Friday, June 25, 2010

The Friday Night Lights project

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is a comprehensive review of Friday Night Lights. The story of a West Texas high school football team and surrounding community was originally a nonfiction book by HG Bissinger published in 1990. A film adaptation, co-written and directed by Peter Berg, followed in 2004. A television series, bearing little overt resemblance to either the book or the film, began airing in 2006.

Calling Friday Night Lights a franchise requires a fair amount of qualification. For spawning a film and a television series that's going on its fifth season, the book doesn't have much of a narrative. It follows the Permian Panthers through a football season, but most of it is devoted to describing the history and politics of its Midland-Odessa setting. The portrayal is not especially flattering, either. Apparently, threats of physical violence dissuaded Bissinger from making return trips to Odessa after the book was published.

I recall the film as being an object lesson in the dangers of faithful adaptation. It uses the narrative events, but it's the local anthropology that is the more memorable and defining aspect of the book. I remember the film also pulling some punches that the book does not, perhaps out of respect for its still-living, real-life characters. The television series solves both shortcomings. It fictionalizes the setting and characters and is also longer and more expansive, allowing the book's more subtle and/or damning themes to be more effectively translated.

It's also an improbable multimedia entertainment brand in that its themes more often have to do with failure and loss, rather than triumph. A premise of the book is that each year the high school football team carries all the hopes and dreams of a community that doesn't have much else going for it. The team's coaches and players are the local royalty when they're winning, but the consequences of loss can be brutal. For all the adoration the town has for team's players, all three versions of the story make life for ex-players seem pretty bleak.

In spite of the differences, there's still continuity between the three incarnations of Friday Night Lights, and part of this project will be to trace their common themes. I plan to cover the book, film and series, and hopefully finish in time for the show's fifth season (which may be airing in Direct TV later this year). Since the show is the longest, most time consuming piece, most of the project will be devoted to that. I'll post at least brief summaries and observations about each episode, and I do the same for each chapter of the book, rather than tackle it as a whole.

I'm going to rely mainly on the broadcast versions of the show. The first season, and to lesser extents the second and third, was scored with distinctive music licensed from a lot of bands, but primarily Explosions in the Sky (who also wrote original music for the film, and three-quarters of whom are from the region of Texas where Friday Night Lights takes place). For the DVD releases, though, a lot of this music was re-recorded (a Death Cab For Cutie song prominently used in the third season was also replaced for the DVD release), and the tone and effect of some scenes is somewhat altered as a result. I'll note especially significant uses of licensed music, and may also do some spot checks with the DVDs to see if it was retained.


evgeny orlov said...

I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come over to my blog and check it out.

ryan said...

You are an obsessive lunatic, and I love it! I can't wait to read the rest of the entries about FNL.