The O.C. or 90210, you owe it to yourself to tune in on Wednesdays and check out Friday Night Lights. And don't worry - this isn't just a repeat of all of those previous show concepts. There's a little bit of something special from each of those aforementioned shows, but FNL does it even better than they ever did. And it does it without all of the annoying, whiney melodrama that eventually had you rolling your eyes.

I am one of the pickiest people I have ever known when it comes to what I deem worthy enough to stream into my living room on a nightly basis. I can understand and appreciate the skepticism toward a show that you hardly ever hear anything about - especially if you actually hated all the shows I just semi-compared it to. But here's the thing: Friday Night Lights is unlike anything you've ever seen. I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you would just give it one chance, you will not be disappointed.

The entire season so far is available for download on iTunes, and most of it can be seen over at The Bravo Network repeats an episode every Friday night at 7ET/6CT as well as having a marathon every Saturday afternoon at 2ET/1CT. You can also catch up with the recaps over at TWoP - I don't really care *how* you start to catch up with and get interested in this show. I only care that you do, in fact, do it.

If you don't believe me that it's as good as I say it is, you can Google "Friday Night Lights The Best Show You're Not Watching" for yourselves and read about it everywhere else.

We lost Freaks & Geeks and My So-Called Life simply because they were killed off before they were given a chance to prove their brilliance to the masses. And those are two shows I still mourn over to this very day.

Screw American Idol. Watch Friday Night Lights.

Or, if you'd prefer: Damn the man. Save the Empire!

4 Responses to “Friday Night Lights: The Best Show You're Not Watching”

Anonymous said...

Friday Night Lights IS one of the best things out there, and everyone should be watching it. I just have one little quibble with your directive to everyone to watch it live on NBC rather than watching American Idol or something else.

Unless you are a Nielsen viewer, no one knows what you are watching. If you want to be counted, download the show from iTunes or watch it for free on NBC's website. They absolutely know how many people are doing that, which affects the money they get from the sponsors whose ads are shown on the site. Because NBC both produces and airs this show, that revenue means just as much to them as the ad dollars they get from the live broadcast. This is a much more effective way to demonstrate to NBC that people ARE watching.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more about all of the above (except that unaccountably, you fail to mention the relationship between the brothers Riggins, their fucked-up family, and the undeniable hotness of young Tim, wounded and vulnerable and all. Not to mention Tyra, or Smash and his awesome mom, or... But I digress). I too came to FNL late (after much prodding from friends), caught up with the show in a couple of weeks after falling under its charm, and I think it's a remarkable show. It's intelligent, brave and its real feel isn't just due to the filming and the script. The way in which it tackles moral dilemmas and tricky situations is to be applauded. The writers never follow the easy, obvious path - they consistently push the boundaries and dare to go where network television rarely does - into the real world.

I wish I could add to the viewers (alas, from where I am I can't, as the NBC views and the like are limited to US viewers and I'm not based there...) but I can only hope that the word on the street keeps this show on the air...

Unknown said...

Save the Quarterback, Save the World.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying so eloquently what I've been telling all my friends.

FNL is a different five-course gourmet meal every week, and most of my friends keep downing McNuggets. Here's hoping your post opens some eyes. :)