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New Season: "Friday Night Lights"

By admin Published: September 18, 2007

Second season begins Oct. 5.

Coach Taylor in better days
Coach Taylor in better days

Is "Friday Night Lights" still capable of greatness in its second-season premiere? Yes. Is there anything to worry about? Also yes. ...

When copies of the new episode of "FNL" arrived yesterday, one of my colleagues said, "I'm going to save it for a treat." He didn't save it for long, though, since I've already gotten a "we must talk" e-mail from him. And I didn't really try to wait. Once we were done with some family business, the bride and I sat down to watch last night.

So much that was good about the show is still good. The Taylor family, for starters, which now has a new baby to deal with, as well as Eric's being far away, at his new college coaching job. When Tami goes in labor, Eric has to fly -- literally -- home. And what he finds is that the baby is just one of the challenges facing him; daughter Julie has gone snotty in his absence, for reasons that are explained. The Julie/Matt relationship has taken an interesting turn, as have the lives of Buddy, Lyla, Riggins, Landy, Tyra and Street. In fact, the show is so stuffed that Street's new dilemma is presented very quickly, and we hardly see Smash at all.

And, since the show is not about high-school football but built around it, the Panthers have to have a new coach, played by Chris Mulkey, and that changes all kinds of dynamics. There's a great scene where Eric gets some info about the new coach's tactics; Kyle Chandler's face flexes, his jaw clamps, and you can read the emotions -- the whole conflict between the need to help one of his old players, and his distaste for interference, without a word being said. Similarly, when Buddy shares his thoughts about the situation, Eric doesn't have to say much. Viewers, especially those of us who have followed the show from the beginning, can feel everything going on between those men.

So I'm happy to have the show back, with one huge codicil that I can't discuss in detail.
There's a plot element in the season premiere that, the more I think about it, the more wrong it feels. It's wrong tonally for "FNL" -- because it is big and melodramatic -- and it looks as if it is being handled wrong in terms of the characters. On a show that has always understood its people, the reactions here seem designed more to keep a story going than to illuminate the people involved.

Gosh, I wish I could tell you what it's about. But I won't -- and I don't care how many spoilers are floating out there. You need to see this one for yourself.

But it bothers the daylights out of me. This show has been close to perfect, and here's a moment that says to me, well, "Give them Hecky Brown."

For those of you tuning in late, Hecky Brown was a comedian played by Zero Mostel in the blacklisting movie "The Front." Woody Allen plays a front for blacklisted writers, putting his name on scripts to be sold, then getting a cut of the proceeds from the actual writers. But Allen runs afoul of the witch-hunters, too, and is called upon to testify. He doesn't want to name names. But by this time, Brown, also under fire, has killed himself. In order to pacify the investigators, Allen is advised, "Give them Hecky Brown." Brown is dead, so it won't matter, supposedly. But Allen knows that giving them Hecky is even greater sacrilege.

So what does this have to do with "Friday Night Lights"? I think there was a feeling that the show needed to do something to amp up the ratings. Whether the thinking came from the show's makers, or from the network, doesn't matter. The thought was there. The show wanted to preserve its integrity, but it also needed to pacify the thinkers. And so we get this big plot twist.

Maybe they think it won't hurt the show, that this little thing -- this Hecky Brown -- protects all the other good things the show has done. But, as "The Front" argued, there is no little sin here, no acceptable compromise. I worry that "FNL" has missed that point.

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