Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday Night Lights

As a former sports writer, this is a bit embarrassing for me to admit: I've never read "Friday Night Lights."

Because I've never read the book, I've also never seen the movie.

So it was pretty much with an open mind that I popped in the first two episodes of the new "Friday Night Lights" TV series (NBC, 8 p.m.)

To tell you the truth, it's a little odd to review it. On the one hand, I pretty much saw the direction every single plot point was heading in the pilot, not really a good sign for a TV series.

But at the same time, there was something oddly compelling about the show. Kyle Chandler ("Homefront," "Early Edition") is well-cast as a first-year high school football coach in a football-obsessedTexas town that offers little else. Equally strong is Connie Britton ("24," "Spin City") as his wife.

I found the high school kids to be drawn a little too two-dimensionally early on, the All-American quarterback, his head cheerleader girlfriend, the overly cocky tailback, etc., but the actors in those roles hit all the right notes.

Having covered high school football for the past dozen years or so, what rang most true was the portrayal of the townfolk, hundreds of Monday Morning Quarterbacks and would-be coaches themselves, opining on every single aspect of the team to the coach whether he asked their opinions or not. (Most of the time, he didn't). The pressure that the coach and the kids feel is very, very real.

Also, each episode is structured that the viewer wants to see what happens next - not really a cliffhanger, per se, but more of an open-ended story. I found myself eagerly wanting find out what's going to happen next.

The series could be one of the best NBC is debuting this fall, but the network isn't doing the show any favors by putting it in a timeslot that includes "NCIS," "House," "Dancing with the Stars" and "Gilmore Girls." In addition, the debut comes during the same night as baseball's postseason begins on Fox, which will likely draw away some viewers. However, NBC is re-airing the pilot on Wednesday at 8 p.m., pushing the debuts of "30 Rock" and "20 Good Years" back a week.

TV NEWS: Fans of the TV series "Blade" (me and three other people) are out of luck, as Spike has canceled the show after its only season, citing low ratings. It's a shame; the show was done much better than I thought it was going to be, taking the time to tell its story over a season and developing the supporting characters as much (or perhaps even better than) as the title hero.

Fans of Fox's struggling series "Justice" will get a brief stay of execution. The network has reportedly ordered three more episodes and the series will likely move to a new timeslot after the playoffs are over. I found "Justice" to be a bit repetitive early on, but there is enough interest there to stick with it for a little while at least.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: "Veronica Mars" begins its third season tonight (CW, 9 p.m.) with the title heroine beginning her first year at college.

I enjoy this series, though not as much as others do. It's one of those things that's been called underrated so long that it's a bit overrated. The first-season mystery was too easy; I solved it with four or five episodes left. Last season's mystery was extremely contrived, with clues placed so irregularly that the big reveal was a bit of a disappointment.

"Mars" gets compared most often to "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" because the shows are somewhat similarly structured around a supercool teenaged girl and her gang of friends.

But I prefer "Buffy," not for its supernatural themes (although they were a big plus), but for the way it developed the supporting cast. You could have a Willow-centric or Giles-centric episode, and the show didn't lose anything. On "Mars," there are some good supporting characters, but with the exception of Veronica's dad Keith (Enrico Colatoni), none of them have been fleshed out enough to have warranted more screentime. You won't see that Logan-centric or Weevil-centric episode unless Veronica (Kristin Bell) herself is directly involved in their case.

Also premiering tonight is "The Street" (BBC-America, 9 p.m.), a show about the intertwining lives of Londoners. I don't know much about it, but it's written by Jimmy McGovern ("Cracker"), in my mind one of the best writers in the history of television, so it's worth a gander.

Also, viewers may want to check out the synopsis of "Battlestar Galactica," running several times on the Sci-Fi Channel before Friday night's 2-hour debut. This is one of TV's best shows, period, and the recap is a perfect opportunity for old fans to catch up and new fans to summarize the previous two seasons. If you've heard the buzz about "BSG" and haven't had the chance to catch up, now you have no excuse.


Zodin2008 said...

Wow, so many shows to comment on Phillip.

First, "Blade". I was one of those other 3 people you talked about and despite Kirk 'Sticky' Jones limited acting range (which is fine for a part like 'Blade' frankly), I liked the show a lot and found the well developed supporting cast surprisingly strong. A nice cable show to say the least. But yes, I hate cliffhangers. I kind of wish they could do a two hour Spike telefilm to wrap the loose ends up but those things never ever happen.

Regarding "Veronica Mars", Yeah, I would agree that "Buffy" is the better show but then again, "buffy" is one of the best television series of all time, so it's not completely fair to give any negative remarks to "Veronica" from the standpoint (at least in my mind) that the show is one of the 5 or 6 best things on TV.

Furthermore, I don't agree with you bias towards the supporting characters whatsoever. keith Mars is excellent but this show over 3 years has strongly dveeloped many key supporting players like Logan (we know a LOT about him), Duncan Kane (who's character is gone now), Wallace (we know a lot more after last year though they kind of left the stuff with his dad, high & dry), Mac (who's a character that's grown into a regular role because of the strong performance by Tina Majorino) as well as Sherriff Lamb (who was also intended as a bit player but the performance by Michael Muhney was so good, that part grew also).

So, normally we agree on Television but your stinging criticisms of "Veronica" do not seem justified and paint way to broad a stroke.

As for "Friday Night Lights", I plan to check out this well reviewed show and though I also didn't read the book, I saw the movie and ironically, I didn't like the movie at all. However, the reviews have been so strong for the show, I am apt to check it out, plus, I don't watch any of those other shows you listed opposite it at 8 pm.

As for "Battlestar", well, all I can say is this is the best week of television all year with the season premiers of "Veronica", "Lost" and "Battlestar" all happening the same week.

It's Frakking awesome.

Phillip Ramati said...

I only gave negative remarks to Veronica because it is so often compared to Buffy.

I also never said the supporting characters were bad, just poorly developed. When Wallace was gone for several shows last year, did anyone miss him that much? Do people miss Duncan Kane now?

Imagine an episode of Buffy without Willow or Spike or someone like that. There would be a dropoff. Likewise, there have been whole episodes of Buffy that centered around the supporting cast, and the show never missed a beat. There hasn't been an episode of Veronica that hasn't centered around her or Keith; even when its one of the other characters in trouble, it's always Veronica's take on the situation.

More on Battlestar in Friday's post.