Friday Night Lights Goes Straight to the Heart
A Newsday review notes that in the acclaimed NBC series' second-season debut, Kyle Chandler's character is stunned when his crush-riven daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden, pictured) resists his inquiring about her life in the months he's been halfway across Texas coaching his new college team.
"What does this have to do with you?" Julie answers flatly, with her teen logic / obstinacy, and some justification.
Then things get worse. After she's been out half the night chasing a guy, dad arrives to retrieve his teary girl, who finally pours forth in the car.
Turns out she's just mortified that if she makes nice in this podunk town of Dillon, Tex., she'll end up like, yes, her parents.
The Season 2 premiere episode of Friday Night Lights presents her admission a bit too easily, and eloquently, but that's not the point.
The miracle here is, as they say about the frog who sings off-key, not how well it's done but that it's even done at all. Television doesn't deal with the heart anymore as acutely as this show does. Maybe TV never did.
- The way Chandler and long-distance wife Connie Britton look into each other's eyes, with innate knowing and bedrock devotion.
- The awkwardness of those desperate-to-mature high-schoolers, whether it's how to touch a girl's arm the first time or how to rebuild trust after they've stupidly slept together.
- And there are the adults they grow into, sometimes without growing at all. Friday Night Lights boldly lets characters screw up unspeakably or stew in silence, revealing volumes more than words ever could.
This is that rare case where the spin-off surpasses the original, writer-director Peter Berg weaving thicker webs here than he could in his 2004 feature film.
That one really was about high school football dominating its dusty Texas town. This one is about the people who devote themselves to the team's dream, which becomes theirs, because they so desperately need one.
NBC's first season fulfilled it on the surface.
Chandler's team won a state title, but Dillon' star quarterback was paralyzed in action, and his sweet cheerleader girlfriend, Lyla Garrity, fell in with a drunken fullback with the shattered home life, and the coach's daughter took up with the awkward second-string QB caring for his senile grandmother.
This fall, Kyle Chandler has moved up and away, miles from his pregnant wife and sulking daughter, hard-headed successor coach (Chris Mulkey) and Dillon's floundering team. Everything his steady presence had pulled together now threatens to rip apart. And all of this, busy as it may be, is fine.
Life is complicated, and Peter Berg's creation zooms close-up on that knottiness in urgent cinema-verite style.
The problem comes when the premiere unduly escalates the melodrama.
Coach's wife goes into labor early when he's far away. A horrific crime is committed, and covered up beyond any reason the show has established.
The troubled car salesman being supplanted as the team's biggest booster actually calls somebody a "hippie communist."
Life, death and other dovetailing ironies feel way overplayed.
But Friday Night Lights gets its groove back the next week.
That's when the script more shrewdly portrays the ways in which going outside of one's comfort zone can motivate growth, whether it's the cockily entitled college football star or a grandmother with an evaporating mind.
This show captures a distinct culture, and the people jockeying for places in it, trying to prove, mostly to themselves, that their lives have value. And so Friday Night Lights has more than almost any network show today.