Epic Carnival | Where Sports and Pop Culture Collide: THE MAIN ATTRACTION: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS 101


by , Arrowhead Addict

Because Friday Night Lights: Season Two kicks off tonight at 9 PM EST on NBC, we're going small screen this week. Plus, this way you get to stare at Minka Kelly, aka Lyla Garrity. No worries -- she's actually 27 (and John Mayer's latest squeeze). You can gawk without feeling like a CBS cameraman.

Anyway, I recently came down with a cold and ripped through Friday Night Lights: Season One in less than a week. I'm actually glad I got sick, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have listened to everyone who raved about the show and checked it out. Point blank -- it's effing unbelievable, probably my favorite show on TV right now (that includes everything on HBO... yes, even Entourage). My goal is to spark your interest enough with this post that you too will be flat out hooked on FNL, sort of like Travis Henry is to babymaking.

Unfortunately -- as Bill Simmons and others have pointed out -- most people aren't hooked at this point. FNL was snubbed by both viewers and The Emmys during it first season. Fans and insiders alike now fear that the series will get canned before the second season even really gets rolling. F***! How could this happen to such a badass series?

Here's how:

A.) Friday Night Lights the film (2004) faired somewhat well with the critics, but it flopped commercially, desecrating the franchise's name in the process. Plus, the classic H.G. Bissinger book that started it all has been out since 1991. Because of all of this, the show seemed like a retread the second it was revealed.

B.) The show has been marketed -- or at least perceived, by many -- as a show created for football fanatics.

Because of those issues, people think that FNL is just another run-of-the-mill football drama in a long line of 'em, all of which include way too many jerky, hand-held football camera shots and the requisite boring, clichéd characters. That perception is way, way off base. This isn't Any Given Sunday or ESPN's Playmakers, or even The O.C. with a dash of pigskin. I wouldn't do you like that.

I'll tell you what FNL is -- it's the best sports-based TV drama I've ever seen. That's doing the show a disservice actually, because it's one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Period. I put it up there with Hoop Dreams sports drama wise, and if you knew me you'd know just how big of a compliment that is. I'm not quite to Raging Bull-level gushing yet, but that could all change after another standout season.

Yes, FNL revolves around high school football, but football is simply the backdrop. This show is alive. It's not just that the cinematography makes it look like a documentary either. (Still, the fact that all the action is unrehearsed and shot with multiple cameras on actual locations -- not sets -- really pans out beautifully.) Seldom do TV shows have the ability to make you forget you're watching acting, and seldom do they care. Did you ever watch Friends, look at Rachel and think, damn, I don't even see Jennifer Anniston right now? No. Just as James Gandolfini became Tony Soprano, Kyle Chandler has morphed into Coach Eric Taylor right before our very eyes. He's not the only one either.

The cast and crew of Friday Night Lights have breathed some life into that fictitious little dump of a Texas town called Dillon.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you have any intention of watching Season One *online here* before starting Season Two, please, slow your roll and stop reading here. If you want to skip season one altogether, or check it out later, and move right along -- read on. I'll hook you up and get you caught up to speed.)

Ever since ex-Dillon Panthers star quarterback Jason Street got paralyzed during the opening episode, I was hooked. I knew that no punches were going to be pulled, and I became invested in the show. The writers and directors do an amazing balancing act, so you really get a feel for the entire town of Dillon without losing track of any of the main, or even secondary, characters. Because of that, you become an active participant and part of the journey. Seriously, dude, watch enough of FNL and for one hour a week you'll feel like you too live in Dillon. That's a testament to the show's creative team, who have kept it real so far by resisting the urge to sellout and go all heavy-handed and melodramatic on us to help boost ratings. Still, the show is able to tackle pressing real-life issues, a feat most shows don't even come close to accomplishing these days.

So who are these characters that make up this cast I won't shut up about?

The Friday Night Lights Cast:

Eric Taylor - The first time I ever noticed Kyle Chandler was when he stole the show as Bruce Baxter in the King Kong remake. You know, the actor with pussitis. I knew then that dude could flat out act, but as the first-year coach of the Dillon Panthers he really out did himself. Because either he or his wife has a relationship with every significant character, he's the engine that makes this thing go. And does it ever. The first time you see him he De Niros you, and Chandler the actor disappears. Even though he didn't get a Best Actor Emmy nod, I can't tell you how unreal this guy is. You have to witness it for yourself. Hey, Entertainment Weekly agrees with me. The mag awarded him its Best Actor "Glutty" award.

His acting makes FNL, but it's his character who drives the plot. Taylor starts off 1-2 at Dillon and damn near gets run out of town. Before that happens he gets the team to believe in him and they go on a magical run. (By the way, let me address that real quick. Yes, the Dillon Panthers almost always find a way to comeback and win, but that happens. Sometimes teams are truly teams of destiny. "Teams of destiny" do exist. Sometimes aspects like confidence, faith, momentum and poise outweigh the sheer physical aspects of the game. Sometimes when teams roll they just keep rolling. Those of you who eat, breathe and sleep football understand.) But this magical run isn't without its fair share of bumps. In the end, Taylor decides to leave Dillon and all of that behind for the quarterback coach job at Texas Methodist University, recognizing his dream of becoming a D-1 coach in the process. After the team wins state, his career move leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the team, the town and his family.

Tami Taylor
- Chandler may be the star of FNL, but Connie Britton can also act her ass off. The Sports Guys and others have already gone here, but I also have to add that there isn't a more realistic on-screen couple than the Taylors. Tami, a Dillon High guidance counselor, discovered that she's knocked up during the Season One finale. That -- paired with both her and her daughter Julie's attachment to Dillon and its people -- convinces Tami to stay in Dillon until Julie graduates (two more years), and hours away from Eric in Austin. The Taylors are a good, tight-knit family, so you get the sense that they'll survive. Still, it would be a tough situation for even the Cleavers or the Cosbys, so some speed bumps surely await them.

Th Taylor's marriage/relationship grounds FNL. Typically, on-screen married couples are either portrayed as June and Ward or Al and Peggy. The Taylors are somewhere in the middle, both functional and happy, but far from perfect. While their conversations are enjoyable and ultra-realistic, the rest of the FNL cast supplies most of the fireworks.

Julie Taylor - Cute, little, innocent Julie finally has her hormones kick in by the end of Season One. As close as they get, you get the feeling that her and new boyfriend/replacement QB Matt Saracen bump uglies, even though they decide not to during one of the middle episodes. Mostly because of this relationship, she decides that she wants to stay in Dillon instead of moving with her pops to Austin. She also forges a relationship with wild child Tyra, who we'll get to in a minute. It looks like Julie might become a little wilder herself during Season Two. With Coach away at TMU, Tami preoccupied with pregnancy, and her running around with the likes of Tyra -- yeah, that's where this is going. Julie's junior year is going to be quite a bit spicier than her sophomore one.

Matt Saracen - Zach Gilford kills it as Matt Saracen, the shy sophomore back-up QB who isn't your typical jock. When Street goes down, Saracen must do something he never expected -- actually step on the field and play. Not only does he turn himself into a player, he starts to grow as a person. His success on the field gives him the confidence to ask out Julie, and she ultimately becomes his girl. He lives alone with his grandma Lorraine, who he takes care of (his single-parent dad is serving in Iraq). In addition to being a football player, live-in nurse and student, he also has a part-time job at a local fast food joint. It's impossible not to root for the kid, especially when Gilford has that underdog thing down to a science. After winning state as a sophomore and getting the girl, however, there isn't really anywhere to go but down for Saracen. Season Two could be a rough one for Dillon's Kurt Warner.

Jason Street - This is the character and the subplot that really made the first season work. With Street -- who started off as a Tom Brady in training with the perfect family and perfect girlfriend --at the helm, everything was too perfect, too pretty. Even though he came off as a nice, humble kid, he was the hardest main character to root for (well, maybe other than his ex Lyla). That all totally changed when he got injured during the opening game and became paralyzed from the waist down. Being confined to a wheelchair is no easy task for an actor, but you never doubt the way Scott Porter plays things. Sometimes Street's side story took the action too far away from the central storyline, but the Street saga was also often a nice break from the football fantasy world of Dillon. After failing to make the quadriplegic rugby, aka "murder ball", national team, he turns his attention to coaching. Coach Taylor actually makes him an assistant coach towards the end of the season. I've read that the new coach -- by the way, I am seriously worried about Chris Mulkey, but I digress -- is going to treat him like dirt. Looks kie Season Two is going to be another ballbuster for the Streetster.

Lyla Garrity
- She's smoking hot, but her voice is Fran Drescher-level annoying, yo! Seriously. She's the hardest main character to pull for (her dad Buddy, a sleazy car dealer/football booster, is by far the hardest... but a fantastic character nonetheless), because she's hot, spoiled and headed towards the perfect life as a pro QB's trophy wife. This all changes when Street gets paralyzed, though. Confused as hell, she ends up sleeping with his best friend Tim Riggins (in all fairness, who didn't shack with Riggo?). Her and Street break up, get back together, get engaged and ultimately break up once again. Her dad also has relationship problems when he cheats on his wife with Tyra's mom Angela, a move which ultimately results in a divorce. Rumor has it that to make sense of all of this, Lyla has traded in her cheerleader skirt to walk with Jesus.

(I want to mention Buddy Garrity here again. He isn't listed as a main character, but the guy plays the obsessive booster better than anybody I think I've ever seen. Sometimes you will literally want to beat the bejesus out of his character, but Brad Leland is definitely a scene stealer.)

Tim Riggins
- The troubled, talented fullback has three vices -- booze, football and women. Let me take that a little further -- the guy drinks and f***s everything in sight. Give the guy a smoke and he's the town Colin Ferrell. Still, his situation and vulnerability (played just subtly enough by Taylor Kitsch) force you to feel sympathetic towards him. Big No. 33 starts off with Tyra, than dumps her and has an affair with Lyla. Because of this, he loses both girls, but more importantly his wingman -- Street. His troubles don't stop there either. First off, he's struggling in school and might even be illiterate. Then there's the fact that both of his parents ran off on him and his older brother Billy, leaving them to fend for themselves. Lastly, he might be an alcoholic in the making (I prefer the term bing drinker, but that's just me). He's a morose M.F. alright, but a likable one. I especially enjoyed when he started drilling his thirty-something MILF next-door neighbor Jackie (Brooke Langton, The Replacements star who dated both George Clooney and Tiger Woods) at the end of Season One. All I know heading into Season Two is that he still has a thing for Lyla, and that he pulled off a threesome with two sisters during the summer. Same old Timmy, I guess.

Tyra Collette - Man, Adrianne Palicki does it for me. Sorry, had to go there. Always had a thing for those wild, lost-cause sort of hotties, especially when they are 5'11 with killer legs (don't worry -- she's also of age). I'm guessing a lot of you fellas feel me on that one. While many of the show's female viewers probably started out hating Tyra, she pretty much won everyone over by the season's end. Actually, Palicki was such a strong performer that the show's creators turned what was originally supposed to be a supporting character into a primary one. The underachieving student/Applebee's waitress (by the way, Applebee's is a nice touch... for some reason they are like the end-all in every small town) starts of with Riggo, and then has a one-night stand with some douche from Los Angeles. Eventually, Tami gets her to take herself more seriously, and she commits to giving college a run, something nobody in her family has ever done. Still, things look like an uphill battle for Miss Collette. Her mom is a pill popper with an abusive boyfriend (that she eventually ditches, thanks to Tyra), and her sister is a scrippa. Worst of all, she nearly gets raped, barely able to fend off her attacker. That incident brings her closer to the most unlikely of people -- geeky-cool class clown Landry.

Landry Clarke - Jesse Plemons plays the other FNL secondary character that kinda blew up -- Landry. He's Saracen's sidekick, an "A" student and the lead singer of Christian speed metal band Crucifictorious. Originally intended to just bring a little comic relief on the side, Plemons has run away with the character. His natural, often improvisational comedic style really stole the spotlight at times. After Saracen becomes QB1 for the Panthers, Landry is more of a sidekick than ever. He has a plan to change all that, however, starting with his courtship of Tyra. He starts hollering at her midway through Season One, and at first it looks like things are headed nowhere. But then he comes to her aid after she was nearly raped, and everything changes. Nothing happened last season, but these two are headed towards something this season. I'm rooting for him to hook up with Tyra -- she needs a good dude in her life. The big rumor is that Landry also actually joins the football team in Season Two. Look for the 'o7 Richie Cunningham to play a huge role in the series from this point forward.

Smash Williams - Last but not least, we have The Smash --- the only living person who talks about himself in the third person more than Barry Bonds and Chad Johnson combined. Smash can get a little annoying at times, but buried beneath his cloak of cockiness we see the real Smash from time to time -- a scared sh**less teenager, desperate to realize his football dreams and provide for his family. After Street gets hurt, Smash is far and away the Panthers' most talented player. Actually, the star running back is probably the Lone Star State's best RB, and will likely be a pro someday. Early on during last season, he choked and had a piss-poor effort in front of one of college football's biggest recruiting gurus. This prompted The Smash to get on The Juice -- immediately. He had a needle in his ass just hours after the game, but eventually quit when his mom caught him and he got suspended for a game. Smash is a bit of a womanizer, too, but towards the end of the season he falls for his pastor's bipolar daughter -- the troubled, but exotic, Waverly. The best thing about Smash on the show is probably his mother -- Mama, a big-hearted and -waisted black single mother who runs her family with an iron fist. Smash is now a senior, so expect this version of the Panthers to be all Smash all the time.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know any of the huge spoilers from Season Two -- stop here. This is only for those of you who still aren't yet on board, or those of you who can't wait to find out what's going to go down next in Dillon.)

Friday Night Lights: Season Two Outlook:

If you've made it this far, then you might as well either tune in tonight or DVR the show and catch it later this weekend. Why? Because things are about to get really crazy in D-Town (click on that link only if you want to read more detailed spoilers than I've listed below).

Rumors are swirling that: Landry and Tyra are involved in a death; Riggo follows Lyla's lead and finds God; Saracen and Smash go at it; Street goes to Mexico to have experimental surgery; and the big one -- Coach Taylor quits TMU and returns to coach the Dillon Panthers.

You better watch Friday Night Lights tomorrow night (or on DVR this weekend), because if my favorite show gets canceled, then I'm going door to door and kicking arse Jay and Silent Bob style. Plus, I'll probably get arrested for pulling a Tonya Harding on NBC studio head Jeff Zucker (who producer Peter Berg had to beg to bring back FNL in the first place). Besides, the show is too damn good to miss. I know it, everybody who watched the first season knows it and soon you will as well.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose don't snooze. Because if you do and this show dies, you'll be missing out on possibly the best sports drama TV series ever made.

5 comment(s):

Shorty said...

Wow Adam, that was one helluva in depth preview...nice job! I too am a big fan of Friday Night Lights, although I have come to realize that no show being broadcast on a Friday night has any chance whatsoever of lasting past the first few weeks of the season. Barring another change of scheduling, this well written and well produced show is destined for failure ratingswise, which sux major b*lls...oh well...i'm still trying to get over the fact that NBC cancelled Black Donalleys last season so quickly. Nice review bro...

More Credible said...

I watch this show because it reminds me that not ALL high school cheerleaders will put me in the slammer.

LadyAndrea said...

This is an amazing show. I watched it all last year and am ecstatic it's coming back. I'm not sure how I feel about it being on on Friday nights. We'll see, I guess.

DD said...

Wow. There isn't much to be said that you haven't already--you're like the official scribe of Dillon, Texas.

I'm very interested--spoiler alert--by the decision to end the first season with a championship (as opposed to the last-second loss in the book or movie). I'm curious if FNL had been a ratings powerhouse and was clearly coming back for a second season, the Panthers would have lost that game--and maybe spent the next few seasons trying to win the big one--rather than going out on a high note amid fears of cancellation and that the story would be unresolved.

Great, great summary, Adam.

Tyler said...

best tv show i've seen in years, period. and i'm not a sports fan at all. just great stories, amazing actors.

really really hope they finish out season 2 and it finds an audience. i could rewatch season 1 over and over.

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