Wow! There is one episode to go on DirecTV to complete the fourth season Friday Night Lights (with the NBC run of the series scheduled to begin April 30, 2010), and the show has never been better. That’s saying a lot, too, because I’m a huge fan of this series.
Lots of changes have come to Dillon, Texas on the tube this season with the introduction of the East-West rivalry. Tami Taylor is principal at West Dillon where the Panthers reign supreme, and Coach Eric Taylor is starting a new team on the east side of town where the days of glory for the Lions have been long-gone.
But there’s so much more to this series than football – especially in season four. The culture wars have erupted in Dillon over abortion rights in one of the most compelling and straightforward of these storylines on TV since “Maude’s Dilemma” aired as a two-part episode in 1972.
And, there’s a renewed emphasis on race and social class on the show this season. While these factors have always been explored more explicitly on Friday Night Lights than in most broadcast television series (and most series on premium channels for that matter), this season takes new turns that keep the series fresh and examine important social issues through a lens not often seen in television drama: rural America smack dab in the middle of the two coasts.
Most broadcast television series, in an attempt to attract a wide, mainstream audience, minimize the effects of race and social class in American culture. Friday Night Lights is much more realistic, nuanced, and sophisticated in its examination of race and social class as well as gender and sexual orientation.
Over the last four seasons, the series has gone down a number of paths seldom taken on network television and included several intriguing storylines about church life from a mega-church to small chapels, a tragic storyline about a character who goes from being the star quarterback to living life with a major disability, one about an over-involved parent of means who pushes his child relentlessly, one about a gay student who seems remarkably well adjusted for a teenager regardless of sexual orientation, and several about teenagers whose lives and choices might be so much better with at least a modicum of parental involvement and support.
Oh, and did I mention that the Taylor’s marriage is one of the healthiest I’ve seen on TV? It’s wonderful to watch people who still like each other – and have that spark – after years as a couple, but it also feels authentic because they have everyday annoyances and larger issues to overcome. They overcome them together because they prioritize their marriage and talk with one another. I am pulling for them as individuals and as a couple.
Of course, the series delivers all of this cultural insight without sacrificing entertainment value. It’s a tremendous achievement…and so much fun to watch.