Will Friday Night Lights burn out or fade away?

Originally published in BostonNow

Now that the writers are officially back (congrats, and welcome) life can finally get back to normal. We can stop reading books again, get back to eating our dinners from a TV tray and start petitioning networks not to cancel one of the best shows currently running.

Of course we’re talking about Friday Night Lights here. Who isn’t? Thanks to some negative off the cuff comments from NBC exec Ben Silverman and the news that last Friday’s episode represented the last the cast and crew were able to complete prior to the writer’s strike and you have a lot of people realizing all at once that they may have seen the last of the Taylors, Riggins, Garrity, et al.

And, as much as I want to see it continue, I’m not entirely convinced the quick death isn’t the best available fate. That’s how much I like the show, but that wasn’t always the case.

While there were a number of noteworthy critics lauding Friday Night Lights from the pilot episode, I gave the show a rather tepid but hopeful review after one episode. While relying too heavily on the precedents set by the book and the movie, I wrote the following:

 

“No longer set in 1988, the school is now the fictionalized Dillon. The players, while drawing heavily on their real-life models, aren’t real either. The super-quick cuts and Explosions in the Sky soundtrack are carried over from the film, but at this point the topic isn’t new…It’s become hyper-realistic, so bizarrely true that we don’t even notice anymore.”

 

I was wrong. The characters have revealed a depth that puts any reality show star to shame, the very people who are supposed to be real, relatable. Tim Riggins, in the 30-plus episodes we’ve seen thus far, has easily become the most compelling character on television, drinking pitchers before practice, yearning desperately for the girl who has made the breaks he’s never been able to catch. (And his hair reminds women of Jesus, so there’s that.)

Up against American Idol for most of its first season, FNL struggled for viewers. Websites started sprouting up in support of the show and,after some deliberation, NBC renewed it for a second season. On Friday nights.

As many predicted, the crappy time slot put the show in an almost impossible position. It’s tough to draw viewers on a night when there aren’t any and even the critical approval of sports-culture figureheads like Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman can’t replace the ad revenue that the show apparently cannot deliver. We’re not making art here, we’re pushing product and if the latter coincides with the former all the better. If not? There’s always My Dad is Better than Your Dad.

Which brings us to the very real possibility that last week’s mid-season ending was the ending. As fans of the show we’ve already been granted a death row reprieve once, the odds for a second in showbiz are about as long as Tim Street impregnating a beautiful and understanding waitress.

If that’s the case, however, I am prepared to let the show go. Cruelly cutting the cord, considering the circumstances behind it and the public support against it, would only serve to make the show even more memorable.

This isn’t a particularly profound or unique thought. You could have your pick of clichés to sum it up: better to burn out than fade way, if you love something set it free, always leave ‘em wanting more, etc. That last one is said to be the first rule of showbiz but the real rule is money, represented by eyes on TV screens, talks and, while everyone I know (and everyone you probably know if you’re reading this) loves the show, we apparently don’t know enough people.

At this point NBC isn’t saying whether the show will continue or not and there have been rumors that, should the show be canceled, ESPN might be interested in picking it up. Selfishly, I’d be delighted with more episodes but the “echoes in eternity” side of me knows it would be better if it ended right now.

What if we never know whether or not Tim Riggins escaped the painful precedent set by the male figures in his life? What if we never know whether or not Jason Street has his child and ultimately finds a replacement for the shine of Friday night lights? What if we never see Smash in a college uniform? So what?

As with all good art, the questions themselves are nearly destined to be more interesting than the answers. Try to recall the most memorable ending you’ve ever seen. Was it from your favorite movie or book or show? Did it answer every question or confirm your belief in the work? Or was it just an ending? Not necessarily life affirming but simply life, abrupt, unresolved endings and all?

For a show praised for its realism, there may not be a better ending than the one we’re looking at right now. What might be the final episode of Friday Night Lights ended last week with Street making an earnest appeal to his girlfriend to keep their child. His final words were these:

“So give it a chance.”

If those are the final words for Friday Night Lights as a whole, well, could you write a better ending?

Interested in fighting for that inch chance? Petitions are herehere and here. Personally, I just went out and bought the DVD of the first season—my first ever television series purchase—as someone said that would help. I think I’ll watch that now.

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