So earlier today, I asked my fellow Tweeps whether I should re-watch Friday Night Lights, Doctor Who, or The West Wing. Twitter immediately answered my question. Someone named J. Cole released a mixtape called “Friday Night Lights”, and #fridaynightlights became a trending topic on Twitter. That was all the motivation I needed. It didn’t matter that it actually had nothing to do with the book, movie, or TV series. It was answer to my question, and I decided that I would start re-watching Friday Night Lights tonight.
This is a show based on the successful movie, which is based on the successful book. I’m not going to delve too much into those versions, though I should say that I’ve seen the movie and read the book, and both are excellent. The movie actually keeps quite close to what the book says, which is outstanding.
A TV adaptation is a little trickier. I believe that when you have the right story to tell, television is the perfect medium to tell it on. You can tell a long-form story over the course of a season that you can’t do with a movie, and you get the visuals you don’t get with books. But you have to have interesting stories. That’s the beauty of Friday Night Lights. And that’s why I decided to start this rewind series after watching the Pilot again. I’ve seen the first two seasons, and thought they were fantastic. I’m lucky enough right now to see that all four past seasons are on Netflix Instant, and that the current season will be its last. It’s a wonderful show, and will be great to blog about. I won’t spoil any details that lie ahead in my current episode reviews, and I ask you don’t do that in the comments either. I do welcome comments though.
PS – this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow summary. Rather, it’s going to be me touching on what I liked and didn’t like about the episode.
Without further a due, my thoughts on “Pilot”:
The episode opens with beautiful visuals of the Texas horizon. The show was actually filmed in Texas, and the use of great sunrise visuals are an awesome way to set the tone. The entire pilot uses a lot of scenery shots, which is wonderful. Right away, we hear the pressures that Coach Taylor is under and we’re thrown into snapshots of the characters we will come to care about. Street is practically perfect, Lyla is the perfect girlfriend, Riggins is a bum, Smash is brash, Saracen is a shy guy, etc.
I love the opening and love being thrown into this mess. We’re not going to have our hand held throughout this series. We’re going to have to think some of this out ourselves. Younger viewers could have easily missed that Riggins was hungover as hell when his brother woke him up on the couch. That’s too bad. You have to catch the small things. That’s probably why it didn’t catch on in broadcast television.
I think it’s hard to convey on television the amount of pressure Coach Taylor would actually be under right now. It’s never explained what happened to the old coach; only that Taylor has been with Street since the beginning of his career and that he’s stepping in to be head coach for the first time. And not just for any team either. This is the top-ranked team in the state. This would be like if some random assistant had stepped in for Alabama at the beginning of the season in college football. If anything goes wrong, it’s Taylor’s ass that’s on the line. And though the causal observer may wonder Coach is getting so much grief when he hasn’t coached a game yet, any sports fan that thinks about it will understand. In fact, I think Taylor expressed it best in my favorite line of the episode. His wife, Tami, was looking through the paper at houses that were for sale. When she asked Coach about it, he simply replied, “We rent.” He doesn’t want to make anything permanent. He knows he can be run out of town at any moment.
As for a quick rundown of the characters, we got what we could expect out of a pilot episode. No one is super fleshed out, but they’re all intriguing enough to make us realize the inevitable conflicts that could come. Racism is brought up, which is a distinct possibility in a Texas town. You can see that Tyra likes to stir the pot. It’s all fine and good. One of my favorite scenes of the episode is during the Thursday night bonfire when Riggins made the “Texas Forever” toast. You can see how him and Street really are good friends, despite their completely different demeanor. That’s what happens when you grow up with someone. But what’s really telling is when Riggins calls himself a “caretaker.” That is about to be tested in a very harsh, unfair way.
In any sports genre movie or show, when you see the backup get a lot of attention early on, you know he’s going to play some significant role on the field/court sometime in the near future. This was the case with Matt Saracen. As the game wound down, it was evident that Street was going to get some sort of injury, and Saracen would come in and save the day.
What set this show apart from many previous genre attempts, however, was the injury they chose to give Street. Most shows would go for a broken leg, a knee injury, a collarbone injury… something that is definitely season-ending, but not life-defining. FNL decided to go for a spinal injury. Street is unable to move his feet, and is taken off on a stretcher. Though Dillon comes back from 10 points down to win the game behind the miraculous play of Saracen and Smash (of course), the real backdrop of the show begins during the last scene. There, the entire team gathers as Coach Taylor goes to visit Street. He is shown lying in a hospital bed with screws in his head, braced so it stays in place. A horrifying scene. Street was an All-American quarterback with a scholarship to play at Notre Dame… now it’s unclear whether he’ll even walk again.
The show takes a brave step with this event. It’s clear that they aren’t going to be held down by the cliché sports genre shtick. And now there is an accident that’s happened that they can base an entire season around. There’s still plenty of football games to be played, but how can anyone focus when their local hero is not moving his legs? Great pilot that showed that the series has a ton of promise.
GRADE: B (there are a lot more episodes to come that are better, so I can’t set the bar too high).