Last night’s episode of Friday Night Lights caps an inferior and incomplete (perhaps forever) second season in which more and more unlikely circumstances drove what had been a nuanced and tender look at small-town life farther into the arms of soapy improbabilities. Starting with Landry and Tyra’s misadventures in murder and extending to Riggins’ missteps with meth dealers, the season careened as drunkenly toward disaster as Matt Saracen after being dumped by his Mexican nanny (TM Landry Clarke).
“May The Best Man Win” did nothing to halt this trend, from a scenery-chewing turn by executive producer Peter Berg as Tami’s long-lost ex-boyfriend rolling into town to goad Coach Taylor into jousting over his woman’s honor to Lyla’s Christian radio station deciding that letting Tim Riggins host a sports call-in show is a bright idea. And that doesn’t even touch on the more ludicrous plot points, such as Jason’s one-night stand showing up pregnant (will we perhaps someday discover that the pregnant woman is actually the one-night stand’s…twin sister?!?) or Smash being unable to find a football home after his assault charge. A player of Smash’s caliber being unable to get his mitts on a football scholarship? Please–if TMU had given him up (and they never, ever would) the Alabama recruiter would have been standing next to the mailbox to hand Smash the letter opener he could use to get the news.
Why, why, why has FNL taken such a turn for the silly and overdramatic? Likely because NBC head Ben Silverman is unlikely to champion its return–so it will have to save itself by increasing ratings. Season 1’s, which were hovering between 5 and 6.5 million by the finale, are simply not going to cut it. Disappointing as it may be, then, it’s understandable if the producers decided to serve up something flashier in the hopes of gaining an audience–after all, quality shows like Veronica Mars that had network heads as their champions couldn’t overcome poor ratings in the end, so a show that doesn’t have the honchos on its side might have to hold its nose and yell a little louder.
Unfortunately, Season 2’s ratings are no better. While they might ultimately be viewed as a slight improvement since the show is now airing on the graveyard that is Friday night, FNL still regularly loses to fare such as Moonlight, Women’s Murder Club, and two-year-old episodes of House. If the show is going to get the axe anyway, it’s too bad it joins Veronica Mars in going out on a low note while experimenting for its own survival. But it brings up a question that isn’t going anywhere–why can’t shows with subtle, well-drawn character interactions or complicated, juicy arcs get and hold a large enough audience to survive?