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Friday Night Lights and the Emmy Awards

TV series photos Friday Night Lights

A Sucker Born #1 – ‘Clear eyes, full hearts…’

– by Clinton Hallahan

A few weird things happened at the Emmys on Sunday night. TV lacks a true Bjork type, so those weird things thankfully took place during the ceremony and not for the cameras on the red carpet while extras from Dollhouse asked vapid questions about dress designers.

No, for the first time in quite awhile, an awards show surprised me because it picked some deserving winners. Not only did the most badass gangster in the old south, Margo Martindale, take home gold for her legendary turn as Mags Bennett in Justified, but NBC’s red-headed stepchild Friday Night Lights made off like a bandit. Luckily, the wins give me a chance to talk about a show you never watched but really should have.

Justified photos Margo Martindale

Margo Martindale in Justified.

In a field of nominees including the perennially underrated Timothy Olyphant (currently kicking ass regularly on the perennially under-appreciated, aforementioned Justified) and the grotesquely overrated Steve Buscemi (in this instance. His work outside Boardwalk Empire notwithstanding), someone nobody thought had a shot came up the middle and stole the limelight.

Kyle Chandler wasn’t just the most unlikely to walk away with a statue last night, but one of the most deserving. It wasn’t just a “due” award either. The episode submitted for the nomination was the series finale of Friday Night Lights, though most of his work would have worked just as well.

Friday Night Lights photos Kyle Chandler

Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights.

Chandler anchored the Texas football drama through five seasons and endless shifting from network to cable to satellite direct subscriber special club nonsense with poise and style. While similar shifts have waylaid even greater shows (looking at you, Buffy), Friday Night Lights did the (nearly, with respect to The Shield) impossible over its 76 episodes: It kept getting better. Last night, in the heavily contested Lead Actor in a Drama and Writing categories, the show got the send off it deserved.

So what is Friday Night Lights and why should you care? A solid question that deserves an answer. Friday Night Lights was a television program on NBC (and DirectTV) developed by Peter Berg based on a film, Friday Night Lights, directed by Peter Berg, adapted from a book called Friday Night Lights by a man named H.G. Bissinger. It’s about football and teenagers. That’s simplistic, but that’s about as much of a chance some people give the show and the film. The secret is that the narrative and the world of highly competitive high school football programs in all three forms makes for some exciting narrative.

But what makes FNL different? Why should you give a damn in light of any other sports movie or show? Well, for a few reasons.

1) It accidentally invented Explosions in the Sky

Right away I’ve sort of lied. Texas post-rock innovators Explosions in the Sky already had a bunch of work and a few of their best records in the can by the time they were tapped to score the film adaptation of FNL. It seems like a minor trait, but the Explosions score sets the tone for both the film and the series it spawned. The marching snare and guitar swells and climaxes are wrought on the record, but when you assign them to a bunch of kids trying so hard to be adults, so hard to be a winner for seemingly everyone but themselves, it becomes a neo-Wagnerian soundtrack to the death of the American dream. It’s married to that faux-documentary style that’s just so trendy these days and some of the best music supervising in a teen soap (or any show) since The O.C.. Musical bits to The Flaming Lips’s “She Don’t Use Jelly”? Don’t mind if I do. The show just bleeds a modern style and the chances they take within an established formula of form and tone set it apart.

Explosions in the Sky photos Vancouver

Explosions in the Sky at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, Sept 9 2011. Anja Weber photo

2) The adults are as interesting as the kids.

Teen dramas tend to focus on a bunch of kids being brats and then undergoing some sort of revelation to make them less crappy as human beings. The parents involved are either totally absent or hilarious caricatures of ultra-religious/abusive/generally icky people that pop in and out of the lives of their children with little consequence. This is understood and has got us this far without incident. The O.C. being the modern template for the standard teen soap [1], that doesn’t cut it anymore.

Kyle Chandler won his Emmy for playing Dad to the entire town of Dillon, Texas, Coach Eric Taylor. Alan Sepinwall described him as “the best on-screen dad since Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch”, and he isn’t far wrong. Chandler is fascinating as a man dealing with the expectations of a small town football coach in a situation that most couldn’t’t fathom – the eyes of a town on your back, the pressure to groom (and raise) a group of young men to save your job while juggling a family. Alright, that professional and family pressure sounds pretty par for the course, but Chandler does it beautifully and his equally talented co-star Connie Britton [2] gels so well with him creates the most endearing television couples of all time.

Friday Night Lights photos Connie Britton

Connie Britton as Tami Taylor Friday Night Lights.

3) Football is awesome.

Just because you’re a nerd or don’t like football doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the perfect metaphor of athletic achievement. Don’t be a snob.

This year’s Emmys were just a confirmation of what many knew already: Friday Night Lights is required viewing. It’s rare that a teen drama is approached with as much care and nuance as this beleaguered series, and it sets the example for the brains a modern network drama should have in its head. I’m sad to see it go, but happy to see it go in style. Watch it.

Oh, one more thing: My name is Clinton and I’ll be writing stuff like this from time to time. I’m just chuffed to make your acquaintance.

[1] Ones based on vampires or witches or werewolves post-Twilight not included.

[2] Enhance your television experience: Connie Britton plays a late ’80s football mom as the wife of head coach Gaines in the film version of Friday Night Lights and the 2005 football mom/wife of head coach Eric Taylor in the TV show. Just imagine that she is the daughter of the film version wife to double your pleasure! The same goes for Timothy Olyphant in Justified. Just think of him as the son of Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood! (With apologies to Brie Weir).

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