Autumn isn't really autumn in L.A. Sure, temperatures may drift downward into the 70s and (if we're lucky) 60s rather than the 80s and 90s. And sure, the evenings cool off quicker and some types of deciduous trees (if you can find them) shed their leaves. Sure, Starbucks has their pumpkin spice lattes and caramel apple ciders. One can even find a local pumpkin patch after enough Googling.But for a Midwestern boy like me, it will never feel quite right.
I'm going to be writing more about the show this summer as it finishes its run on NBC, but for now I'll just say this: I'm so thankful for Friday Night Lights--for so many reasons. It was a rare show that took beauty, truth and goodness seriously, and which favored earnestness and simplicity in a medium that increasingly seems to prefer gimmicky, trite, cynical and overblown. I appreciated Lights because of how complicated it was, how hard it was to classify. I appreciated it because it featured the best portrait of a marriage I've ever seen on television.
We live in a time when "authenticity" is equated with those things or those people who are forthright in their brokenness and messiness, while stable, happy people are sometimes looked upon with skepticism, as if their lack of apparent problems makes them phony or untrustworthy. Our jadedness leads us to a sort of self-reinforcing stasis of raw brokenness, because this is what we believe. This is what we know. But what we really need are models of goodness & virtue in our lives... figures of hope who can motivate us out of the cycle of dreary cynicism.
Lights is a show about contemporary life. Small town, Texas life. Drenched in nostalgia, adolescent angst, and Midwestern truisms (Dairy Queen, sports radio, Applebees), the show bursts forth with quotidian drama. The Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award-winning show is elegant, mature American art, at once a soft spoken tone poem—recalling the literary Frontier of Willa Cather, Horton Foote or The Last Picture Show—and a tumultuous tableaux of soap opera with the kinetic Americana of Thomas Hart Benton or Aaron Copland.
In 2020, will there be TV anymore? Who knows. But on the off chance that the death of television hasn’t been greatly exaggerated and is indeed imminent, we can at least celebrate the good twilight years that were the 2000s. In case TV fades into oblivion or merges with the Internet or something, this wasn’t such a bad decade to have ended on. Here are my picks for the best TV shows of the decade.
The fourth season of Friday Night Lights premiers tomorrow night on the 101 channel of DirecTV (for those of us fortunate to have DirecTV... I bought mine solely for FNL). I urge you to watch it if you can! Find someone with DirecTV! Or search for it online. Or wait until 2011 and watch it on NBC. Just don't miss it!
I was born and raised on the banks of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a sandy and humid spot to grow up—full of pecan trees and azaleas and armadillos. People were nice, and most everyone seemed to be working hard to support their families and maybe earn enough to put in a below-ground pool. And football was huge. From elementary school on up, it was the thing to do.
It’s true (at least for those of us who have DirecTV!). Television’s most undervalued show began its third season last night on the 101 channel on DirecTV. Fear not, it will be on NBC as well… just not until sometime in early 2009. I admit it: I pretty much bought DirecTV so I could watch the first run of FNL’s new season. That’s how much I like this show.
In what could be the happiest news of this Lenten season, reports are surfacing that NBC has decided to bring Friday Night Lights back for a third season! The ink has yet to dry on the deal (which has not been officially reported by NBC), but it appears that the peacock network has teamed with DirectTV for a co-finance, co-airing strategy that will ease the burden on NBC to justify higher ratings for the underseen show. The network has been in similar talks over the past month with several networks--CW, USA, even ESPN--but it appears that DirectTV was the one that finally coughed up the needed sum to make NBC happy. Thank you!
Fans of the low-rated show have been in fearful limbo since it ended its second season on an abrupt, Writer's Strike-induced note last month. Lights has been consistently low-rated (averaging around 6 million viewers) and yet critics have showered praise and awards on the show since it's debut in 2006. A dedicated band of diehard Lights fans have been circulating online petitions and bombarding the offices of Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman (NBC pres) with little "Save FNL" foam footballs over the last several weeks. Whether this little bit of grassroots effort pressured NBC into making the decision to renew or whether it was a band of NBC execs who lobbied hard internally for the show, I don't know. All I know is that Lights is still the best show on network television, and a third season demands to be seen by more viewers.
As you know, I loooove lists... so if you thought I was going to limit myself to one "best of 2007" post on Dec. 31 and that's it, you'd be mistaken! "Best of the Year" frenzy begins today on The Search, and will go through the end of the month (culminating with my top ten movies of 2007 on New Year's Eve!)
So, to kick things, off, and because this category has no risk of missing any latecomer additions, today I'm listing my picks for the best television shows of 2007:
10) American Idol (Fox): What can I say? As trifling as it is, this show is the most compelling television for four months out of the year... I'm addicted.
9) The Hills (MTV): Am I joking? Sort of… But anyone who has seen this show must admit it has a definite “can’t turn away” quality. Plus, from a theoretical, “what is real?” point of view, the show is fascinating.
8) Project Runway (Bravo): Continues to be the most interesting, consistently quality reality series on television.
7) The Daily Show / Colbert Report (Comedy Central): Yes, these are two different shows, but the spirit is the same in both. It's the Comedy Central "newsblock," and it's ridiculously fun to watch.
6) Rome (HBO): HBO's Caesar series only had two seasons, but its great cast (a who's who of British thespians) and classy period melodrama made for some really good, highbrow TV.
5) The Office (NBC): Gets better and better every season… the cast has nailed down the nuances and hilarious quirks of their characters, and the writing is consistently dead-on.
4) Lost (ABC): This show redeemed itself near the end of its third season, reminding us all why we got so addicted in the first place. Can’t wait for its January return!
3) 30 Rock (NBC): Miles above the majority of comedy on TV in terms of sharp, culturally astute humor. Tiny Fey, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan lead the funniest ensemble cast since Arrested Development.
2) Mad Men (AMC): Who knew AMC was in the business of making amazing one-hour dramas? This 60s period piece (about Madison Avenue ad men, their whiskey and their women) was the best new series on TV this fall—with great acting, glossy eye candy, and sharp social commentary.
1) Friday Night Lights (NBC): I suppose it’s getting repetitive by now, but this show really is the best thing on TV. The acting, writing, production, and general “breath of fresh air” spirit of the whole thing is really unrivaled among network shows. Here’s hoping it’ll survive for a third season!
So this Friday night (10/5) at 8/7pm, do me a favor: turn your T.V. to NBC. You don't have to watch (though you should), and you don't even have to be home. But please have your televisions tuned to the show, Friday Night Lights. If not for me, do it for art, or at least the future of good T.V.
Season Two of Lights begins this Friday night, and hopefully (with your help) will not end until next May. I can't tell you how great this show is in less than 1000 words, but if you want to hear me go on and on about it, read my new article for Relevant magazine.
In the meantime, you don't have to take my word for it… take the word of almost every critic in America, who joins me in aching for this show to be more widely seen and appreciated. Here are just some of what others have had to say about Lights:
Tom Shales, Washington Post
“Extraordinary in just about every conceivable way—but especially in the quality of its cast… "Friday Night Lights" is great, heavy-duty, high-impact TV.”
Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times
“With any luck, popular success will follow the critical, because pretty much everyone who sees "Friday Night Lights" falls hard. With its fuzzy lighting and slow-as-a-summer-night cadence, it's the antithesis of many of the slick hyper-dramas ruling the airways. It attempts to show life for folks who live without a freeway or a subway, complete with ugly violence and choked-back silence.”
Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle
“Friday Night Lights is not good. It's great… If viewers get over their preconceived notions about what they think this series is about and actually give it a shot, they'll be as stunned as everyone else.”
Adam Buckman, New York Post
“The best live-action show about contemporary life in America that is currently on the air.”
Robert Bianco, USA Today
“Lights has a rare ability to portray life in small-town America without being condescending or sentimental.”
Bill Simmons, ESPN
“It's the greatest sports-related show ever made… Every nuance is nailed, every hug seems genuine, every fight makes sense, every sarcastic barb and flustered reaction ring true. If there are better TV actors than Kyle Chandler (Coach) and Connie Britton (Mrs. Coach), I haven't TiVoed them.”
Matt Roush, TV Guide
“Friday Night Lights moves me like no other show. It reminds me of where I came from and of what it truly means to keep one’s eye on the ball. And yet, as wrenching as the show can be, it’s also terrifically entertaining, with plenty of dry wit, edge-of-the-seat suspense, sexy romance and even the occasional laugh-out-loud moment.”
Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune
“I not only think it's the best show on network television, I also think it’s as good as The Wire… This extraordinary drama lets us peek inside the lives and the minds of people who aren’t any different than we are, who are struggling with the mundane and major problems of real life. And it’s done with such subtlety, surprising wit and grace, that at the end of every hour, I devoutly wish it wasn’t over.”
American Film Institute—Television show of the year (2006):
“FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is a celebration of America - its hopes and dreams, its heart and its heartland. Rare is the show that presents family and faith in such an authentic way - rich with emotion and illuminated by the pulse-quickening thrill of football. Peter Berg's small town tale is one with community at its core, but universal in scope - the struggle of winning and losing, the drive to reach for more and the challenge of seeing a future beyond the glare of Friday night's lights.”
Peabody Award (2006):
“No dramatic series, broadcast or cable, is more grounded in contemporary American reality than this clear eyed serial about the hopes, dreams, livelihoods and egos intertwined with the fate of high-school football in a Texas town.”
Television Critics Association: Friday Night Lights won “Outstanding New Program” in 2007.