Wednesday, April 11, 2007

T.V. on TV: Friday Night Lights and Notes from the Underbelly

It’s easy to see why Friday Night Lights, concluding its first season tonight on NBC at 8 p.m. EDT, would make someone nervous. Almost frighteningly earnest, the show attempts to encompass the whole of a small Texas town by zeroing in on the lives and loves of its high school football team’s members and a variety of satellite characters. If that weren’t enough, the show makes a special effort to take on the issues of the day -- from the war in Iraq to steroid use by teen athletes -- like a weekly after-school special. Based on a good book and an even better movie, this should be a recipe for disaster.

But, as much as I liked the pilot, Friday Night Lights has grown beyond even that into a deeply moving, sparsely poetic series that just might be the best on TV (and certainly the best on network TV). The show’s ambitions occasionally outstrip its abilities, but it scores so often and so well that it can be forgiven the occasional flub (like having nearly every game in the first half of the season end on some unbelievable trick play). And still no one watches the show, which is commonly ascribed to have too much football for the non-fan and too little football for the fan. While that may be the case for the show’s low ratings, it doesn’t assuage any of the series’ fans doubts about the network ordering up a second season (though NBC has stated frequently that they believe in the program and would like to have it back next year). Still, if tonight is the last time the series ever airs, it will be that rare thing -- a near-perfect season of network television -- the sort of thing one might treasure on DVD while wondering why no one bothered to check it out when it was airing.
The rest is here.

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