I was going to write a review of Friday Night Lights but, somehow, never got around to it. My bottom line would have been: Watch It! Fortunately, S.T. Karnick, writing at National Review Online, has written the review I thought about, if only I could write so well. Karnick’s bottom line is the same as mine: Watch It! (And, through the miracles of the internet, you can even watch the pilot online.)
Showing Tuesdays at 8 P.M. EDT on NBC, and based on the popular movie of the same name (which itself was based on a book of the same name), Friday Night Lights tells the story of a small Texas town’s high-school football team as it makes a run for the state championship.
In the two episodes shown so far, the team begins a new season with a new coach facing the town’s expectation that they will win the state championship; narrowly wins its first game; suffers a huge loss as their star player is injured severely on the field; copes with that loss and the realization that it clearly dashes their hopes of winning the championship; undergoes internal dissension as the heightened pressure causes players to react badly; and prepares for game two while the townsfolk express their unaltered expectations for a championship and their doubts that the team can accomplish it, and threaten social ostracism of the players and coaches if the team falters as expected.
The show’s ostensible subject matter, high-school football, might seem to limit its appeal, but as the foregoing description suggests, the producers use this context to tell stories that are about much more than sports. The central interest of the show is what each character sees as his or her purpose in life and how they pursue it. We are invited to judge the characters on their view of what their purpose is: glory, pleasure, honor, service, etc.; and on how they go after it — by hard work, chicanery, manipulation, planning, intuition, etc. The show gives realistic looks at the obstacles the characters must overcome and the disappointments they endure.
You can read the rest of the review here.
What struck me about the show, aside from what a good show it is (something even the New York Times acknowledged, in a rave review), is how respectful it is of religion. Unlike the fairly despicable Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which sees Aaron Sorkin playing out his Freudian Fear of Christians, FNL shows how religion is an integral part of town life — not as a negative force, but as a binding force. It’s where people turn in time of tragedy, and it informs many of their decisions. The show doesn’t shy away from greed, hypocrisy, arrogance, teenage sexuality (which is presented as sleazy, not exciting), etc., but it doesn’t try to tie those vices to religion, either.
Sadly, this good show is tanking in the ratings war. I urge you to watch it, both because it may go away soon, which would be a shame, and because any increase in the audience might prevent it from going away soon, which would be a good thing.