With the season finale of “Friday Night Lights” airing on DirecTV on Wednesday, Variety’s Stuart Levine (who reviews the last episode here) and Jon Weisman chatted with red eyes and heavy hearts about the show facing the end of its three-year run — and how much “Friday Night Lights” could offer if it were to connect on a Hail Mary bid for a fourth season. Caution: Spoliers aplenty if you’ve been waiting to watch the third season on NBC, beginning Friday.
Jon: We know the writing’s on the wall, but could this really be goodbye? Throughout season three, the show adjusted to — and even embraced — the departure of characters like Smash Williams and Jason Street, and ended its 13-episode campaign on a narrative high point. Eric, Tami, Buddy, Tim, Landry, Julie give the series a core of long-running characters, buoyed by such recent additions like J.D. (and his family) and Devin (the bass player in Landry’s band), to launch a fourth season. Plus, the reassignment of Eric to a rival high school creates a natural story arc. There’s just that small matter of an audience …
Stu: At some point, business will defeat creative and the show won’t be able to come back. There’s just not enough viewers (650,000 per episode, according to DirecTV) to keep the accountants at bay. And while it’s incredibly tough to think about saying goodbye to all our friends in Dillon, there is something to be said about going out on top. Sure, a fourth season could offer a lot about the charcters and story arcs you mentioned, but will it be the same show? And will head writer Jason Katims and his talented scribes be able to keep up the great work? Well, looking at what they’ve accomplished in three seasons, there’s little doubt they certainly could, but I couldn’t bear the thought of watching characters that didn’t matter to me as much as the ones that arrived when the show premiered in 2006.
Jon: I guess I’d say if the opportunity somehow arose for a fourth season, why live in fear? Do we regret that the show has been on the past two years, even though the first season remains the show’s best? Put it this way: If “Lights” had a 2009-10 pickup, we wouldn’t say it should be canceled.
But certainly, it’s going to take a white knight to make this conversation anything more than theoretical. If I were leading the Save Friday Nights Committee, I’d start the campaign right now, with the show taking its final bow on NBC (where the third season will reprise) starting Friday. How often, after all, has a network show come pre-approved by even a small sample of the public?
Stu: Yeah, certainly NBC could do a lot a worse than bringing back “Friday Night Lights,” even though they know it’ll get a small aud.
Changing subjects for a sec, what are some of your favorite moments from the three seasons? I was thinking about that the other day, and a lot of Matt Saracen scenes popped into my head, especially the one where Coach Taylor goes to his house in season two as he’s laying in the bathtub, with the weight of the world on his shoulders — caring for his ill grandma, replaced as quarterback, his dad stationed in Iraq.
In more generic terms, I also love it whenever Coach Taylor gathers his players and begins a speech with “Gentlemen ….” No matter what he has to say, it carries such gravitas that you feel you’re part of the team and are hanging by every word.
Jon: First scene that comes to mind is the visceral threat you felt in the first-season episode when the team bus was pulled over by cops after a victory over a school (and referees), where racism filled the air. I can’t think of many moments in my entire life of television watching that felt so tense.
At the same time, I’d also say the lighter moments between Eric and Tami, often in an episode that would also find them sparring, warmly fill my memories of the show. “FNL” managed to make their relationship both idealistic and realistic — really quite something.
I did truly enjoy the Matt Saracen arc, highlighted by the bathtub scene that you mention — heck, there wasn’t much about the show I didn’t enjoy. I’d say my biggest love-hate relationship was with how the writers treated Landry and Tyra. Their relationship was one I adored — it truly moved me how Landry won her over — but it hurt how little the writers seemed to trust moving that relationship forward, instead choosing to repeatedly break them up (most notably with the misguided manslaughter storyline) and force Landry to win her back over and over again. The show that gave you Eric and Tami could have also given us one high school relationship with some staying power. Yes, high school is chaotic, but if Tim and Lyla is your most stable couple, maybe you’re being too tough.
Stu: Yeah, that scene was chilling, and it brought to the forefront all the challenges that Tyra faced, though she did create some drama on her own. I also loved the episode where assistant coach Mac is accused of making racist statements. Really powerful stuff.
But, for sheer joy, I’ll say my all-time favorite is “Mud Bowl,” which aired near the end of the first season. When the Panthers can’t play at home because of a nearby explosion, they end up playing for the right to play for state in an abandoned field in the middle of a cow pasture, in a driving rainstorm as the players are sloshing and sliding all over. It was pure exultation, playing for nothing but love of the sport.
Jon: The point is, we could spend all day and not run out of great “FNL” moments to rehash. Whatever happens, this is a classic show that will only grow in stature as time passes.