Monday, August 09, 2010

R.I.P. Patricia Neal; a word on "Friday Night Lights" Season 4

Sad news: Patricia Neal succumbed today, at the age of 84, to a long struggle with lung cancer. Her entire *life* was a struggle, stricken with tragedy after tragedy, but one she weathered, by all accounts, with courage and grace. I'm a little ashamed to admit I've only ever seen her in one movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (though "A Face in the Crowd" and "Hud" are in my Netflix queue), and even more ashamed to admit that at the time I was girl-crushing too much on Audrey Hepburn to take favorable notice of the woman threatening Holly Golightly's happy ending - but I do remember my mother saying that in her heyday, Neal was as much a movie star and a renowned beauty as Audrey. And so she was.

As always, the Film Experience and the Siren have been quick to provide much more thorough and insightful tributes to a great actress and a great lady.


Blogging "Mad Men" sometimes makes me feel slightly guilty about not blogging the show I love just as much, if not more - "Friday Night Lights," which had its fourth season finale last week on NBC. True, FNL has never been as good as its first season, which was as perfect a season of TV as I've ever seen. The writing can be sloppy and inconsistent, and the less said about season 2, the better. But what FNL does better than any other show on TV, including "Mad Men," is create fully realized, well-balanced, yet inherently likable characters who succeed in earning and maintaining the viewers' good will. The contrast with "Mad Men" in this respect is striking: while I'm fascinated by the "Mad Men" characters and their relationship to their cultural milieu, I don't truly like very many of them and definitely don't love any of them. By contrast, I have affection for most of the characters on "FNL"; even the ones I don't like, I can sympathize with to some degree.

Season 4 presented a monumental challenge for the writers in introducing a whole new town dynamic and a raft of new supporting characters that needed to be developed over a mere 13 episodes. For the most part, they rose to the challenge. Some of the new players were more fleshed out than others - I felt that Luke, for example, got a bit of short shrift at times, probably because Coach Taylor's attention seemed generally more focused on Vince, and I'd have liked to learn a little more about Jess's dad and Jess and Vince's past - but I give full credit to the writers and actors for making the most of their limited time. Even Becky, whom I found intensely annoying, managed to get to me with the abortion storyline, which I thought was handled with remarkable sensitivity.

As for the returning characters, I still question the wisdom of keeping Matt Saracen lingering around for another season, much as I love him, and then arbitrarily dispatching him to Chicago when there was apparently nothing more to do with him. Nevertheless, he had his share of great moments - most notably the episode in which he had to bury his father and confront the demons of his suppressed resentment and bitterness. (Zach Gilford, who plays Saracen, deserved an Emmy nomination for that performance.) Meanwhile, Landry provided gold nuggets of comic relief and got his heart trampled on *again* (though one senses he'll get over Jess more easily than he did over Tyra); Julie Taylor was - well, she was just there, a believable if not particularly interesting picture of a high school senior dealing with the heartbreak of first love; and while I wasn't as invested in the travails of little-lost boy Tim Riggins, damned if he and Billy didn't end up making me cry during the season finale.

But of course the core of the show continued and continues to be Coach and Mrs. Coach Taylor, who consistently present the best-drawn, most nuanced portrait of a stable, happy marriage I've ever seen on TV. Their characters are beautifully written and even more beautifully acted, and I'm glad the Emmy voters finally saw enough sense to give Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton their long-overdue nominations. I'm even gladder I'll be seeing them - and the rest of the Dillon crew - next spring, for season 5.


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