There is hope for television yet
Every Fall when the new television season is rolled out, I invariably become emotionally involved in those series which are yanked by their networks after only a few episodes. I have an uncanny ability to pick the losers, probably due to the fact that I am drawn to bad television like a roving wolf to a rotting carcass, the smell of dead flesh too irresistible to ignore. Last season it was a show about a species of alien lizards poised to take over the world, our only hope being the intelligent, witty maneuvers of a large-breasted scientist who spent much of the series running around in a wet t-shirt. That one lasted 15 episodes, and although I didn’t see the ending I’m hoping that the buxom scientist saved the world with a computer hard drive as her dripping, tousled hair draped over her heaving, impenetrable chest. Up and down. Up and down.
This year most of the series I have checked out haven’t been very bad. In fact, several of them are quite good, and one even has changed my notion of television entirely. One is so brilliant that I’d be willing to offer up every bad television show I regularly watch just to keep the network from canceling it. I’d give up the reality shows that do nothing but create situations in which two 19-year-old girls try to extract flesh from each other’s heads, the cop dramas where suspects confess to murders within minutes because the attractive blonde investigator is just THAT GOOD, even the medical drama where the annoyingly whiny intern suffers a metaphysical crisis over which good-looking doctor to sleep with. I’m sorry, but you have got serious problems if you have to think twice about getting kinky with a man who has hair like that.
Friday Night Lights, this new brilliant series, is an aching portrait of a small town in Texas where high school football is religion. And while it is marginally about the game of football, it is much more about the boys who play it, the coach who has to lead and direct them, and the relationship between them and their community. Much like the movie that inspired it, the series is a sweeping canvas of electrifying music and moody images, and it chooses silence over noise to create its most stinging scenes of melodrama. It’s unlike any other television show in that it doesn’t feel like it has been art directed by a committee of humorless marketing executives who think that the louder they talk the more people will listen. It looks and sounds like it has been art directed by someone whose passion about life is so magnetic that you can’t help but hang on their every word.
I should come clean and admit that I am not a fan of football. I can appreciate the athleticism and intensity with which the players and coaches approach the sport, but the idea of spending a Sunday afternoon glued to a game for four hours is as appealing as clubbing my forehead with a rubber mallet. But somehow this show makes the game of football seem as nuanced and glorious as an Italian opera, and while there are scenes where the sound of helmets smashing into shoulder pads is almost deafening, the true beauty of this show is its quiet restraint, in the smoldering moments when the coach is faced with the pressures of an anxious community, with the raw adrenaline of his hot-headed teenage players, and he looks longingly over a plate of pork ribs into the eyes of his wife to gather strength. The story is just so human, so wonderfully human.
In the past week I have read several rumors that Friday Night Lights is on the verge of being canceled because it can’t seem to find an audience. And while that does frustrate me, I also feel a little guilty because I am exactly the type of person who keeps all those other awful shows on television, like the one where celebrities attempt to learn a new ballroom dance every week but instead look as if they are slaughtering infant goats when they get on stage. I am not proud of myself, and I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know it would feel so refreshing to like a television show for all the right reasons, because it is well written and directed and leaves me on the edge of my seat, because it reflects humanity far better than any reality show.