by Malinda Lo
Tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC, the last four episodes of Friday Night Lights begin airing, leading up to the season finale on April 11. I recently caught up with the most recent episodes by watching them online, and it reminded me of how much I love this series. Unfortunately, the rest of the viewing public doesn’t seem to share my opinion. Ratings have been disappointing for NBC, averaging at just below 7 million viewers per episode. On the other hand, the show has a devoted fan following that is dedicated to urging NBC to renew the series for a second season (NBC will announce whether it’s renewed sometime in May), and critics everywhere seem to practically drool over the show.
The perception among many viewers may be that Friday Night Lights is a show about high school football — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, the show is based on the movie of the same name that is about football, and the main characters are all involved with a high school football team, but that’s not what the show is about. It’s like saying Lost is a show about people stranded on an island. Yeah, that’s factually true, but it’s about way more than that.
What is Friday Night Lights about? It’s about a teenage boy caring for his ailing grandmother; it’s about the complexities of race in a Southern town; it’s about a girl falling in love for the first time; it’s about children coming to terms with their parents’ faults. My favorite part of the show is Connie Britton who plays Tami Taylor, high school guidance counselor as well as wife to the high school football coach. She’s just brilliant: She’s steely, smart, sexy and real. In one memorable scene, she confronts her daughter, Julie (the adorable Aimee Teegarden), about seeing Julie’s boyfriend, quarterback Matt Saracen, buying condoms at the drug store. Her love, fear and urge to protect Julie is just heartbreaking, and in my opinion, is some of the finest acting I’ve seen on television lately.
For me, Friday Night Lights also evokes a lot of memories of my own high school experience. No, I wasn’t a cheerleader and didn’t love football, though I did make it to a few games. The show is set in the small town of Dillon, Texas, and the landscape of the show (it is all filmed on location outside of Austin) looks a lot like the place where I grew up. There are a lot of empty fields; people drive pickup trucks because they are only a generation removed from working on ranches; religion is part of life, but not necessarily all of it. It is a totally American feeling, and that is something that very few TV shows manage to capture.
The teens on the show are teens: They struggle with maturing into adults in an awkward, genuine way that I haven’t seen on television since Freaks and Geeks. And the adults on the show are adults: They struggle with being good parents, with their careers, with their love lives, and they are completely believable. If that’s not enough, the show has even included two lesbian characters in a way that was completely unexpected and yet very authentic.
The next four episodes may be the show’s last, so if you haven’t given the show a look before, I urge you to do so. If you can’t watch it online (or don’t enjoy watching TV on your computer), Bravo is airing repeat episodes of Friday Night Lights every Friday (one episode beginning at 7 p.m.) and Saturday (three back-to-back episodes beginning at 2 p.m.) through April 13. And if you find that you are as enamored of the show as I am, check out this comprehensive feature on the show at the Chicago Tribune.
Then come on back and tell me what you think of it.