The Week in TV: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts
The end of Friday Night Lights: We'll always have Dillon.
Emmy nominations, Netflix negotiations and the end of the East Dillon Lions. This was the week in TV Land:
• After five seasons, three of which were spent premiering off-network to save production costs, Friday Night Lights came to a close last week. The series almost ended a couple of seasons ago, and producer/director Jeffrey Reiner said he'd have been been OK with the final image being one of Coach Taylor and Tami standing on the patchwork Lions field, staring into an uncertain future. But thankfully, the show had two more seasons to play out its stories of love and loss in the heart of Texas.
The series wasn't without its setbacks: A horribly inept decision to work a murder story line into the second season sent the show into soapy melodrama, and that season was cut short by the writers' strike and unable to recover. Yet the heart of the show was always the relationships among the people of Dillon, Texas, and the way they came to care for each other. The series finale wasn't just one of the series' strongest episodes in a while, it was one of the best series-enders in recent memory. It hit all the right notes, from the tension and release of Eric and Tami's decision to leave Texas to the way every member of the cast found themselves making big choices about their lives. I may or may not have teared up on three separate occasions; I am not at liberty to say. It was a sweet, powerful end to a show that, at its best, was one of the most genuine and engaging human dramas on the air. Texas forever.
• Speaking of critically acclaimed shows with anemic ratings: TNT has canceled Men of a Certain Age. The news came down on Friday, a day after Andre Braugher got his second Emmy nomination for his work on the show (ironically enough, Braugher's most recent Emmy win was for FX's Thief, which was also canceled by the time Braugher got his award). The series lasted two seasons and just shy of two dozen episodes, and though it's no comfort to the show's fans, that's a pretty decent run for an adult drama airing on a network known for its less nuanced entries (The Closer). The show's second season was also hampered by an odd schedule, airing a few episodes last December and January before breaking and returning in June. When viewers don't even know if a show will be on, they probably won't tune in.
• About those Emmy nominations: They are, as usual, hit and miss. It's important to remember that good series, good actors, good writers, etc., are good whether or not they get awards. Yet it's undeniably nice when the good shows get rewarded. It's a reminder that sometimes it's really about the quality, not just the buzz. In the words of one Ron Swanson, "I still think awards are stupid, but they'd be less stupid if they went to the right people."
Yes, it's annoying that a middle-of-the-road show like The Big Bang Theory got nominated for best comedy series, but it's great to see Parks and Recreation in the mix. Yes, it's ridiculous beyond words that Kathy Bates was nominated for lead actress in a drama series for Harry's Law, but it's wonderful that Connie Britton got a nomination for her fantastic work on Friday Night Lights. Yes, it's sad and stupid and just plain wrong that Michelle Forbes got a nomination for her one-dimensional crying on The Killing, but it's proof of a just and loving God that Margo Martindale was nominated for her powerhouse performance on Justified. I'd love to see the good actors and writers and series go home with the gold, but I also know that so many wonderful moments will go unheralded, and that is, in the words of Amy Poehler, a "hot load of bullshit." We all got to watch some great TV this year. Awards would be icing on the cake, but nothing more. So everyone -- even you, Kurt Sutter -- should take the nominations with a giant grain of salt.
• As you have probably been complaining about for days now, Netflix announced a recent restructuring of its prices. Beginning immediately for new customers and September 1 for existing ones, the service will offer two plans: $7.99 a month for a streaming-only plan, or $7.99 for a DVD-only plan that allows you to rent one DVD at a time. You can also choose both plans, the sum of which comes out to $15.98 a month (that price obviously goes up if you want to rent more than one disc at a time). If you think this is terrible, guess what: Your life is awesome. This is the least terrible thing to happen to you in a long time, guaranteed. Netflix has been leading the charge in streaming content, but the cost of renegotiating its contracts with networks and studios means that it has to adjust prices. Distributing online video is more costly than renting DVDs by mail. Imagine if studios reassessed charges every year for brick-and-mortar stores that wanted to sell or rent videos. That's the maddening dance Netflix is stuck in.
The change is drawing the ire of those people who are noting the percentage increase from being able to currently pay $10 a month to get DVDs and streaming content to having to pay $16. They're right, that is a 60 percent jump. And you know what? That's perfectly fine. You're still getting a staggering amount of entertainment delivered right to your home every month. DVDs come by mail, and hundreds of movies and TV series are available via Watch Instantly. I'm currently on the plan that allows two DVDs out at a time. It costs me about $15 a month, and in September, if I do nothing, it will go up to $20. I say bring it on. I'll skip Starbucks one day a month to keep access to on-demand content, stuff that's only available on DVD, and one of the best customer services experience of the Web 2.0 era. If you feel like bitching about it, fine; if you feel like unsubscribing, go for it, it's your money. But don't try to tell me the company's trying to hose me, or that I'm not getting a good deal.
• Glee creator Ryan Murphy announced that several of the show's leads and most successful characters will leave the series after its upcoming third season. Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, and Chris Colfer will graduate and leave the series behind, though there's always the possibility of guest appearances. Murphy's comments about the change tried to walk a line between keeping the show slightly real and just blindly ignoring the fact that it's a fantasy musical revue: "You can keep them on the show for six years and people will criticize you for not being realistic, or you can be really true to life and say when they started the show they were very clearly sophomores and they should graduate at the end of their senior year." How often do the Glee characters actually attend other classes, though? Is that really a concern for Glee writers or fans? Plus, more broadly, Murphy's choice to jettison the three most popular and recognizable faces from his show could prove risky. Anyway, that's happening.
• Legendary TV producer and writer Sherwood Schwartz died last week at the age of 94. Schwartz cut his teeth writing on old-school TV and radio series like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, but he's best known for creating pop culture titans like Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. He also penned those series' theme songs, which are now in your head and will continue to play there until your own death. The songs are remnants of an era when networks were somehow OK with green-lighting series with weirdly specific concepts but not trusting enough of audiences to remember each week just why the hell any of this was happening (the high and low point of this type of intro song: Lidsville). Basically, Schwartz created your childhood. RIP.
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