The Drama Club: There’s No Excuse To Miss ‘Friday Night Lights’

Friday Night Lights (NBC)

Friday Night Lights (NBC)

If you don’t watch the NBC premiere of ‘Friday Night Lights’ this Friday at 10 PM, you are not a good American.  That may sound harsh, but since three years of critical acclaim have not gotten people to watch network television’s best network drama, it’s time for a guilt trip.  FNL lays waste to the claim that all of the best dramas are on cable. When this season premiered on DirecTV, I raved about the first episodes. Now that I have seen the entire season, I am even  more  impressed.  The saga of a football obsessed small town in Texas is a work of art that is every bit as entertaining as your favorite guilty pleasure.  So I am going to tell you why none of your reasons for not watching are valid.

I hate football. I do, too. That’s like saying you don’t want to watch ‘The Office’ because you are not interested in paper.  It does not matter if you do not know the difference between a touchdown and an interception.  Game scenes are only a few minutes of each episode.   Football is what brings the characters  together, like any television workplace.  The team’s dynamics  are far more important than what happens on the field.  It is also the embodiment of all of the characters dreams: Vince’s chance for a better life, Landry’s hope for social acceptance.  In fact, FNL has given me an appreciation for a game I used to think was just big guys tackling each other.

There are no good shows on Friday nights. Yes, Friday night has become a dumping ground for less than great television.(No offense, ‘Ghost Whisperer’ fans.)  FNL was originally a Tuesday night show.  But apparently viewers were confused that a show with Friday in the title did not air on Fridays.  So NBC moved it.  Don’t let a focus group’s cluelessness stop you from giving a great show a chance.

I haven’t seen it before.  I won’t understand what’s going on. Yes, FNL is serialized.  But it is not ‘The Wire’ or ‘Lost.’  Each episode is self-contained.  It is not difficult to follow. Since this season, Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) moves to a new school, changing the dynamics and introducing a new set of characters, this is the perfect time to start watching.

I tuned out when Landry killed that dude. The season two plot in which Landry (Jesse Plemons) killed a rapist to protect Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) then idiotically covered it up was the show’s nadir. It did not fit the show’s realistic tone and was completely out of character for Landry.  I choose to blame NBC network executives for that one. Some genius thought that FNL needed a sensationalistic storyline.  The second season was the show’s worst, hurt by a combination of excessive network meddling and the writer’s strike.  Since the show partnered with DirectTV, it has been fantastic.  Give it another chance.

Isn’t half  the original cast gone? FNL actually let some of its teenage characters graduate and get out of town.  Yes, they were great characters, but I applaud the show for allowing their storylines to conclude in a believable, satisfying fashion instead of suddenly inventing the University of Dillon — conveniently coached by Eric Taylor. Most of them do make a brief return this season for a believable reason. Tim Riggins is still around both because of  the popularity of Taylor Kitsch and because he is the character who never wanted to leave Dillon.  Fortunately the characters introduced his season, particularly Michael B. Jordan’s Vince, are just as rich.

I don’t want to be depressed. The characters on FNL worry about paying their bills, have screwed up families and do not always get happy endings. This year instead of coaching a football dynasty, Eric is saddled with an inexperienced team without a prayer of winning the State Championship. Dillon is a place where bad things often happen to good people.  It may bring a tear to your eye.  But it is one of the few television shows that is actually inspirational.  When Coach Taylor makes a halftime speech about the importance of hard work, you may find yourself cleaning your house or pulling out that unfinished novel.

My contempt for middle America precludes me from giving this show a chance. I have actually encountered a  few people who refused to watch because of their dislike of “people who live in small towns.” That is exactly why all of you San Franciscans and Manhattanites need to tune in.  FNL lays waste to the stereotypes  about people in middle America.  The residents of Dillon are smart, ambitious and creative. Watching it will help you rid yourself of your elitist prejudices about people who listen to country music and drive pickup trucks.

I grew up in a small town – and hated it.  This show will trigger my PTSD. A couple of native Texans I know find the series too realistic.   That’s a compliment to the excellent writing. To them I say, view this as a chance to come to a new understanding of your childhood.

I hate teen dramas. Yes, a lot of the characters are teenagers.  But this is no ‘Gossip Girl.’  Nobody is vying to be the most popular girl in school or obsessing about clothes. The teens spend a lot more time interacting with adults than they do on most teen dramas.  It is a true multigenerational drama.  The central character is the very adult Coach Taylor. He and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) have the most realistic marriage on television.

I don’t want to invest in a show that’s just going to get canceled. Relax.  The show has already been renewed for next season.

Season four of ‘Friday Night Lights’ premieres Friday, May 7 at 10 PM on NBC.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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