|Friday Night Lights: The First Season (2006)
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Porter, Aimee Teegarden, Jesse Plemons
Don’t believe the hype: “Friday Night Lights” isn’t the criminally misunderstood television series that NBC would like you to believe it is. Sure, the show’s a mildly entertaining look at the goings-on of a small (yet passionate) football town in the heart of Texas, but it lingers too much on the soapish high school drama and crazy community antics for it to be considered one of the best new series on TV. Loosely based on the Peter Berg football drama of the same name, which was in turn based on the novel by H.G. Bissinger (a true-life story that also served as the inspiration for the MTV flick “Varsity Blues”), “Friday Night Lights” isn’t so much the next best thing as it is “Grey’s Anatomy: Pigskin Edition.”
Laugh all you want, but while the NBC series might not seem like it has much in common with the hit medical drama, the relationships between its characters (which is to say, the constant on-again-off-again tactic of dealing with boyfriends and girlfriends, players and coaches, and husbands and wives) are very much the same.
Standing out from the large cast of characters is Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor, the highly criticized new head coach of the Dillon Panthers football team. Given only one season to prove his worth to the program, Taylor’s plans are suddenly halted when the star quarterback, Jason Street (Scott Porter), is injured in the first game. Left with no other choice, Coach Taylor thrusts his backup QB, resident nice guy Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), into a leadership role that he’s not prepared to undertake. Meanwhile, the rest of the team – including star running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) and fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) – is forced to devise a new game plan to turn around their season. But the pressures of school, college scouts, local stardom and just plain being a teenager prove to be more than they can handle.
Throughout the course of the season, the players do mature – Saracen comes into his own as the team’s new QB (while also working a part-time job, taking care of his sick grandma, and wooing the daughter of Coach Taylor, played be Aimee Teegarden), and Street (who’s given the discouraging news that he’s paralyzed from the waist down) channels his natural athleticism into the sport of quad rugby – but sometimes it feels like they’re developing too quickly. Sure, the actors playing these teenagers may be older in real life, but that doesn’t mean they need to act like it. It also feels like the writers burned through too many of the good ideas in season one, and while that’s not exactly a problem for those that appreciate quality over quantity, it will prove troublesome in future seasons.
More pressing, however, is the question of how long a series about high school football can go on when several of its main characters will be graduating in between seasons. Will the show split time between those who live in Dillon and those leaving the small town for bigger and better things, or will it simply just replace the latter? And what exactly new will the second season have to offer, now that the Panthers have made it to the state finals? All good questions, really, and possibly a major reason why the show didn’t pull in as many viewers as NBC would have hoped. It’s solid proof why “Friday Night Lights” worked better as a two-hour movie, because whether you enjoy the show or not, there’s only so much you can do with a football drama that doesn’t feature a whole lot of football.
Special Features: If you haven’t heard already, NBC is going balls out with the release of the first season on DVD by offering a money-back guarantee to anyone who buys the five-disc set before the end of the year. Unfortunately, while I believe that the show does deserve a spot on primetime television, it doesn’t necessarily deserve one in your home. The bonus material accompanying the 22 episodes isn’t exactly spectacular, either. The making-of featurette, “Behind the Lights,” offers a short look at the production of the final episode, while an hour of deleted scenes are dispersed among their respective episodes.