Most of the entries on this blog cover the world of film. But I am also a big fan of what television can offer. Contrary to what some people will tell you, there is a ton of excellent programming currently airing; here's a list of the shows that I watch on a regular or semi-regular basis: LOST, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE SOPRANOS (used to watch anyways, still watch repeats), MAD MEN, THE SHIELD, RESCUE ME, NIP/TUCK, THE RICHES, 24, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (my one reality show guilty pleasure), THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, WEEDS, ENTOURAGE, CALIFORNICATION, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, TELL ME YOU LOVE ME, AMERICAN IDOL (the try-outs only), CSI, and DINNER FOR FIVE (the series just ended...sadness...). I will still watch SEINFELD and X-FILES repeats even though I own all of the episodes on DVD. Big-time feature film writers, directors, and producers are all taking shots at television shows and the influence of movie talent has been felt throughout the last few years on the small screen. Production values have gotten better, acting has gotten sharper, and the writing is frequently as good (or better) than most feature films. The benefit of having a long time (20-23 episodes) to flesh out characters has resulted in some shows that I simply cannot and will not miss (LOST, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE SHIELD, RESCUE ME, ENTOURAGE, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, THE OFFICE, and CALIFORNICATION are my absolute favorites).
But my #1 show of the moment has to be FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which I think is about as good as anything that's ever been on network television (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX). Boasting the best ensemble of actors of any show and featuring some of the best, most honest writing and dialogue that I've ever encountered, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is instantly addictive, hugely entertaining, and frequently moving; I can count on a few characters making me cry every week. Peter Berg, a one time actor (CHICAGO HOPE) and now major movie director (THE KINGDOM, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, HANCOCK), developed the series after his feature film version became a critical and commerical success. I love all of the people on the show and I cringe, laugh, cry, and applaud whenever something emotional goes down; I am totally hooked. Sure, some of it is soapy and a bit predictable, but I don't care. The depiction of West Texas high school football life, both on the field and off, is gripping and always interesting; it's a world I knew nothing about but now feel connected too in a very weird, however small, way. Kyle Chandler, a familiar faced actor who you've probably seen before but don't know by name, is, simply put, the most underrated actor working in Hollywood. His peformance as Coach Taylor is layered (he's also a husband and father) and deep and extremely satisfying. All of the players are perfect; their love interests are all beautiful. And most interestingly, the emphasis that the showrunners and writers have placed on family, parenting, personal repsonsibility, and the consequences of your actions should be commended. It's a thoughtful and morally centered hour of television every week, something very different than most of the other options on the boob tube. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is about to air the 15th episode of its second season tonight, and I am sad to report, it's the last completed episode the show has due to the writer's strike. The big question is whether or not NBC will decide to order the last 7 or 8 episodes of this season, or scrap them entirely. And considering that the ratings have never been good for the show (it's critically acclaimed up the whazoo but nobody watches it) I could see NBC brass deciding to pass on the rest of the season, and any future seasons for that matter. The old NBC regime was responsible for bringing the show back after its low-rated first season; new president Ben Silverman seems more interested in complete shit like CELEBRITY APPRENTICE and AMERICAN GLADIATORS. If you've never seen FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, go out and buy the first season on dvd; I think it's like $20 at Best Buy or Amazon.com. You'll thank me 15 minutes into the pilot episode (which is one of the best pilots ever shot).