Readers know that I am an amateur film and television critic. I have especially enjoyed some of the better dramatic TV series that have been done since 2005. The British action series MI-5 is one of my favorites. But I was unprepared for how profoundly moved I would be by watching the recently completed series, Friday Night Lights.
I was introduced to Friday Night Lights by my friends Craig and Ann Higgins after I stayed in their home in June. They loved the series and I got a brief glimpse of it with them.
Friday Night Lights was adapted from a book and film of the same name. The five-year old series detailed events surrounding a high school football team based in fictional Dillon, Texas, with particular focus given to team coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his family. The show uses this small-town backdrop to address many issues facing contemporary Middle America, including school funding, racism, teen sex, religion (all varieties of Christianity are portrayed and quite well on the whole), drugs, abortion, and the lack of economic opportunities. Because the series has a football story line says little about the insights of the series. If you understand football you will likely enjoy the series more but you do not have to understand football at all to get the plots and characters.
Friday Night Lights premiered in the fall of 2006, airing for two seasons on NBC. It then ran on The 101 Network (a subsidiary of DirecTV) before being rebroadcast on NBC after The 101 Network completed airing the season. The series ended in February of this year.
Friday Night Lights never obtained a sizable audience, which surprises me, but it has been routinely deemed a critical success because of the way it presented a realistic portrayal of Middle America and included deeply personal explorations of its central characters. The show was awarded a Peabody Award, a Humanitas Prize, and a Television Critics Association Award, as well as several technical Primetime Emmy Awards. At the 2010 and 2011 Primetime Emmy Awards, the two lead actors, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, were nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress awards for a drama series.
Regular readers of this blog know that I had a small role in a film released a few months ago (it is not in theaters and someday I will provide information on how you can get a copy). This experience of filming on a real set and seeing how a movie is produced and edited had a profound impact on my life. It really got me into how to use a script, shoot a scene, edit, etc. This experience prepared me to love Friday Night Lights. Then I read an extensive article online that explained why I loved the show as much as I did:
Though scripted like any hour-long television drama, the show's producers decided at the outset to allow the cast leeway in what they said and did on the show, including the delivery of their lines and the blocking of each scene. If the actors felt that something was not true to their character or a mode of delivery didn't work, they were free to change it provided they still hit the vital plot points.
The freedom given to the cast was complemented by the fact that the show was filmed without rehearsal and without extensive blocking. Camera operators were trained to follow the actors, rather than the actors standing in one place and having cameras fixed around them. This allowed the actors to not only feel free to make changes but to feel safe in making those changes because the infrastructure would work around them. Executive producer Jeffrey Reiner described this method as "no rehearsal, no blocking, just three cameras and we shoot."
Working in this fashion had a profound influence on everyone involved with the show, with series star Kyle Chandler going so far as to say "When I look back at my life, I'm going to say, 'Wow, [executive producer] Peter Berg really changed my life.'" Executive producer and head writer Jason Katims echoed this sentiment, saying "When I first came on [the FNL] set, I thought, it’s interesting — this is what I imagined filmmaking would be, before I saw what filmmaking was."
Rarely has a series involved so much emotion, depth, character development, hope and despair, as Friday Night Lights. I zipped through all five seasons in about a month. I plan to watch them again in the future. If you want to understand how teens (especially in small town Texas) see the world, and the church, watch Friday Night Lights. The dramatic realism is beyond anything I’ve seen.
The final episode was one of the most satisfying conclusions to any series I’ve ever seen. It tied up some loose ends, left me in tears and allowed me to put this entire series to rest with deep appreciation. There was resolution without simplistic solutions.
If you like dramatic American television at all watch the first season. Don’t give up too quickly. Most series take a few episodes to get you into the storylines and the characters. This is clearly the case with Friday Night Lights.