One of network primetime’s greatest series closes out with an incredibly strong season. The critically-lauded (but underwatched) Friday Night Lights takes its final bow with all the grace, eloquence and emotion that gave it such a devoted fanbase through its turbulent run at NBC (while the critics and a small group of followers adored it, the rest of the world never seemed to catch on; marketing was blamed for the show’s low numbers, and then the intelligence level of the television-watching populace was indicted, but I digress). Friday Night Lights takes place in the fictional Dylan, Texas, an all-American town that holds nothing more sacred than the rowdy Friday night high school football games that transpire every Friday night. But just as ER wasn’t really about hospitals, The Sopranos wasn’t really about the mob and Mad Men isn’t exactly about advertising in the 1960s, Friday Night Lights is more about people than anything else. My review after the jump:
The show’s greatest strength has always lied in its characters, starting with Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton). And as the roster of players in this show goes on (there’s way too many to list here), it’s worth mentioning how no one comes across as insignificant or underwritten. Characters are given their due and fleshed out to dimensional levels. Not everyone is likable, but they don’t have to be. What they have to be is real. And Friday Night Lights excels at creating people we can believe in as human beings. Even more impressive, the show has no problem losing characters we’ve grown to love (Lyla, Matt, Tyra and most recently Landry, anyone?). It progresses with the confidence that the new cast will be just as compelling as the one before it. And somehow, the series succeeds in this goal. The result is a truly compelling drama without cliché that has us caring about everyone in it.
Sure it’s soap, but you could argue that pretty much every scripted drama is soap (okay, the character-based ones, anyway. Back off, NCIS fans). The difference between Friday Night Lights and so many other humdrum, forgettable “soft” dramas (and you know who you are, ABC lineup) is the strength of the writing, the believability of the actors and characters they play, and ultimately, how effectively it’s all put together.
While this season flows well and was written just as brilliantly as its predecessors, the one element that stands out is the immense budget cut the show faced in its final year. In addition to reducing its season order to 13, a number of production aspects (such as locations, for instance) suffered. There’s a kind of sadness that manages to accompany the show; in addition to seeing its final moments play out, it feels as though the series wasn’t treated with the respect it so clearly deserved from its parent network.
The extras are an adequate bunch. While the deleted scenes provide nothing outstanding or remarkable, it’s still a treat for fans to watch these characters interact in moments that don’t necessarily further the plot. Of the two commentaries, the one by showrunner Jason Katims on the series finale “Always” is the standout. His remarks about the shape of the season, and where and how his writing staff aimed to bring their characters is great to listen to. But the highlight of the supplementals is easily the “When the Lights Go Out” featurette, which chronicles not only the series’ finale season, but also provides an insightful and emotional look back into the four that preceded it.
THE WRAP UP
Season five is a must-have for any fan of the series. It’s affecting, compelling and just as great as Friday Night Lights has ever been. For those who haven’t seen the show, seasons one through four have been available on DVD for a while. What are you waiting for?