Friday, April 20, 2007


I watch a lot of TV. I mean, a lot. Because I work in television, I can justify it as career-related viewing, but I must admit I'm a slave to the vidiot box and a wee bit TiVo-obsessed. Not only do I consume as much as I possibly can in prime time, but there are three shows I record and watch on a daily basis without fail -- Boy Meets Grill, Pardon the Interruption, and The Daily Show. In all my hours logged on the couch with magical TiVo remote in hand, I believe I have earned the right to declare Friday Night Lights the best show on television this season.

For starters, the show features perhaps my favorite opening credit sequence in television history.

To paraphrase an old Sam Cooke song, I don't know much about chemistry. But I do know that combining the right elements and finding the formula for making a television show or movie pop off the screen is incredibly daunting and elusive work. Of course, it all starts with the writing. (Predictable, coming from a writer.) The DNA for a successful project is naturally encoded in the script. Best case scenario, the teleplay or screenplay is a work of art in itself. But those honors are reserved for an elite few. More often than not, the words aren't perfect, the plot doesn't fully make sense, and the characters aren't quite three-dimensional yet. But if it's in the genes, it's in the genes. Script doctors, directors, and actors exist to flesh those things out anyway, right? (Such a writery writer thing to say.) Every once in a while, it all comes together. The script is gold, the actors are perfectly cast and bring the characters to life in a way previously unimaginable to the writer, and the executive producer or director creates an environment conducive to collaboration while still demonstrating a singular vision in guiding the process. It happens. Just not very often. In recent television history, it definitely happened with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. It happened with Seinfeld and The West Wing. Imagine Entertainment pulled if off a few years ago with Arrested Development. And now they have done it again with Friday Night Lights.

As Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, respectively, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton deliver nuanced and soulful performances on a variety of levels. They serve as the backbone of an outstanding ensemble cast (including the smoking-hot Minka Kelly) that is lucky enough to work with phenomenal scripts and producers who obviously know their way around video village. It all works. The alchemy is simply perfect.

Unfortunately, besides the converted few who I'm preaching to, people didn't watch. Despite heaps of critical praise, the show struggled in the Nielsen ratings all season long and never really showed much audience growth as it progressed. NBC is not a strong enough network right now to adequately promote the quality shows they do have on the air because they don't have the blockbuster hits to lean on for support. Maybe the show is too smart for the average bear. Maybe its target audience is playing video games and surfin' the net instead of watching TV these days. Maybe it stumbled out of the gate, numbers-wise, and could never quite recover its stride. Maybe it aired on the wrong night. (Geeky admission: I TiVo the show and save it for Friday nights where I feel it belongs.) Whatever the case may be, it's a real shame. People are missing out. To put the numbers in perspective, the over-hyped and overblown "Desperate Housewives" draws three times the weekly audience that FNL does. I've watched both shows and can say unequivocally that there is no comparison when it comes to quality. In fact, Friday Nights Lights just might be the anti-Desperate Housewives.

Growing up, when my friends and I liked some slice of entertainment, we would repeat an exhausted cliche in a world-weary voice, "I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me." As much as it pains me not to have access to better words than those to describe my emotional involvement with the show, the cliche holds absolutely true. As long as you imagine me saying it with the world-weariest of tones, I may still cling to a shred of dignity as a writer. But this isn't about me. If you didn't watch this season when it aired, do yourself a favor and watch Friday Night Lights in reruns this summer or get the damn DVD as soon as it comes out. And don't be a schmuck by accidentally bringing home the DVD of the film. The movie's all right, but it's not even qualified to hold the TV show's jock strap.

Clear eyes... full hearts... can't lose.

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