Most people aren’t going to like to hear this, but I think that we are truly in a golden age of television right now. Sure, most TV series are pap, but the best are truly comparable to theatrical movies in both story and production values. And they are getting better and better.
A good example is Friday Night Lights, which earns my vote for best new show on television.
Yes, it’s about high school football, which might seem to limit its appeal, but the subject most decidedly does not do so. The program uses its context to tell stories that are about much more than football. The central theme of the show is what each character sees as his or her purpose in life and how they pursue it. We are invited to judge the characters on their view of what their purpose is: glory, pleasure, honor, service, etc.; and on how they go after it—by hard work, chicanery, manipulation, planning, intuition, etc. And we are given realistic looks at the obstacles they must overcome, the disappointments they endure, as they move through life. The choices they make in response to these disappointments are some of the most revealing about human character and morality.
In last night’s episode, the team prepared for the second game of the season as their star quarterback, on whom the entire team had depended, lies in a hospital bed paralyzed from the waist down, probably permanently. As the former quarterback contemplates a future entirely different from what he expected, the team is torn by a variety of players seeking to fill the leadership void.
In addition, the backup quarterback, just a sophomore, struggles to learn the complex offense and get ready to step in as the starter. The results in practice are far from promising, and the coach works hard to get the boy in the correct frame of mind. It happens that the boy, Matt Saracen, is from a rather humble, low-income background, and when the coach goes to his house to talk with him, Matt is reluctant to let him in the house. But the coach insists, and later he points out to Matt that he should never be ashamed of where he comes from, and should be proud of what he has achieved in rising from such a humble origin. It’s a very moving and true moment.
Another fine moment is when the star quarterback’s girlfirend visits him in his hospital room and tries to encourage him to believe that he may be able to walk again someday, even though the doctors say it’s a near impossibility. She and the quarterback pray together, and the content of their prayer is fascinating: she thanks God for the challenge he has given them, and prays that he will lead them through it to whatever his plan for them may be.
That is an utterly moving and poignant moment, and a truly amazing thing to see on a network television program.
Last night’s episode was every bit as good as last week’s premiere program, and I can’t recommend the show too highly. It’s on NBC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EDT. Watch it.