Friday Night Lights – Episodes 1 & 2 – TV Review

I like this show.  I’m a sucker for a good family drama.  Party of Five, Everwood and American Dreams were all programs that successfully blended realistic family dynamics with soap opera elements and strong casting to create memorable shows.  After watching the first couple of episodes of Friday Night Lights, I think it could be the next great family drama.

The show take place in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, a town that worships God and high school football.  Kyle Chandler is the new coach of the Dillon Panthers and when the show begins he’s heading up a winning team led by its star quarterback, Jason Street.  Street has the adoration of his town, his coach, his team, college scouts and his cheerleader girl friend.  It wasn’t much of a surprise that Street has an accident in the first game that puts him in the hospital and puts the team’s fate in the inexperienced sophmore back-up quarterback who for some reason has never played in a real game, but leads the team to victory.  Here’s what was surprising, they made Street a character I cared about.  He could have been a throw away character but instead I’m becoming invested in how he is going to build a new life in Dillon with football all around him.

Other team members include: Smash, the cocky reciever, his rival the drunk running back and the new quarterback who works in a burger shop, takes care of his grandmother and has a father who is off in Iraq and isn’t ready to fulfil the role his team and town expects from him.  All are compelling and as with the family dramas listed above are played by casts of unknown actors.

The other main character is football itself which is part of the town’s DNA.  The city shuts down for every game.  Signs cheering the team on are on every person’s lawn.  Even bookclub discussions with the coach’s wife are about football.  It becomes clear that the coach doesn’t have one boss but an entire town of bosses who expect wins and won’t tolerate losses, a task that he fears may not be possible after Street’s accident.  The story of how and whether he can make it work is just starting to unfold and based on what I’ve seen so far is not likely to be as conventional or simple as the typical feel good show.

One last thought I want to share.  I’ve commented in the past few weeks on what I think has been a weak portrayal of religion and a person’s religious beliefs on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as embodied by Sarah Paulson’s sledgehammer approach.  This show has religion much more at the forefront of the show but I don’t feel hit over the head with it like they’re trying to make a statement all the time but instead think they have been significantly more successful at just making it a natural fit with the characters and town’s way of life.

I’m worried this show isn’t going to last too long given its ratings but am hopeful that critical acclaim will keep it going at least through the season.

Avi’s Episodes Rating: A

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