Come on folks! It is really good! I promise!
NEW YORK (AP) — ” ‘Friday Night Lights’ Doused By NBC.” Is that what you want to be reading sometime soon?
Of course not. It’s a trite play on words.
Furthermore, who would want to face the sad news — with or without a pun — that the fall’s best new series has been overlooked into oblivion by viewers?
Or is it too soon to panic about the lackluster ratings? “Friday Night Lights” (airing Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT) has been on just twice. “We had modest expectations in that time period,” says NBC boss Kevin Reilly, anticipating growth once its tough ABC time-slot rival “Dancing with the Stars” wraps in mid-November.
“We plan to stick with ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ” Reilly says. “I know we’re hitting a nerve with the viewers who have found it. I just hope they start telling their friends.”
Well, I’m telling you: “Friday Night Lights” isn’t just the fall’s best new series. It’s also, arguably, the most misunderstood.
Yes, it’s a splendid for-all-ages, family-friendly show — which you would expect from a drama about a championship high-school football team in a rural Texas town. As such, “Friday Night Lights” is the sort of big-hearted hour of TV that plenty of viewers are regularly pleading for.
But maybe you’re still unpersuaded. Maybe you just don’t give a flip about football.
Viewer alert: “Friday Night Lights” isn’t really about football. It’s about the town, and the people for whom high-school football is a treasured obsession.
This makes Coach Eric Taylor someone everybody knows. Impeccably portrayed by series star Kyle Chandler, he has an earnest, man-of-few-words manner that serves him well. He has a way of declaring “I expect you boys to execute, I expect you boys to play football” that can even make the viewer want to do Coach Taylor proud.
But in his modest home, Taylor and his wife and daughter grapple with typical domestic concerns. Item: Their air conditioning is shot, with a replacement cost of at least $3,000. How will he afford that?
Very few TV dramas recognize anyone below a comfortable economic level. (According to TV’s aspirational slant, its characters are meant to be our role models as consumers. With their lifestyles and possessions, they provide us a wish list for what to acquire.)
Another thing: Very few TV dramas acknowledge fields outside of law and order, medicine and the media. (According to conventional TV wisdom, other jobs are too routine or unrelatable.)
With its different mindset, “Friday Night Lights” has claimed a world far from TV’s beaten path, and depicts it with such honesty that we viewers behold its ordinary people (and, by extension, ourselves) with new eyes. In the writing, acting and on-location filming (the production is based in Austin), “Friday Night Lights” debunks the “TV version” of things, depicting real life on its own indigenous terms.
This, alone, is a powerful reason to watch.
Having what it takes
Here’s another: It includes religious faith among the forces at work in Dillon, Texas. Viewers who complain about a spiritual void in TV drama should embrace this show for how it weaves prayer (along with Panthers football, barbecue and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) into the community’s belief system.
The show can be enjoyed as the story of a wonderful marriage (Connie Britton is superb portraying Taylor’s wife, Tami). Or even a teen soap (hormones are raging in those good-looking Dillon High kids).
It’s hard for me to think of any viewer who couldn’t find something to like about “Friday Night Lights” — even the fans of a series as seemingly different as “The West Wing.”
I know. Aaron Sorkin, creator of that Beltway masterpiece, is back with his own new drama, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” complete with his famous trademarks: witty, rapid-fire dialogue and urbane, whip-smart characters dispensing it. But the world of “Studio 60” is a fictitious TV show, for which comedy is written and performed in hopes of pleasing unseen Nielsen households.
So, instead, I think the spiritual successor to “The West Wing” is “Friday Night Lights,” whose coach bears the grass-roots equivalent of the burden once borne by President Bartlet: a constituency telling him how to do his job while he fights to stay true to his own vision.
Last week’s episode found Taylor being feted at the local Applebee’s by a dozen or so civic leaders, including Dillon’s mayor and a prominent merchant. They were lobbying Taylor hard with their strategy for how to deal with the hole left by Jason Street, his star quarterback, who lay paralyzed from an injury in the season’s first game.
Taylor “knows what it takes on Friday night,” one member of this pressure group summed up pointedly.
“That’s right,” he responded. “I just want to say, I’m gonna keep all this in mind.”
The politics of coaching isn’t something Taylor likes, but he knows it’s part of his job. He knows his job is more than football.
So is “Friday Night Lights.” And, friend, if you haven’t seen it, it’s more than you know.