I can't recall the last time a series had this much hype in front of it that didn't have anything to do with solving mysteries (medical, crime-related, or otherwise) or running from toasters-turned-sexpots.
So, expectations set to "failed to live up to the pre-release press," I fired up the TiVO this evening after putting the kids to bed and brushing the cats. And then I sat riveted for the next 42-odd minutes.
Damn, this was a fantastic episode. Yes, yes, the ending was rushed, but not to the point where you couldn't follow what was happening. By the time the Panthers won, I was completely sucked in, enjoying the fact that I wasn't sure if they would win, and even remarking to DH that I actually wanted them to win. In the space of less than 40 minutes, Friday Night Lights got me to care about its humongous cast and the town that seems to rely on football for hope and joy and all that is good in life.
I can well imagine some people will not like the style of this show, with its swirling, dipping camera work, and its quick cuts and fragmented dialog, but I loved it. It felt like a documentary, only with much better music. The emotions we saw were genuine, but best of all, the town was presented without editorial comment: we report, you decide, applied to a prime-time drama. Who would have thought it possible? Certainly not me.
Clearly, the writers not only understand but respect their characters, or at least they did here. There wasn't a hint of cynicism or snark in either the dialog or the direction. When the quarterback said, "Let's pray," it was clearly the most natural thing in the world to him, no matter how alien we may imagine that concept would be to the kind of people who typically write, produce, and star in television shows.
The question remains whether they can sustain this level of brutal narrative honesty and the twirling dance through all the many relationships without breaking down into parody or chaos. The task is to continue to reveal these characters and deepen their relationships without losing the respect that has already been established, and without betraying the characters as they have already been defined, even by the briefest scenes in this pilot.
I tuned in partly because of Kyle Chandler, and partly because of the good reviews. As of now, I'm in, and hoping they can sustain the level of brilliance we saw tonight. Because this show is a rarity -- perhaps becoming less so in this new era of well-made television, but still something worth noting: not only does it respect its characters, it respects its audience, too.
(If you missed it, you can watch the entire episode over at NBC.com; click on the link above.)