What movie was that...?

25 July 2011

Friday Night Lights, the television series

developed for television by Peter Berg

First of all, I want to apologize for being so flaky lately. I was returning some videotapes (aka lost in the black hole of Friday Night Lights, the series)…

Peter Berg’s film bearing the same name is an underrated and electric sport classic in every single way, and whether they want to admit it or not, West Texas has high school football running through the veins of every man, woman and child. I have family in Odessa, and Berg uses the actual Ratliff Stadium (Permian's home field and a monument to football) to wonderful effect. It's a sight to behold: watching the desert fill with crazed excitement on a Friday night. It can be contagious... 

I was very, very skeptical of this, but my little brother (thanks for the reco, DC) finally convinced me to watch Berg’s television fiction inspired by the spirit of the film. What turned out as an hour begrudgingly set aside to choke down the first episode (what I assumed the experience would be like) immediately spiraled into a crazed obsession to feed on every episode, every nuance, every wonderful moment. In order to really appreciate this show in a review would take pages and pages and probably bore you all to tears, but fans of the film and fans of good storytelling will do well to experience this show. Season 1 is, in itself, a powerful piece of storytelling and television, a brave piece of film that only rarely falls apart on itself. While the later seasons (s2 in particular) really lacked, the first season is shockingly well written and (for the most part) well acted. Sure, there are a lot of weak performances by standard "tv" types (Gaius Charles, D.W. Moffett), but the fabulous (actually, what’s better than fabulous?) Connie Britton (Gaines' wife in the film) and Brad Leland (John Aubrey from the film) find a way to bridge the gap between the film dramatization and the fiction that is the series. Kyle Chandler shines as Coach Taylor, and the series also makes great use of the essence of the film's amazing score. Zach Gilford is hands down one of the most eye opening talents of the series as Matt Saracen, playing a Lucas Black style character that he truly makes his own. If you look at Season 1 as a miniseries, it is truly amazing.

Sadly, FNL fell victim to the effects of the dread writer’s strike, and lack of viewership caused it suffer the fate of half seasons and plot twists that will make you want to punch the tv (the shark jumping madness of Landry in season 2 is exhibit A!), but season 3 regains much of what was lost, and by the end of season 5, I was weepy and smitten, hanging on every word. Even Taylor Kitsch won me over, and he is officially my new Keanu Reeves, with a voice like Timothy Olyphant and the strut of Patrick Swayze. Even at the worst of times, when the plot really spins out of control, the show still manages to be spectacular on a moment to moment basis, due largely to the doc style directing and the extemporaneous dialogue sequences. The actors rarely rehearsed and never blocked scenes (camera operators were trained to follow the actors like in documentaries), which creates incredibly natural and genuine scenes that get to very vital cores of characters and moments in a wonderful way. It also allows the actors to really make their own choices with regard to their characters, which makes for fascinating results. The actors who come in later in the series are even stronger, especially Michael B Jordan and Matt Lauria, and Stacey Oristano rocks and rolls as Mindy Collette. Friday Night Lights the series is, to use Barry’s analogy from High Fidelity, like the Echo and the Bunnymen to the film’s The Jesus and Mary Chain. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just add High Fidelity to the top of your queue and thank me later.

One last assertion: I’m just gonna put it out there…
After consuming the entire FNL series, I think that Peter Berg’s film would have been even better if Kyle Chandler had played Coach Gaines. There, I said it.

1 comment:

  1. Great work, but as for your last statement, Billy Bob could never be replaced for me. I watched some of the episodes the other day, and the series as a whole is not as bad as I expected.


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