Friday Night Lights

July 31st, 2012 by Max Allan Collins


I have lately late at night been binge-watching the series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which I had heard for years was excellent but just hadn’t got around to. I picked up the boxed set of all five seasons at a Half-Price Books and got caught up in what is superficially a teenage soap opera with a football background but is actually as good a dramatic series as I’ve ever seen on television. As much as I like THE SOPRANOS and MAD MEN, the good heart and skillful storytelling displayed in this sentiment-filled (but not sentimental) series reminds me how easy it is in writing to fall back on cheap-shot cynicism, snarky irony and the dark side. The naturalistic acting and the character-driven plotting show how empty and soulless are the likes of BOARDWALK EMPIRE and HOUSE OF LIES. There’s a lot of talent on display in front of and in back of the lights, with eavesdropping hand-held cameras and an evocative guitar-dominated score by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden (of the similarly excellent WEST WING).

Because the producers and writers knew that the fifth season was their last, they brought back characters from previous seasons (it’s a high school story, so characters graduate and move on) and wrapped up the entire story in a longer-than-usual episode that is my candidate for the best and most satisfying final show in a serial. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the coach and his wife are responsible (along with the writers, of course) for what is the most realistic and believable marriage ever depicted on television.

One of the reasons I finally watched the show was Taylor Kitsch’s role in it – I was impressed with Kitsch in both JOHN CARTER and the surprisingly good BATTLESHIP (directed by Peter Berg, the director/writer of the film FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and creator of the TV version). Kitsch’s Tim Riggins is a memorable creation, breathing life into the cliche of the seemingly doomed working-class high school sports hero whose glory days will soon be behind him. This is a charismatic and talented actor, who would make a fine Nate Heller. He’s in Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (from the Don Winslow novel) right now, which I haven’t seen yet. Somehow I imagine it’s not going to be as heartwarming as FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

Speaking of stories that aren’t heartwarming, the Spillane/Collins novella “Skin,” available only as an e-book, continues to wrack up nice reviews, like this one.

And MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN was given a nice review in Crimespree (not available on line) and a small but appreciated write up here. The Crimespree review advises potential readers that the high price of the book makes finding a library copy to read a priority. But both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are carrying it at a decent, if shifting, discount. At any given time, one of them usually has it for around thirty bucks – still stiff, but anyone interested in my work or Mickey’s will want it.

Here’s a surprise: a glowing write-up about one of my BATMAN comic book stories.

Speaking of Batman, count me among the minority who found THE DARK KNIGHT RISES the latest candidate for “Emperor’s New Clothes” status. The pretentiousness and the self-importance on display are almost as unbearable as the length of the thing, which contains more absurdities than a Dr. Seuss book (but is far less fun). What I come away with most are the unintelligible dialogue exchanges between pro-wrestler-like Bane, whose mouth is covered by a pointlessly grotesque mask, and Bale’s Batman, who talks in his now trademark low, lispy spooky Batman voice – not that any of it is worth hearing. Their muffled back-and-forth is the stuff that Riff Trax are made of. And if you like kettle drums, you’ll just love the score. Perfect for an endless Samoan war dance.

On the plus side, Anne Hathaway makes a perfectly fine Catwoman who actually injects some humor into the mix (a rarity in these dour films). And while I like Ms. Hathaway’s rear view just fine, was it really necessary to design a bat-cycle that has her riding it prone with her butt in their air? Just wondering.


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6 Responses to “Friday Night Lights”

  1. Mike Dennis says:

    I saw THE DARK KNIGHT RISES yesterday and I too was disappointed. I found it rambling and disjointed. The dialogue, or what I could hear of it above the incessant hypnotic war drums on the soundtrack, was juvenile. It felt as though the entire movie had been scripted and storyboarded by three or four separate people, then a committee came together and plucked out one scene from writer “A”, followed up by two from writer “B”, and so on, grafting whole scenes and plot points onto each other without regard for any sensible continuity. The nonsensical “underground prison in the desert” sequence is a good example of one storyline the committee obviously fell in love with.

    I did enjoy seeing the rusting Bat-Signal atop police headquarters, though.

  2. Mike, I think the occasional nice things — like Alfred’s heartfelt speeches (God Bless Michael Caine) and the revelation of Robin’s identity toward the end — made me every more unhappy with the overall result.

  3. Tim Field says:

    Glad to hear you liked “Friday Night Lights”. I’m sure you cringed at the season two murder plot and were no doubt glad when this plot thread magically disappeared. A great series that flew in under the radar.

  4. Tim Field says:

    Glad to hear you liked “Friday Night Lights”. I’m sure you cringed at the season two murder plot and were no doubt glad when this plot thread magically disappeared. A great series that flew in under the radar.

  5. I know the so-called “murder” storyline on FNL is much hated, but it wasn’t really a murder — it was self-defense against a rapist. And I liked the storyline, the way it brought together Tyra and Landry (the actors were great in this sequence). I think the problem fans had with the storyline was that they were thinking of FNL as drama, and I used that shorthand description myself. But the truth is, it’s melodrama — soap opera melodrama at that. Which is fine by me, because melodrama is much more interesting to me than drama. That’s part of why I write in the genre I do.

    By the way, Muscatine is a small town, at least as small as the town in FNL. And we have had murders here, including a grisly one involving people I know, which got covered as a TV documentary a few years ago. In addition, one of my band members was murdered on the road about twenty years ago. This shit happens. Life can be pretty melodramaticen it’s so inclined.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. Max.

    I recalled reading of your fondness for FNL when I was reading film historian Jeanine Basinger’s I DO AND I DON’T: A HISTORY OF MARRIAGE IN THE MOVIES. Her verdict jived with yours, and I blogged about it on Valentine’s Day, quoting her:

    “In all the movies about marriage I watched, I observed a constant attempt to find the best strategy…Satirize it, romanticize it, criticize it, idolize it. Pretend the couple weren’t really married. Tell the story in flashbacks. Reverse the roles so the woman was smarter, richer, higher ranked than the man. Make it really about divorce…These constant strategies made it necessary to shape a marriage story into something constructed, plotted, designed.”

    “When I thought about all the marriages I viewed in movies–and television too–the Friday Night Lights marriage stood out for its lack of such strategies. . . Over the five years it was on the air, there was no strategy for their marital story, no clever plot twists, no dream episodes, no other woman or man, no cheap theatrics or misunderstandings. . .she’s loving, but so is he. . .The Taylor marriage was a marriage not governed by genre rules or assaulted by plot development.”

    So even though my wife and I are not fond of football, teenagers, or soap opera, I sent for it from Amazon (where it was $49, then half off the retail price). Over a period of two weeks we watched it nearly every night. Although it made us wince once in a while, it does so many things well that we are now particularly proud of it. Most of all, as you and Basinger say, it is the picture of a working marriage that is so rare and refreshing here.

    Thanks again for your honest work here.