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Friday Night Lights—The Second Season

(2007) *** 1/2 Unrated
685 min. NBC.

After a freshman season that artistically neared perfection (but dwelled in the ratings basement), Friday Night Lights returned to NBC in fall of 2007 determined to win a larger audience without sacrificing quality. One supects show runner/writer Jason Katims started the season with a pool scene to demonstrate he knew which side his bread was buttered on ("Yes, NBC, we have a sexy show here!"), but he chases it with an emotionally complex scene of the Taylor family welcoming a complicating bundle of joy.

Matters are very complicated indeed at the outset of season two. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has left his high-school coaching job with the Dillon Panthers to assistant-coach at the college level. His job at TMU takes him far from his high-school counselor wife Tami (Connie Britton), his high-school-age daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), and baby Grace. Meanwhile, the new Dillon coach (Chris Mulkey of Twin Peaks) is butting heads with booster Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), while Buddy's daughter Lila (Minka Kelly) emphatically embraces her Christian faith.

Brooder Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) continues to carry a smoldering torch for Lila, while his wheelchair-bound best friend Jason Street (Scott Porter) determines to get life-threatening experimental surgery south of the border. QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) heads into unknown territory when his relationship with Julie implodes (right around the time a hot nurse moves in to take care of Matt's grandmother...hmmm). Running back Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) is looking beyond the season to his college prospects, leading to plenty of recruitment drama.

And in the season's most controversial storyline, the relationship between loveable nerd Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) and Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) goes to the next level when they conspire to cover up a death. Whatever one may think of the storyline, it has significant dramatic power and allows for stellar acting and exactly the kind of sustained tension any TV drama should have (good luck finding that on say, ER these days).

This struggling series may not have the biggest audience, but it has earned a loyal one with its authentic, warmly rendered drama of small-town life in the heartland, as inspired by H.G. Bissinger's novel and the subsequent Peter Berg film. A second-season renewal was a vote of confidence from NBC, but the 2007—2008 Writers Guild of America strike resulted in a season of only 15 episodes (as opposed to the first season's 22).

Though the shortened second season doesn't have the same impact of the essentially perfect first season, the soap-operatic complications never take the series too far afield from its carefully calibrated tone, a blend of penetrating psychodrama and gripping incident seasoned with lighthearted humor. Fans also could note a shift of emphasis regarding the series' football elements; while the first season was always more about Texan smalltown life than high-school football, season two addresses what has been perceived as an image problem by spending relatively little time on the Panthers' season.

Friday Night Lights is a great show for many reasons: its balance of the sterling work of veteran actors like Chandler and Britton and a cast of attractive young stars-in-the-making, its sensitivity to the social and educational pressures of life in a football town, its unique production methodology on authentic locations, and its willingness to go to unexpected places that demonstrate in a broader sense the series' ultimate unwillingness to pander. A case in point is the Lila Garrity-Tim Riggins storyline, which honors Lila's faith with neither condescension nor undue idealization of Lila's search for inner peace, and a "good boy" boyfriend (Matt Czuchry) to distract her from unresolved feelings for Riggins.

Thanks to an unprecedented deal between DirectTV and NBC to share production costs, Friday Night Lights will return for a third season of thirteen episodes in the fall, to air on Direct TV beginning in October 2008 and then on NBC beginning in January 2009. So far the series has evaded the pattern of many of TV's dearly departed best shows, but it deserves to be a hit. If you're not already, start watching, and tell a friend.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 4

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 4/28/2008

Distributor: Universal Home Entertainment

In a four-disc set, the second season comes in fantastic anamorphic widescreen transfers with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtracks. The producers include deleted scenes from "Last Days of Summer," "Bad Ideas," "Let's Get It On," "How Did I Get Here?", "Seeing Other People," "The Confession," "There Goes the Neighborhood," "Jumping the Gun," "Who Do You Think You Are?", "Humble Pie" and "Leave No One Behind."

On disc one, you'll also find commentaries on season opener "Last Days of Summer" (with executive producers Jason Katims and Jeffrey Reiner) and "Are You Ready for Friday Night?" (actors Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden). The former comments frankly on the fan and critical reaction to their work, the true story behind the Landry-Tyra story developments, and how the season's first scene was the product of a reshoot inspired by a network note (but apparently not the network note you would expect). The women's conversation is a bit less focused, but entertaining and informative nonetheless, with secrets from the set, personal opinions on the show, and Teegarden in particular proving her microscopic attention to the show (she points out a cameraman caught in a shot during a "murderball" scene).

Disc three features a commentary by Jesse Plemons and Adrianne Palicki on "There Goes the Neighborhood" in which the stars discuss the significant developments in their characters. On disc four, Universal wins my thanks by including a rare and terrific Q&A presentation from the William S. Paley Television Festival (36:19), with the cast and producers commenting on season one and what's in store for season two. At a $29.98 price point, Friday Night Lights—The Second Season can and should be had for under $20 at online retailers, a bargain and an encouragement to start watching one of TV's finest programs.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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