TROUBLE CITY

THUD: A HAIL MARY FOR 'FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS'

THUDBrendan M. LeonardComment

THUDThe brain of every television critic in America just exploded with joy – NBC announced today that Friday Night Lights, routinely called “the best new show of the season” by pretty much everyone, will receive a second season on the struggling network. In fact, NBC is confident enough in the Texas-set high school football drama that they’re giving it a full season order of 22 episodes.

I’ve written about Friday Night Lights, based on H.G. Bissinger’s book and the Peter Berg film of the same name (Berg also helped develop the series and has directed several key episodes), before. I’m still up in the air about it – I know people who love the shit out of the series, including my old man (one of the aforementioned critics) and many of our readers, but I haven’t seen enough of the series to offer a full assessment yet. However, from what I have seen, I think it’s a very well-acted, well-written, and supremely well-directed show. As a guy who grew up in an economically struggling suburb of Akron, Ohio where football was king, I also appreciate the way the series accurately portrays life in one of those communities, as opposed to the cartoonish Varsity Blues.

Example by way of a tangent: When I was in junior high, we would routinely get of class for all-afternoon pep rallies, and when the team won states one year, we only had half a day of class, followed by a huge celebration in the gym, after which they let us go home. I had no problem with this at the time, because it meant I could go to the library and read crappy thrillers and Stephen King novels, but I also wrote a story about it for a Channel One audition tape. When my classmates found out about said story, I was on the receiving end of a Bobby Budnick-style (verbal) pounding from the biggest girl in my class. So while FNL hasn’t yet done that particular story, it seems like a show honest enough to address the pros and the cons of a town where football means everything.

In thinking about this, especially with NBC looking to have the worst season in their entire history, it really does seem like the network means it when they say “First be the best, then be first.” If anything, Friday Night Lights reminds me of another ensemble show that used to be on NBC – Hill Street Blues. While Hill Street never had the best ratings in the world, it started during a similar period – NBC was struggling in the ratings, and it, too, looked in danger of being cancelled. Then the Emmys happened, where it racked up a record-setting number of nominations in its first season, and while Hill Street never became a commercial behemoth, critics and the Emmys loved it, it was a major stepping stone in helping NBC climb to the top of the ratings, where they stayed for over twenty years.

I don’t know if Friday Night Lights will be the next Hill Street Blues – we’ll have to wait until the primetime Emmy nominations are announced on July 19th. (I do expect the Television Critics Association to basically fellate this thing during their awards ceremony this year.) I also think a very smart move would be to rush the first season to DVD at least a month before the season premiere. This would allow people like me, who may have seen an episode or two of the show but wanted to see the whole thing in sequence, to catch up – and releasing it the Tuesday before the show premieres isn’t gonna cut it. But the fact that NBC chose to renew Friday Night Lights and not only that, give it a full second season order, shows that they’re calling the right plays at last.

[Oh, and now that they can start firming up storylines for a second season, FNL should dedicate at least part of their budget to getting Jeffrey Dean Morgan to join the cast. A season where star Kyle Chandler and Morgan, who have huge chemistry together (witness their totally bitchin' Grey's Anatomy team-up...and yes, I'm aware that Grey's Anatomy is many things, but it is not totally bitchin', but Chandler and Morgan are), would pretty much get me watching this show from now until the end of time.]