Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Second thoughts on Friday Night Lights

After watching 11 episodes of S1 of FNL, I offered a few thoughts on the show. Well, now I've blazed through the remainder of S1 and all of the writers-strike shortened S2. Here's where I stand on the show:

I don't know if it's possible to love Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton more than I do. They're the primary reason to watch this show, and their acting is just unparalleled. Other actors who deserve significant praise include Brad Leland (booster Buddy Garrity), Jessie Plemons (quirky "sidekick" Landry Clarke) and Adrianne Palicki (Tyra). For the most part, the acting across the board is terrific, with the notable exception of Minka Kelly, who brings every single scene she's in to a screeching halt.

S1, despite a few plot contrivances and too many last minute football miracles, is pretty much a perfectly formed first season. It's right up there with some of the all time greats (Lost, Sopranos, Deadwood, Firefly, The Wire, etc.) in creating a believable and interesting world, and introducing us to all the characters therein.

However, season two? Yee gods, what a mess. Yes, there was a writer's strike, but you'd think the writers of S1 were still on strike all year and replaced in S2 by the scribes from One Tree Hill or 90210. There was a ridiculous and horribly handled murder. (Murder! CSI:Dillon!) There was the theft of a ferret-loving meth dealer's money. There was a ludicrous romantic subplot about a Latina caregiver. 47 different ways attempted to keep paralyzed QB Street still involved in the plot. Really, it's a testament to the power of Britton and Chandler (and a few strong drinks) that I was able to make my way through this FEMA disaster of a season with any fond memories of S1. Other things that kept cropping up that diluted my enjoyment of FNL:
  • I realize all shows can't be Arrested Development or Lost, where continuity and details are the gifts that keep on giving. But how old is everyone and what grade are they in? There's no way to tell, and the answer seems to be "whatever is convenient for the plot this week." I thought the Taylors were moving around from job to job prior to landing in Dillon, yet there are continued comments about them being there in town all their lives. Smash is supposedly a highly visible, highly recruited RB, yet in all the games we get to see, he's benched or performing poorly. The police investigation into, and legal ramifications of, the season-debilitating "murder plot" were so haphazardly handled you'd think Barney Fife was the town sheriff and the chicken from Futurama was the DA. Just....wow. It's one thing for a procedural, or a wacky sci-fi fantasy, to ignore last week's developments and just move on to another 42 minutes of entertainment, but for a show that wears its verisimilitude on its sleeve, FNL S2 bungled the details badly.
  • The handling of the "coach returns" story was also mishandled. We saw zero fallout, professionally, over his decision to leave a bigtime college program. We also saw none of the community reaction to his return, save for a few comments in the shower from Saracen and the occasional "sports talk radio" commentary.
  • I've bitched before about how much I hate kids and teenagers on my TV shows. Of course, there are exceptions (this show, Buffy, Glee, Freaks & Geeks and Gilmore Girls, to name a few) where the writing and the performances overcome the fact that Children: I'm Just Not That Into You. Some of the kids here (Tyra and Landry - except for their absurd plot - Saracen, Riggins) are terrifically watchable. But Julie, who was somewhat tolerable in S1, turns into a whiny, fast-forward button worthy brat in S2. After her behavior this year, I would completely understand if Coach and Mrs. Coach got separate bedrooms and never considered intimacy again. But the worst of all is...
  • Lyla. Yes, the perhaps soon to be Mrs. Jeter is very attractive. But wearing a cheerleader uniform doesn't make you an actress, or Toni Basil would have been nominated for an Emmy. She is a terrible, terrible actress. And saddled with even worse plotlines. Turning into a sanctimonious Jesus freak, who winds up dating smug asshat Logan Huntzberger, while becoming the obsession of otherwise man about town Riggins? Ugh. Every time she pops up on the screen, I want to commit sepaku on my couch. Has anyone this talent-deficient been regularly featured on such a critically acclaimed show? Maybe the Sopranos kids?
  • And speaking of kids, we add two frakkin' babies to the mix? The Coach-tot, and now, the miracle spawn of Jason Street and his one night stand waitress? Can we PLEASE just play some football games, and have the team debate the merits of the 3-4 vs. the 4-3 or something?
It sounds like I'm complaining a lot about season 2, and I guess I am. But the thing is, the show engendered such goodwill with its rookie season, and Britton and Chandler are so spectacular, that I'm willing to give this trainwreck a pass and move on to season 3 to see if it has a sizeable rebound even close to the quality of what came before.


  1. Dude, I am totally with you on Season 2, but definitely stick with it. You will be rewarded in season3, for sure.

    Some of the logic holes (age of the kids, what is the Taylor history) are still not addressed to my liking, but the acting and writing are splendid enough that I'll overlook it.

    As for Julie...I have teenage daughters. Is Julie annoying? Yes. Is she realistic?....YES.

  2. I started this post a couple of weeks ago, got distracted, forgot about it, and then just found it and finished it tonight. By now, I'm already a few eps into S3, and you are right, a HUGE improvement. Still some logic problems, and still too much Lyla (which for me, is 1 minute of screen time), but much, much better.

    Julie has evened out, too (if your kids are anything like S2 Julie, my advice to you would be the same as Bluto's to Flounder)

    I'll just chalk this up to the strike, and perhaps NBC wanting more "dramatic" stories, and hope it keeps up like it has thus far in S3 with the more naturalistic scripts and the "Mini-Marinovich" subplot.