Friday, December 25, 2009

First thoughts on Friday Night Lights

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm going to attempt to play "catch up" with some of the more highly regarded TV shows of the Aughts that I may have missed during their first go-round. Freaks and Geeks was first up, and gets an emphatic recommendation from me.

Next, I popped in the DVD for season one of Friday Night Lights. I thought about watching FNL when it premiered, because I love football, enjoyed the movie, found the book fascinating, and generally appreciate director/producer Peter Berg's work. Plus, it featured the underrated Kyle Chandler (who is also a UGA alum!). However, it focused primarily on family dynamics and the lives of a bunch of kids and teenagers, and without a more compelling (for me) "genre" hook, it's just not a subject that particularly moves me to pick up the remote. Still, friends I trust suggested I watch, and along the way, it picked up plenty of critical hosannas (if not Emmy accolades).

Well, I'm 11 episodes into season one, and I have to admit, the show is pretty damned good. I won't do a full plot recap or even a critical analysis of the show thus far, but instead, just offer up a few stray observations:
  • Leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton do absolutely sensational work. Even though I'm only halfway through the first season, it's shocking to me that neither has been nominated for an Emmy. They both give life to real, three-dimensional characters, and make me believe in, and appreciate, their relationship. Just top-notch work.
  • Britton's Tami Taylor gains immediate access to MILF Hall of Fame, right there with Lorelai Gilmore.
  • Not sure if it's the video transfer, or the chosen result of the handheld shooting style, but the image quality is rather granular (though not in a completely distracting way).
  • Minka Kelly is scorching hot. I'm not sure she's a great actress.
  • What the hell is up with this "Landry" character? I can't get a handle on him.
  • I mentioned this on twitter, but there are some distracting "timing" issues. For example, one of the characters suffers a debilitating injury in the pilot / first game of the season. In a later episode, they're talking about the character's recovery, and how it's been two months since the injury. Then, in an unrelated scene, two other characters are discussing how the football team has played four games. Okay, even taking into account a bye week (which is actually shown on the show, in preparation for "rivalry week" against a big foe), that just doesn't make sense. Two months would be 8 or 9 weeks, yet only 4 games have taken place? It took me out of the show for a bit, but since I readily accept smoke monsters, time traveling islands, vampires, mind-wiped dolls, rodent eating aliens, cyborgs and other fantasy elements, I just moved on. Still, for a show that in every other way seems so grounded and realistic, it was annoying.
  • The scoring is by the legendary W.G. Snuffy Walden, a frequent Aaron Sorkin collaborator. While it's effective, and appropriately emotionally manipulative, I still feel like people should be walking endlessly down a hallway nattering on about unrealistically idealistic politics.
  • The football scenes are well shot, particularly for a television series, but thus far we've had way too many Rocky-esque miracle finishes. You could still convey the same heightened drama without all the hail marys, fumbles, staggering fourth quarter comebacks and diving last second touchdowns.
  • I understand the nature of small towns, but I really hope we don't continue to spend so much time in Dillon's churches.
  • There's been a refreshing lack of teen pregnancy, the old trope that infects virtually every high school show.
  • I'm the last person in the world to complain about political correctness or representation of minority characters, but thus far the two most prominent black characters (Voodoo and Smash) are irritating, cliched asshats. (And Aldis Hodge, so appealing on Leverage, is a total tool here as Voodoo. I wouldn't be surprised if we find out in season three he was involved in a dogfighting scandal).
  • Having gone to high school in a small southern town, the producers and writers totally nail the whole community vibe, without hitting you over the head with it.
  • As I mentioned, Chandler and Britton are both fantastic. Hell, you could take out all the kids, and I'd watch a show that consisted of nothing but them sitting around their house talking. Their interactions are realistic, compelling, grounded and adult, without being tedious or artificially dramatic.
And finally, on a completely trivial note, did I see Julie Mayer briefly show up as a shot-slinging trollop at the post-Homecoming party? (by "Julie Mayer," I mean actress Andrea Bowen, who plays Julie on Desperate Housewives). I looked at Bowen's imdb page, and did a cursory google search, but there's no record of her having appeared on the show. But I could have sworn it's her. Check out this grainy screencap:

That's all for now, and as you can tell, despite some initial misgivings and concerns, I'm impressed with FNL thus far and will continue to dive into the DVD sets.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose, y'all.

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