Thursday, October 05, 2006

Friday Night Lights

I haven't read the universally loved book by Buzz Bissinger, but I admire the movie and expected the TV series to misfire. A weekly drama about high schoolers who play football sounded like a sporty Dawson's Creek, or, at best, serialized Lucas.

Tonight I caught the pilot on Tivo. It's as good as the adulatory reviews say. It knows how small-town kids look and talk -- and how they spar and drink and self-delude. Like the movie, it doesn't waste time with mechanical exposition or sentiment. It also owes a debt to The Last Picture Show, the best movie ever made about small towns, teenage sex, and Texas. In both, you can't tell what emotions are repressed and when people are just cluelessly numb.

In a few shots, the flatland panoramas look like they were pulled from an Andrew Wyeth painting.

If the pilot errs anywhere, it's a failure to integrate the football game itself into the narrative momentum. Unlike the film, where the games have the crushing tension and unpredictability of a real-life contest, the on-the-field developments in the series feature a grab-bag of plays and angles climaxing with injury and cliche.

The other great new show is called Ugly Betty, which is not geared toward me, and which I'm embarrased to admit that I love. It's a serialized comedy about a not-beautiful Queens College graduate working at a nasty fashion magazine. The title character is so endearing and pure, and she suffers so many petty cruelties at the hands of lesser people, that in both episodes I've felt genuinely moved by her. All credit goes to the lead actress, who knows how to portray vulnerable and tough, but doesn't overact or go for easy emotion. Due to the show, I've promised myself to be nicer at work and patient about little screw-ups.

Like Friday Night Lights, Ugly Betty isn't hung up on winking inside jokes, false hipness or misplaced "irony." As HBO quickly nears a post-Sopranos implosion, it has much to learn from the major networks.


Crunk Raconteur said...

I like that you mentioned Dawson's Creek because, on first watching Friday Night Lights my impression was, "Hey, a depressing version of Varsity Blues, except without Tweeter (or James Van Der Beek, for that matter)."

With a couple of days to think about it, though, the more I like the show. I guess I was just bitter about the "injury and cliche" you were talking about, and which I will refrain from talking about further to avoid spoiling it (although, seriously, it's about the most predictable thing ever). I thought the show had the potential to go in a different direction and do it well, so it was disappointing to see it fall back on the predictable.

It was just a pilot, however, and pilots are weird. It's certainly earned a spot on my Tivo for a while, because there is a lot of potential. This is a story that can be told well, and I hope they do.

As an aside, I wonder if there's any significance to the one guy being named "Saracen"...which is not the sort of word you would expect to come across in West Texas.

evil girl said...

read the book when you have a chance, i think flop may actually have my copy.