Tuesday, October 03, 2006

TV premiering tonight: Friday Night Lights

I'm not quite as gushingly enthusiastic about this show as Virginia Heffernan (who's positively orgasmic over it), but I did find the pilot the biggest pleasant surprise of the new season. I liked but didn't love the movie, and although the pilot follows a lot of the film's elements fairly closely (both were written and directed by Peter Berg), its style stands out a lot more in a network TV show than it does in a theatrical feature film. It's a teen drama that's not flashy or over the top, a serious look at a world and subject (small-town high school football in Texas) that most people are disinclined to take seriously. There is good acting all around, a resistance to grandstanding, and characters whose depths are just being plumbed in the pilot.

I'm just about as much the opposite of a football fan as possible, but I found this show really worthwhile and satisfying, and probably more so since it didn't come with the hype and expectations of stuff like Studio 60 or Heroes. Kyle Chandler wisely doesn't try to copy Billy Bob Thornton, instead making the coach's role his own, giving it more balance and a quieter intensity. The teen actors don't seem to be giving in to the trashy style of so many young stars, although the characters certainly do behave like teens.

In short, it's just a really good, engrossing drama, and I hope that it will find an audience. I worry that people like me who aren't sports fans won't give it a chance, and people who are sports fans may find it too introspective. NBC's been ramping up the promos lately, but I hadn't seen that much advertising before this week. It's got tough competition (Dancing with the Stars, NCIS, and, worst of all for attracting sports fans, baseball playoffs on Fox) and the added confusion of being a show with the word "Friday" in the title that airs on Tuesdays (which NBC mocks in this amusing YouTube ad). It would probably do much better if it could air before or after actual football games, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

I do worry a little about the show sustaining its structure (the pilot counts down the days until Friday, culminating in the big game), since focusing each episode on a must-win game would quickly lose its dramatic urgency. But there is more than enough material here that that doesn't have to be the case, and if the first episode is any indication, there are very few missteps in this show's future. NBC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.

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