9.24.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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the best show you're not watching
and probably can't
by michelle von euw

Once upon a time there was this television show about a high school football team in small town Texas. And the show was totally predictable, and yet, totally brilliant. For the first time in the history of television, it managed to matter not in the slightest that every move was telegraphed in advance. Or that every character was based on a stock stereotype. Or that a bunch of unknown pretty-boys filled out the cast.

Because every freakin’ moment of the first season of the show was gold. Stereotypes were shattered. Characters became deeper, more complex, less willing to play to type, thanks to fantastic writing and phenomenal acting. High quality cinematography captured a white-washed town at daybreak on the edge of something different than anything else on television. Dillon, Texas is somewhere you never want to be, and at the same time, somewhere you want to come home to, week after week.

You know these people. You know the kid whose whole life disappeared in an instant. You know his best friend, the boy without parents who gets by on his charm. You know the cheerleader caught between them. You know the girl with the bad reputation who can’t wait to get out. You know the talented athlete carrying the expectations of his whole family, his whole church, his whole community on his slim shoulders. You know the girl who’d rather die than end up like her parents. And you know the kid who has had to work, two, three times as hard as everyone else around him, and can never quite catch a break.

The show is stocked with characters who you can’t just call by their first or last names. No, it’s Jason Street, Tim Riggins, Lyla Garrity, Buddy Garrity, Matt Saracen, Smash Williams. Tami Taylor. Coach Taylor. They are that complex, that rounded, that significantly on the screen, that full names aren’t just important; they’re mandatory.

That was the first season of “Friday Night Lights,” a season that began with Jason Street’s paralysis and ended with the Panthers winning the state championship, and on the page, it looks clichéd and expected, but the way it played out was nothing short of perfect. (You don’t believe me? Check it out yourself: NBC.com has the entire first season online. You don’t even have to wait for Netflix to bring you all the discs.)

There are a few shows that have managed to string together a perfect season of television, particularly a first one; there are even fewer shows that have managed to build on that perfection and put forth something equally as strong in their sophomore outing. Sadly, “Friday Night Lights” was not one of them.

Because when all this brilliant stuff that transcended football, transcended sports, transcended high school was going on, you weren’t watching. You were too busy voting for Blake Lewis or gushing over the Addison-McDreamy-Meredith triangle to notice. Maybe you don’t like sports. Maybe you don’t like Texas. Maybe your season pass was already overloaded, and you didn’t want to add on a show based on a movie based on a book.

Therefore, you won’t mind if I blame you for season two.

Because, following in the footsteps of many, many shows with massive critical acclaim and teeny, tiny ratings, “Friday Night Lights” changed its ways. In an attempt to get you to watch this show, it switched nights for the third time – to Fridays, thinking maybe you’d enjoy the synchronicity. Worse, it incorporated supposedly sexier storylines (a murder? Really?) that twisted the characters in awkward directions and made them look foolish, and cycled in a slew of new faces picked off from other shows (“Gilmore Girls,” “Veronica Mars,” “One Tree Hill”), hoping that you’d tune in to watch a nurse with an accent seduce a 17 year old. Only Coach and Tami Taylor escaped from the debacle of season two with their full dignity, and I believe that’s all we need to say about that.

With a product that’d been sharply reduced in quality, ratings became even more miniscule, and there was not much hope for a season three. And after season two, I wasn’t sure I even wanted one. But then something really strange happened: for some reason, DirecTV stepped in to save “Friday Night Lights” from certain cancellation, and the series lived to film another 13 episodes.

The satellite TV provider cut a deal with NBC to shoulder a chunk of the production costs, in exchange for exclusive rights to season three in 2008. All the extraneous characters and plotlines brought in during season two were axed, and a lavish advertising campaign designed around eight core leads from season one hit the airwaves and the national media. And now every Wednesday at 9 PM, my television set switches automatically to channel 101 -- a channel I’d never even heard of before – and gives me 40-some minutes of commercial free, perfect television.

And it is perfect. Again. I had my doubts – news that the show was phasing out both Smash Williams and Jason Street disappointed me, but their final storylines so far have been brilliantly done. I managed to get over my disbelief that Tim Riggins and Lyla Garrity are seniors for the third time by the end of the season opener. And for the most part, I’m happy to report that the show has returned to its season one highs.

As for the DirecTV deal, I don’t for one second understand how this works. NBC will air season three – a season I’ve already been enjoying for the last six weeks – in January, and I have no idea how anyone expects to make any money off a show that was new to a segment of the American public three months before. It seems like bad business all around: real diehards will either subscribe to DirecTV or, more likely, watch the show in other, less legal ways. When the shows do air on network TV, the ratings are bound to be smaller, to reflect those of us with satellite dishes.

How does this make any sense?

It's a bit frustrating to know that the best show on television is once again worthy of that title, and there’s nothing you can do about. It’s not that you won’t watch it, it’s that most of you can’t.

So for the next three months it gets to be my little secret. And I won’t tell you anything else, except this: it’s a good one.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


the amazing couch
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topic: television
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kiss and television
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topic: television
published: 8.6.01


jael mchenry
11.12.08 @ 9:03a

It crushes me that there are episodes of this show that I haven't seen. But I am patient. Ish.

Also, I want to have one million of Matt Saracen's babies.

Really glad to hear the show pulled out of its S2 tailspin. And even gladder you didn't give anything away!

sandra thompson
11.12.08 @ 8:04p

Thanks for the good news that season three is ahead of me. My daughter simply could not understand what possessed me to watch a show about high school football in Texas. The guy who plays Tim Riggins is the sexiest thing I've seen since "A River Runs Through It" gave us Brad Himself. She came into my room once while Riggins was on screen, and said, "Oh, I see." She's a clever girl.

mike julianelle
1.16.09 @ 9:39a

The FNL season starts on NBC tonight! Psyched!

Michelle, did the season pan out as well as promised?

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