Game of the Season Begins for Friday Night Lights (Spoiler Alert Below)
The problem with NBC's Friday Night Lights is that it's not a showy success.
It doesn't have 24's flashy violence, Ugly Betty's giddy absurdity, Grey's Anatomy's sex-fueled soap or Heroes' bizarre adventurism.
It's just a quality drama about a community -- something we rarely see on TV anymore -- that refuses to pander while serving up compelling, realistic storylines about a town almost pathologically focused on high school football. See what I mean here.
And it's up to you whether it survives or not.
Us critics have done our part. We've written lots of loving reviews and handed the series a TV Critics Association award in July. But even as NBC gave this struggling drama a surprise renewal, they slotted it on the black hole of Fridays, when fans of the high school football which forms the backbone of this series will probably be out at a field watching their own team.
The other problem Lights has -- beyond a lack of stars, which keeps the curious from tuning in -- is that it isn't really a drama about football. So football fans probably feel there isn't enough of the game onscreen, while those who are ambivalent about sports don't bother tuning in at all. (catch up on old episodes here).
I don't mind saying this is another series I missed the boat on last year. But a look at tonight's debut episode shows a drama which expertly balances lots of moving parts. SPOILERS COMING -- Kyle Chandler's intense Coach Eric Taylor is seeing his family unravel after accepting a college coaching job in Austin, where he has been for eight months while his pregnant wife Tami (a sexy, principle Connie Britton) has held everything down.
Meanwhile, the new coach is unraveling Taylor's carefully assembled team, subjecting the players to a stream of hard nosed, abusive comments, kicking longtime boosters out of practices and threatening the development of shy quarterback Matt. Geeky football wannabe Landry is keeping up his flirtations with town vixen Tyra, eventually helping her deal with the man who is stalking her. And the birth of their new child forces the Taylors to face some hard truths about Eric's new job.
Doesn't sound much like a football-centered drama, I know. Truth is, the football-to-drama ratio goes up and down depending on the episode. And it seems producers have moved to limit the amount of gridiron shown in tonight's returning episode, airing at 9 p.m., just to keep from scaring off the often-female fans of Ghost Whisperer and Deal or No Deal.
Question is: will this Hail Mary pass eventually pay off?