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On Oct. 3, 2006, NBC debuted a new football drama, Friday Night Lights, that went on to run for five seasons and nab 13 Emmy nominations. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
With some TV series, the location is the draw, which partly explains why so many are set in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Las Vegas. Friday Night Lights is set in a nothing Texas town, a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see the “Welcome to …” and “You are now leaving …” signs on the same pole. And yet there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself wanting to come back week after week.
The series, inspired by the captivating book by H.G. Bissinger, draws you in with its deceptively simple focus on a high school football team, the Dillon Panthers. The Panthers are no ordinary team. They were picked No. 1 in a preseason ranking. And, because of that, Dillon is no ordinary town. Stores close on Friday, when the Panthers play. The rest of the time, the team dominates practically every conversation.
How can the average viewer relate to people who drop everything to attend the opening of a car dealership? How is it possible to portray these small-town people, with their one-track minds, without a lick of condescension? By finding and concentrating on the common humanity. Director-writer Peter Berg understands completely, and he explores the psychology of team sport and the dynamics of personal tragedy with great sensitivity.
Also, filming in Austin adds to the authenticity. Berg’s direction gives the series a gritty, dusty feel that would have been hard to capture on a backlot or Valley location.
The show stars Kyle Chandler as good-hearted coach Eric Taylor. He became coach after five years as offensive coordinator. It’s a great promotion — he’s now the most important person in town — but, as one of his coaches points out, given the past success of the team and the predictions for the coming season, he has nowhere to go but down.
The team’s not-so-secret weapon is its quarterback (Scott Porter), a magnet for major college scouts who, despite all that, has remained levelheaded. Other star players on the team are trash-talking running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) and Tim Riggins, a good ol‘ boy linebacker (Taylor Kitsch). Deep, deep in the background is sophomore backup quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gifford), who is more dumbfounded than anyone in the stands when his number gets called.
Episodes unravel, day by day, building suspense as the big game approaches. Meanwhile, smaller personal dramas play out, deftly creating a colorful portrait of Lone Star life. The series will have to gain traction against the closing episodes of ABC’s runaway hit, Dancing With the Stars. If it gets past that front line, there will be fewer tacklers downfield. — Barry Garron, originally published Oct. 2, 2006.
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