Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Love Letter to FNL

Well, at last we've come to the end. Tonight is the season finale of Friday Night Lights.

I've pimped Friday Night Lights on this blog before. And since I first saw that pilot and fell hopelessly in love, this show has never let me down. In 21 episodes, I honestly have not been disappointed once. It is truly quite possibly the best TV program I've ever invested in.

However, FNL is what network programmers call "on the bubble". Critics love it - it just won a Peabody Award - and rave reviews in newspapers and other media sources still glow about it even as the season is winding to a close. Fans of the show are devoted, vocal, heck, might even be called rabid. Since I'm one of those fans, I don't take offense. However, FNL cannot manage to garner the most important ingredient that will ensure it a second season next fall: ratings. What its fans have in quality they cannot manage to offer in quantity.

Apparently, most viewers are not watching this amazing show because:

1. They think it's only about football.
Yes, football does provide the framework on which the story hangs. The characters are all in some way either directly or indirectly involved with the Dillon Panthers football team. But to avoid this show because you expect to watch an hour of intensive on-field action only comprehensible to ESPN groupies is as ridiculous as refusing to watch Grey's Anatomy because it's going to be an hour of nothing but gory surgeries, doctors droning on about patient symptoms, and watching nurses take temperatures. Every single drama on television is based on some high concept idea: police procedural, medical drama, family saga, court room antics. In the end, it's the characters behind the scenes that fascinate us and keep us coming back for more. Otherwise, we'd just tune in to Monday Night Football and get our fix clean and easy.

If that doesn't convince you, know that I do not like football. I barely know the difference between a quarterback and a cornerback. I wouldn't have lasted two episodes if this show was only about football.

2. It's about football in Texas.
I've never been to Texas. I have the stereotypical ideas that all men in Texas wear cowboy boots and Stetsons, eat steaks the size of hubcaps, and slap all their good 'ol boys on the back while they enjoy thick cigars and cases of Longhorn beer. All Texas women, of course, have very big hair and say "y'all" all the time and spend all their time reminiscing about their glory days as varsity cheerleaders. Right? Okay, not so much.

Anyway, yes, fictional Dillon is set in Texas. But the only reason that matters is because the culture in that particular area of the country so intensely loves and supports their high school football teams. This show could have just as easily been set in a small town in Indiana that obsesses over every dribble and shot its varsity basketball team makes. Or in a small Minnesota town where the people poor over their local high school hockey team's stats like they are looking for a winning lottery number. It's not the place that matters. People are people.

3. It's on at the same time as American Idol.
You know, I just don't have a good answer for this one that won't insult, like, pretty much everyone in America. Suffice it to say, anyone who ever - EVER - complains about the poor quality of television today yet tunes in to AI instead of FNL every week deserves an eternity spent in a hell full of bitter rejectees from AI tryouts and a battalion of Simons to criticize their every move.

4. They hate shows with twenty-something actors trying to pull off being high school kids.
If a show can't manage to absorb you into its story so well that all you can think about while watching it is that 16-year old guys generally don't have five-o'clock shadow before the final bell rings, then yes, you have a right to be cynical. Thankfully, the actors in FNL are so utterly amazing that all you can think about as you watch them is how much you are glad you aren't still in high school/how much you wish you were back in high school/how inappropriate it is that you are having those thoughts about a kid who is young enough someone you once babysat for.

5. They hate high-school teeny-bopper soap dramas.
Yeah, so do I. And to be honest, these kids do have their fair share of angst. But at least it's real angst. Take little Matt Saracen, for example (played by the utterly amazing Zach Gilford). Matt had to step up to take the place of superstar quarterback Jason Street when Jason was injured during the first game of the season. He's now got the entire weight of a town's worth of expectations on his sophomore shoulders. Plus, he lives alone with a grandmother who suffers from dementia, holds down a part time job not for beer and gas money but to pay the rent, and tries to raise himself because his mother is MIA and his father is off fighting the war in Iraq. So when the coach's daughter Julie finally agrees to go out with him, your heart soars for Matt's triumph.

You like these people. You know them. You feel bad for them when they hurt not because you've been manipulated but because you can relate to them. Every single emotion in this show - from laugh-out-loud moments to sobbing despair - is earned. Nothing is gratuitous. Nothing is done the easy way.

I personally didn't know a single kid like the ones portrayed in Beverly Hills, 90210 or Dawson's Creek. And I didn't watch either of those two shows because of that fact. Somehow I just couldn't get worked up when Tiffany-Brenda-Amber-Kelly couldn't find a way out of her tw0-dates-for-the-prom but neither one of them dreamboat Dylan-Brandon-Jeremy-Ethan problem. But my high school came fully equipped with a Matt Saracen and a Julie Taylor and a Jason Street. Sadly, we were missing a Tim Riggins.

6. The camera is all shaky and stuff.
FNL is filmed using only hand-held cameras. It's got this up-close, documentary style that makes you feel like you are sitting in the room with these people. Cuts and close-ups are not traditional. It takes some getting used to, but before you know it, you are so absorbed in the story you forget all about cameras. Too, they calmed things down significantly from the Pilot. I tend to get sick if I find the camera movement to be too jittery (I hate those 360 degree spinning shots you find on so many ensemble shows these days - I get nauseated). If this is what keeps you from watching, well, whatever. I'm sure American Idol sticks with nice, quiet camera work.

7. They haven't been watching since Episode 1, so they won't know who's who or what's going on.
To this, I have to actually kind of agree and disagree. Disagree because the show and its premise are not that complicated that you can't easily figure out who is who or what, generally, is happening. You don't need to tune in next week to find out who the father of So and So's baby really is, nor are there any Big Secrets that only those of us True Fans From The Beginning are privy to. In fact, I would wager one episode is all that it would take for a person to get well and truly hooked because each episode is so well crafted that all characters are covered in some way.

However, this show builds on the past episodes. Not so much because the plots and relationships are tangled and complicated. More, with each week, we learn more about each character that deepens our reactions to what happens to them next. If you would have asked me during the Pilot if I would have ever shed a single tear for bad-girl sex-kitten Tyra Collette (played by Adrianne Palicki, stellar!), I would have scoffed. And I would have been wrong, oh so wrong. I've gotten to know her over twenty-one episodes, and that makes all the difference.

But...there is a solution to this problem. NBC has all episodes on its website, free for the watching. iTunes has all episodes available to download for a teeny, tiny fee. Bravo keeps running FNL marathons, although they don't always start with the Pilot and work through all 21 episodes. There are ways to start at the beginning.

I've heard rumors there will be a DVD. I became an avid Firefly fan long after the series had ended when I picked up the DVD and was blown away by the show. Too bad I was too late to help save it...

8. They have clearly never seen the genius that is Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.
This show is worthy of a second season based on the chemistry between married-on-tv couple Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton alone. They play Coach Eric Taylor and his long-suffering wife, Tami, to sheer perfection. They squabble like real married people. They show affection like real married people. They have the same kinds of problems and arguments and solutions as real married people. But because they are more beautiful and far less boring than real married people, they are a joy to behold. We can all only wish that we had it that good.

And I defy anyone to watch Connie Britton's performance in the episode "I Think We Should Have Sex" and deny her right to an Emmy nomination. It's inconceivable.

Anyway, I'm most likely preaching to the choir by this point, because if you've read through all of this, you are probably already a fan. I've done my best to let NBC know how much I appreciate its support of this amazing show and how much I'm hoping that it will ignore the dollars and cents part of the equation and bring FNL back for a second season. Gems like this don't come around very often. We won't know until mid-May or so if NBC will take the high road (although news has come out that it has ordered six new scripts - a good sign).

Meanwhile, I'll send a love letter to all of those involved in this perfect season. To the actors who become real people that I care about every week due to their amazing talents. To the writers for never taking the cliched or easy way out and moving me to tears on multiple occasions. To the creators and directors for giving us something different and worthwhile to watch every week. To the producers and programmers who keep giving it a chance even when the ratings don't live up to their expectations, especially when they could offer up more of the same reality drivel so many others rely on. To the critics who keeping giving FNL such great press, which surely has to go far to convince TPTB that they have a winner on their hands.

To anyone who's had anything to do with this show, thanks. Really.

It's been an amazing season. Go Panthers!


Avia said...

You made me dl all the episodes I missed and I plan to catch up really soon. :-)

Unfortunately I'm not a US TV viewer and therefore cannot influence the network producers but from what I remember there were a couple of shows that went on to 3 or even 4 season based on reviews rather than ratings. Let's hope this will be the case with FNL.

catherine said...

Honestly, you've convinced me to give the show a try--now I just need to figure out how I will obtain the episodes! (Can't get it from NBC--my computer isn't compatible with their system). Not sure if I want to d/l every ep. onto my hard drive; but as someone who's constantly flipping through the channels lamenting the low quality of programs offered, I say you presented a fantastic case for FNL.

Anonymous said...
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Donnie said...

Very well said! I'm a huge fan of the show and I stumbled on this entry while doing a search for FNL stuff. Now that the DVDs are out I've been working tirelessly to get everyone I know addicted, and I've been surprised at how easy it's been once they watch an episode or two.

Thank you for spreading the word, and of course, go Panthers!!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Lynn! I'm Lady Mirth from the LnCMBs, and I'm fairly certain it is you.

A few fanfic writers I know won book deals recently and I remembered how good your writing was and thought I'd google you to see whether you were published yet. I've always felt it was only a matter of time.

Glad to see you're doing well. Hope you come back to FolC-land again one day, never mind bringing fanfic. I miss having such an avid Potter fan on the boards. =)

And on an on-topic note, I keep hearing about Friday Night Lights on Livejournal, and it's always in superlative terms like these. Hope NBC won't cancel it. TV networks seem to take cruel pleasure in yanking the best shows - I haven't recovered from what they did to Dark Angel and Related, even now.

See ya round,
Hasini (