I’ve watched the first three seasons of Friday Night Lights and after discussing the brilliance of season one, I feel the need to reflect a bit on the first three seasons, since they represent a transition point in the show. A transition faced by all shows that have a highly locational and temporal focus (in this case a High School) as characters age and need to graduate.
First I want to go back to season one.
After watching it I compared season one to Battlestar Galactica and True Detective, because of the way it’s filmed in the case of the former and it’s very evocative location and culture in the case of the latter. Having thought about it much more there is another show it reminds me of: The Wire. You might say that’s an even loftier comparison than the previous two shows? Yes it is. To be fair it falls short of The Wire, but not by an amount that should take anything significant from the show in season one. It’s like The Wire in that it’s about a group of people in a specific place, with its own culture and they are all trying to make their life within it. It just happens the culture is a small, depressed, religious, Texas town and the High School Football team everyone seems to put their hopes on, live vicariously through or see as a route out, rather than cops and drug dealers (I realise The Wire went to include schools and town politics, which Friday Night Lights touches on through its lens).
The good thing is it does this while being a much more positive and life affirming show. The marriage of the Taylor’s is one of the best written on TV. The aspirational choices of the various football team members and the problems they face are by and large positive. Coach Taylor is amazing, he should have got an award for that role as he managed to take what could have been a saccharine coated role of ‘Internet Life Coach’ statements and turned it into something else. That’s enough about season one, but suffice to say it’s very good.
Regrettably, season two is a bit of a mess. It’s actually still a very interesting show and it’s lack of quality is less about the season itself and more about the lofty heights of season one. It just feels more like a standard show than it’s inaugural season did. They run with a bit of a lame murder plot which doesn’t really make much sense and is resolved in a way that leaves glaring gaps in it. The focus moves away from the ever escalating pressure of the football season that framed the first season with the ever increasing pressure of the matches, the radio commentary and how this impacts the town to just being slightly more ‘general soap opera’. It’s not bad, it just becomes more normal. It then just ends, abruptly. The football season isn’t over. Characters stories are still really in motion. It’s very odd. A bit of research shows the season was supposed to be 22-episodes long but got cut short due to the Writers’ Strike, so this might explain a lot about season two.
Season three is much better, it returns the focus to the anchor of the football season. The season is shorter, which I think works for the show as there is only so long you can do 22-episodes a year about this stuff. A shorter seasons brings focus. I liked season three. It’s not season one, I’ve given up thinking the show will return to that, but it is very good. It’s very much a season about its beginning and end. The beginning is mired a bit, albeit it’s very interesting, by events that should have happened in the missing episodes and have still happened but you didn’t get to see them. A number of these things are pretty damned big and would have made a good final third for the second season. It’s also about the end as key characters are graduating in season two which means they exit the show if their future isn’t within Dillon. This means the season has a final season feel for characters you’ve been following from the beginning and that is done very well. It’s good stuff. It’s the whole college, life goals and future aspirations piece and Friday Night Lights does it very well.
The way to see it is this: Friday Night Lights is a great show. Season two is the weakest of the first three but it’s a far cry from terrible when compared to other shows. In truth, season two is still good. Season three is very good. The way to look at season one is it’s like the ridiculously good mini-series, albeit a very long one, that kick-started a TV show. It’s a whisker away from the quality of the The Wire which, considering its subject matter is pretty, bloody astounding.
It’s worth watching because three episodes in to series four and I’m fascinated again. The school districts have been split. Jobs have changed. The town has two football teams. We get to see what High School football is like when it’s not controlled by its generations of past heroes, albeit not perfect, but well meaning and instead by people who have their own goals in mind. It gets off to a very good start. Its hit the wall that all shows hit when their main cast out grows the locational and temporal crucible it’s set within and its done it extraordinarily well. Its managed to make it feel like a new, fresh show while not discarding what makes it great. Very clever.
Friday Night Lights, if like me you completely missed it, then you need to watch it. If nothing else watch series one as it does have a beginning, middle and end that’s self-contained enough, and it’s ridiculously high quality TV. I then defy you to not want to keep watching.