Dec 102014
Oh and everyone on the show is freaking gorgeous.

Oh and everyone on the show is freaking gorgeous.

This will be quite a TV mash-up.

I watch remarkably few television shows. I’m so ADD, it’s hard for me to devote myself to really watching something. I keep the TV on a lot, and half fluff-watch HGTV and (here come da judgey) QVC and Buffy repeats and (forgive me because of how very bad it’s gotten) Project Runway.

I haven’t seen most of the great Showtime, HBO, Starz etc. series. I finally got on the Orange is the New Black bandwagon, and it’s absolutely all that and a bag of chocolate and vanilla swirl chips. After bailing last season, I’m back to American Horror Story, though I never fully love it. I’m finally (mostly) satisfied with this past Walking Dead run. And I love love love Bates Motel.

Clearly I always watch with a critical eye. I pretty much hate-watch Grey’s Anatomy, and mostly only look up for that one moment per episode where someone has an interesting moment.

A few weeks ago I wanted to get into something, and almost went for Dexter or Breaking Bad (I promise you, with every show I tell you I’ve never seen, your eyebrows will raise just a bit higher), but I’ve been going through a bit of a rough time lately, so I deliberately opted for something more gentle. Enter Friday Night Lights. Jason Katims is at the helm, and he was integral in My So-Called Life, and it has been only raved about, so in I went.

It was love at first pilot. Beautiful. This, I told a friend, is my kind of television.

If you don’t know, it’s set around a high school football team in Texas. The fact that I can even watch a show around football is insane, and speaks to its quality. The actors are astounding. I have loved Kyle Chandler from all the way back to Homefront, but it’s Connie Britton who, for me, is a revelation. I’ve known she was good and seen her in some things (AHS, for one) but she is devastatingly good, and working with this real-feel dialogue–I can just eat this stuff up.

The show ran five seasons, and I just finished Season 3. And I’ll keep going, because I’m in now. But here’s the thing.

Ughh. I’m not going to get specific, in case you ever want to watch, but my tolerance for implausible, manipulative, predictable plot-lines; dropped threads and overall TV tricks is zip. (Well, some is used up by American Horror Story, and it frustrates me there, but they can get away with it because they are NOT going for realism.)

First, I predicted a rape many episodes before it happened. And they definitely made it make sense. But where they took that plot-line was to RidiculousWorld and back again. And really the crime of it was the “back again.”

At least on Grey’s they deal with aftermath. They are still looking into the current impact of Meredith’s childhood trauma of having (what I believe is) a borderline personality mother.

My sister will tell you my favorite thing about Friends. Yes Friends. It was that after the ending of the beautiful relationship between Richard (Tom Selleck) and Monica, she spent several episodes in a complete funk. Several. I’d never seen anything like it on a sit-com. I rarely watch sit-coms, but it was a game-changer. That show had a bazillion flaws, but it had patience and some focus. In the finale, Ross makes a joke about “unless we’re on a break.”

Here are the kinds of things I’ve seen on Friday Night Lights:

  • Characters take on new projects, jobs, commitments–important to a moment of plot, and then never referenced again.
  • One episode ended with a kid, out of anger, destroying a whole bunch of cars at a dealership. Never mentioned. Zero consequences.
  • On the break between seasons 2 and 3, one couple had broken up, and no insight was given into that, and one character had gotten a high-impact promotion with no explanation. (Buffy fans, these were like Dawn showing up–let’s just give Buffy a sister and see how that goes. But again, that’s a magical world, so Joss can do that.)
  • There’s one character they just never know what to do with. So they brought in a one-night-stand which led to a baby which led to a stressful but loving situation. What the what?
  • Oh and I may as well mention that one of the characters; one from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks in a town where the right side isn’t so high-end, sports an obvious $200 haircut.

I call shenanigans!

Now I will say that with all these crazy-ass happy-harshers, the dialogue can be stunning. And the main couple is a wonder to behold in their loving marriage and their overall ethic. But there is “sheesh” as well. I mean, what happened to your cheerleading? Your job at the radio? Your work on the mayoral campaign? Your PTSD? Sheesh.

Mad Men is not the only game in town; not the only show that gets things right. From my past, my very favorites, thirtysomething and the aforementioned My So-Called Life, still pass the test. I was reminded while writing this that I walked away from Parenthood (also Jason Katims) for the same kind of reasoning. Look, I LIKE a soap opera, but you’ve got to sell it to me. (like say, with Downton Abbey). And at this stage of the game, it’s the real-feel shows that are subject to my worst scrutiny. If you’re highly stylized, it’s different. Bates Motel is wild, and I can’t hold it to the same kinds of standards–it’s a brutal fantasy, not to mention it’s against the background of a true modern myth. I’ve never criticized Walking Dead for its lack of realism; just for its lack of entertainment value–which can come by the writing being lame, which breaks the fourth wall.

Mad Men breaks a lot of television rules. We’ve discussed this for years. And it does it against a specifically styled backdrop. The dialogue is so precise, and the characters always surprise you–by doing things that humans do. So it’s almost a study of the juxtaposition of realism vs. style, and how they can work together to tell a story with intelligence and high entertainment value.

It’s still the one to beat.


  17 Responses to “Friday Light Nights Bingewatch: Mad Men has ruined everything”

  1. Fans of FNL generally try to pretend that Season 2 never happened… 🙂

    • Yep, this. I have Twitter conversations about FNL with Mo Ryan every now and then, and when she referenced the crazy plotline in Season 2, I had no idea what she was talking about. When she incredulously told me what she was talking about, I had an “Oh yeah!” moment, like I had blocked it out. I chalk it up to trying to get ratings with a crazy story, quickly realizing what a mistake it was, and sweeping it all under the rug. Nothing to see here!

  2. My feelings exactly, said in a perfect way that I never could. When people rag on me for not getting behind sub-standard shows like Walking Dead and the past season of Masters of Sex, I’m going to point them to this article. Shoddy TV has been ruined for me by Weiner & Co.

  3. Haha, a friend talked me into watching this show. I enjoyed it, but I definitely agree with everything you said! The last couple of seasons were almost eyeroll-inducing for me. But overall I liked it, maybe mostly because I’m from Texas. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!

  4. Okay, so reviews even right here are mixed about the whole of the show, but we all agree that FNL Season 2 is on par with Angel Season 4 (which could have all been avoided with one bus-hit to Cordelia).

  5. FNL started with its heart in the right place. But then, Opie from Breaking Bad got with THE last person you would think, and, ahhhhhhhhhhh.
    The EARNESTNESS that, that program tried to convey, seemed like an affection, not down-home real.

    The Wire, defies description. If you can get by the sermon like zealotry of David Simon, you will ease into the Greatest Of all Time.
    Shakespearean panaroma.
    A cast of millions, where all the pieces matter.

    • Interesting about the earnestness–you’re right; it’s more aspirational than observational.

      One of these days I’ll take on the Wire.

    • Nearly through Season 1 of The Wire. Found a sealed series set for $40. At some point I’ll study up for the cop and attorney acronyms and slang that haven’t yet penetrated. I’ve found that rewatching, even on short notice, is no problem – even beneficial because the show does minimal exposition.

      How does the zealotry manifest?

      • Simon is very insistent that all the systems in society break down through the apathy that the powerful feel toward the ‘little peole’. We the woe – begotten 99 percent lot, that have been left behind. The sad so-called nobility of poverty, is beaten into you almost senseless.
        I happen to agree with the majority of this world view. But, I feel that if I had not, and there are many in the audience that don’t, that I would find this drum beat, obnoxious, and self-indulgent.

        The Wire goes further into the dreariness than any show I’ve ever witnessed. It does so quietly, but INSISTENTLY.
        Jahnghalt, you can come to me if you need interpretation of the myriad slang, and inside baseball – speak ant time you want.

  6. Before Mad Men, my favorite TV drama was the 1990s NBC show Homicide: Life on the Street. It was an amazing police procedural, that rarely fell back on typical devices like car chases or shoot ’em ups. Like Mad Men, it was critically acclaimed, but didn’t consistently rack up statuettes at awards time.

    For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, it’s not available for streaming on Amazon Instant or Netflix, though they do have it via DVD by Mail. Several years ago, I was able to pick up a deluxe boxed set, that includes all 7 seasons, the Law & Order crossover episodes and the later TV movie, for something like $85. I’ve seen it lately on Amazon for almost $400. Even at that inflated price, it’s worth every nickel.

    If it ever becomes available via streaming, definitely spend some time with these characters. Until then, if you’re a Netflix member, add it to your DVD queue.

    • David Simon, again.
      Homicide is about the only ‘cop’ show I can stomach. They ain’t no saints. The drearyness of cop life, as told to me by friends who wear badges, is captured to the T. Somber, pensive, but somehow, not bleak, it’s a remarkable thing this program.
      Andre Braugher’s Pemberton is an epic creation.

  7. Have you seen “The Affair”?

  8. Roberta, I completely agree with you that thirtysomething was a terrific show in that the characters’ actions, large and small, were not just dropped in, McGuffin-like, and never referenced again. Things had purpose, meaning, and consequences, even if those consequences were just a character reflecting on something and feeling bad–that memory was shown to influence what he or she was about to do next.

    Something I’ve noticed about Homeland that drives me absolutely nuts is the way the writers of one season–and sometimes, even, the writers of one episode!–don’t appear to be familiar with what went on previously. So plot points get introduced, as a way of moving the narrative in the moment, then dropped and never referred to again. Or worse, things will happen that seem utterly unlikely to those of us who were paying attention five episodes ago, or that will even directly conflict those plot points. Arrgh!

    Orange is the New Black rocks, doesn’t it? So many terrific female characters–and such great dialogue–one tends to forgive the implausible stuff that lurks here and there.

    • If you don’t mind my making a comment, like Brody’s being internationally famous (not to mention the public exposure of his affair with Carrie) and then being just a random obscure name?

  9. Six Feet Under (all of it)
    Dexter (first 4 seasons)
    Breaking Bad (way over the top but never jumps the shark)

    • M*A*S*H– first 5 seasons. Season 4 of M*A*S*H, is the 1927 Yankees of TV seasons. An uninterrupted string of brilliant, after staggeringly brilliant episodes. The finest season any program has ever had.
      Head and shoulders above all else.

      First 3 seasons of Hill Street Blues, is the beginning of mod en television.
      Dennis Franz’s guest appearances as the corrupt Lt. Benedetto is the most forceful, overwhelming character I ever saw.
      Out of this world acting, a, most unforgettable character. This was, a couple of years before Franz became a regular playing a different, when Hill Street was no longer flying so close to the sun.

  10. You summed it up nicely, tilden katz.

    It was quite the ensemble cast, who you just never caught acting. With the solid stories & plot lines, authentic characters and 1990s Baltimore to work with, that’s no surprise. And the guest stars! Another amazing roster! Many were established in their craft, but the show introduced more than a few actors (to me, anyway) that went on to lasting success. Homicide was also unfailingly believable, which is one of the hallmarks of shows of that caliber, like Mad Men & Breaking Bad.

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