September 2, 2010


Friday Night Lights has proven to be the Little Engine that Could. The show recently finished airing its fourth season and a fifth is on the way in October.  The upcoming season will be its last, but the fact that the show has pushed on for so long, despite its lack of success with ratings, seems to say something about its quality.  The fourth season was just released on DVD and you can check out my full review of it after the jump:

I didn’t want to like Friday Night Lights. If anyone was guilty of rolling their eyes when the first commercials for the series premiere came along, I certainly was.   However, something I have heard from multiple sources is absolutely true: watch one episode and you’ll be hooked.   I was forced to sit down and watch an episode early on in the first season and I’ve been a loyal follower ever since.

Friday Night Lights is television show that is based on a movie that was based on a book. It’s centered on the small town of Dillon, Texas where people eat, breath, and sleep high school football.  The show follows Coach Eric Taylor (flawlessly played by Kyle Chandler), his family, and the students on his team as they struggle with balancing the pressures of a football-crazed town’s expectations and the obstacles they each face in life. The concept of the show is nothing original or mind-blowing and the storylines aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but the way the show is executed is.  Each scene is shot without a rehearsal, using three cameras while actors rely more on improvisation than an actual script. There are no real “marks” for the actors to worry about hitting, so we’re left with a show that feels a little more raw and real than others out there.

Season 4 finds Coach Taylor starting from scratch after he has been forced out of his cushy job as head coach of the champion West Dillon Panthers and heads across town to the less-than-glamorous, East Dillon High to coach the Lions. Like The Mighty Ducks sequels have taught us, for some reason, you always have to start from the bottom again. Coach Taylor’s wife, Tami (Connie Britton) remains at West Dillon High as Head Principal, creating obvious conflict within her personal and professional life.  Friday Night Lights found itself in a tough situation in season 4 due to the fact that many of the original characters on the show had graduated from high school and moved on..  It’s a tough job to introduce new characters to an audience who have already invested so much time in the exiting characters. It’s also difficult to make the previous heroes the villains and expect the audience to root for a whole new team all together. We’ve been programmed to be Panthers fans, but now all of a sudden, it’s “Go Lions!” However, the minds behind Friday Night Lights were smart about it and respectful enough to their audience to make the transition a smooth one without having the choice seem too forced.

There is a whole batch of new characters that have been introduced via storylines that found them attached to some of the familiar characters of prior seasons. Returning in season 4 are the recently graduated, Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) and Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford).  Seniors Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) and Coach Taylor’s daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) now find themselves as students of East Dillon due to new zoning regulations.  The new additions to the cast include: Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a football star in the making with a troubled past. Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), a new love interest for sidekick-turned-leading man, Landry. Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria), a Dillon Panther who finds himself suddenly transferred to the Lions after his true address is discovered (Hellloooo? The Mighty Ducks? Adam Banks? Ring a bell?). And finally, there’s Becky Sproles (Madison Burge) who ends up having to interact with Tim Riggins regularly as he lives out of a trailer in her front yard. It’s hard to be a new addition to an established show, but all of the actors didn’t take very long to fit right in.

As far as DVD extras go, there are a few things included that only seriously devoted fans will probably enjoy.  There are a ton of unnecessary deleted scenes and a couple of interesting, but way too short, behind-the-scenes featurettes.  If you really want, you can watch episode one of season 4 with commentary by executive producer, Jason Katims.  However, unless you want to hear a guy break the record for how many times someone could say “you know” in a 50 minute period, I don’t necessarily recommend it.

Bottom line, season 4 is an excellent addition to one of the best “under-the-radar” shows on television today.  Kyle Chandler’s improvised speeches as Coach Taylor alone are worth the time (give the guy an Emmy already!), but Friday Night Lights simply put, is an all around great show.  It’s dramatic. It’s entertaining. It’s funny.  The stories are interesting and it’s well cast.  The football sequences, albeit short, are believably exciting and well shot. The music, including work from Explosions in the Sky and TV music composer, W.G. Snuffy Walden is awesomely epic. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. You have plenty of time to chop through all 4 seasons before the final season premieres at the end of October.

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