Everybody who's ever been a parent, or a teen, or
especially a parent of a teen, can relate to the restrained insight of "Friday
Night Lights." In the acclaimed NBC series' second-season return, Kyle
Chandler's character is stunned when his crush-riven daughter resists his
inquiring about her life during the months he's been halfway across Texas
coaching his new college football team.
"What does this have to do with you?" she answers flatly, with teen
logic/obstinacy, and some justification. And things get worse. After she's been
out half the night chasing some bar-band stud, dad arrives to retrieve his
teary girl, and she finally pours forth in the car. Turns out she's just
mortified that if she makes nice in this podunk town, she'll end up like, yes,
Now tonight's episode 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 singing off-key, not how well it's done but that it's 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, without in
some ways growing at all. "Friday Night Lights" boldly lets its characters
screw up unspeakably or stew in silence, revealing volumes more than all the
apt words in the world 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 state. But the
star quarterback was paralyzed in action, and his sweet girlfriend fell in with
his 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, coach Chandler has moved up and away, miles from his pregnant
wife and sulking daughter, hard-headed successor coach (Chris Mulkey) and
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 Berg's creation zooms close-up on that knottiness in urgent
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
But "Friday Night Lights" gets its groove back next week, when the script
more shrewdly portrays the ways in which exiting 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.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. The affecting family/community drama begins its second
season a bit too-affected, then gets its heartwrenching groove back. Tonight at
9 on NBC/4.