[As part of Cultural Learnings’ For Your Consideration Emmy Nominations Preview, the next two weeks will feature 7 Drama Series and 7 Comedy Series worthy of Emmy consideration. Check back daily for a different series, with drama and comedy alternating positions. For all of Cultural Learnings’ Emmy Coverage featuring Supporting and Lead Acting candidates, check out our For Your Consideration Index.]
Outstanding Drama Series
Friday Night Lights (NBC)
Attempting to sell people on NBC’s Friday Night Lights has always been difficult, as it is tough to describe just what makes it one of the best shows on television. Is it a football show, or is it just another teen drama? Does it value principles such as family or principles such as teen lust? Is it trying to be a broad political commentary on the War in Iraq, or rather a representation of isolated small town America? What I believe I’ve decided upon is that Friday Night Lights is that it is an amazing achievement because it manages to be all of these things: through a handheld camera lens, Peter Berg and Jason Katims have created a window into the lives of families, teenagers, high school football, and even the ramifications of world politics on small town America. The best new network drama of the Season, Friday Night Lights it without a doubt worthy of Emmy consideration.
In football they have something called a depth chart, and it indicates the best players at each position; the more good players you have, the more “depth” you have to choose from. What Jason Katims, showrunner on Friday Night Lights, has done so well with is organizing that depth chart to the series’ strengths. When the show wants suspense, it heads onto the football field in an episode like “Mud Bowl”. When the show wants comedy, it heads directly to Jesse Plemons’ hysterical Landry or one of the many other capable comic actors amongst the show’s cast.
But what makes Friday Night Lights a contender for Outstanding Drama Series is that its dramatic depth chart is enormous. Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor can have drama with his players, with his wife, with his daughter, or with the team’s “manager” of sorts Buddy Garrity. The show is then able to delve into each individual player for even more dramatic depth: Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) has his elderly grandmother and a father in Iraq, Smash (Gaius Charles) had a run-in with steroid abuse, and Jason Street (Scott Porter) has to deal with being paralyzed and the struggles of readjusting to life away from Football.
Each of these storylines feels natural, real; even characters without a distinct link to Football, such as Lyla and Tyra, are given storylines and backgrounds that allow them to play a role. The idea of a depth chart is that, once it is set up, you can let it run itself and you will get results on the field. What Friday Night Lights has done is set up that lineup to perfection: they can throw any storyline they want at these characters, and it is going to end up being dramatic, comic, and meaningful television. It seems almost effortless the way producers have developed this series from a show about football into a show about people, community and everything television should be. But it did take a lot of effort, and it is effort worthy of an Emmy nomination.
Episode Submission: “Pilot” (Aired October 3rd, 2006)
The Friday Night Lights pilot is a well-shot, well-plotted, well-realized hour of television that is well worth the time of any viewer, but it has gotten some flack from many who feel it was the wrong submission. The problem is that the depth I spoke of above wasn’t apparent in the show’s premiere: in fact, after watching it for the first time myself, I felt the show could easily go in a very bad direction. However, in looking back at the pilot, I think that this submission is still more than worthy of consideration.
The reason is that, perhaps more than any other episode in the series, it captures the feeling that this show is encapsulating something special, something real. The environment of a small town that is crazy about high school football is what gives the show its organic feel, and the episode is a great introduction to this. Even though much of the story is based on archetypes and remains quite predictable, it provides an introduction into this world. If voters watch this episode and know the buzz around the series, I think they’ll see the light.
YouTube – “Pilot”