DirectorPeter Berg, Jeffrey Reiner, Various
Release Date(s)2006-2011 (September 26, 2017)
Studio(s)NBC/Universal/Imagine/DirecTV (Mill Creek Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: N/A
The phrase “Golden Age of Television” is oft overused these days, but there’s no doubt that we’ve seen a renaissance in the number and quality of dramatic series on TV in recent years. Even so, there are a few that truly stand out. NBC’s Friday Night Lights, based on the film by Peter Berg and the book by H.G. Bissinger, surely ranks very highly among them.
On its surface, the show is about high school football in small town Texas. And if you know anything about small town Texas, you know that high school football is taken very seriously there. But Friday Night Lights is really a family drama. It’s about Eric Taylor, the brand new coach of the Dillon Panthers football team, his wife Tami, the school’s guidance counselor, and their daughter Julie, as they struggle to find their place in town and to deal with its high expectations of them. It’s about young Matt Saracen, the Panthers’ seldom used backup QB, who lives with his grandmother because his parents are MIA, who is thrust into the spotlight when the team’s star QB goes down to an injury. It’s about Buddy Garrity, a local car dealer and the team’s biggest booster, who struggles to build a relationship with his daughter and overcome his personal flaws. And it’s about every person on and around this team, and the people who care for and believe in them, as they try to find their place in the world. Friday Nights Lights is about a community. This is the series that introduced us to Kyle Chandler (Bloodline), Connie Britton (Nashville), Adrianne Palicki (Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad), Michael B. Jordan (Creed), and so many other great actors. And it’s as honest and intelligent a piece of drama as you will ever see. I grew up in a little North Dakota town just like this one – trust me, every bit of this series rings true and shines with authenticity. If you want to understand the beating heart of America, Friday Night Lights is as clear and perfect window as you’ll ever find.
The series was shot on film entirely on location, almost exclusively in and around Austin, Texas and Pflugerville, Texas. For its Blu-ray release, Mill Creek was given access to 1080p HD masters, which are presented here in the original 1.78:1 TV aspect ratio. The series aired for two seasons exclusively on NBC, but to save money the network later partnered with DirecTV, which was granted first access to the final three seasons on its 101 Network, followed a few months later by NBC re-broadcasts. All 78 episodes are included here, all five seasons, on 13 Blu-rays. If you watched those original broadcasts, you’ll know what to expect quality-wise. The image is clear, with moderate grain throughout, decent contrast, fair detail and texturing, and nice color – slightly richer and more vibrant here on disc with its better data rates and less compression. This isn’t a dazzling image, but the series will surely never look better than it does here.
[Editor’s Note: When the DirecTV/NBC cost-sharing began on this series with Season Three, the satellite provider reportedly broadcast episodes in slightly extended versions, and there were changes to some of the episodes’ soundtracks due to music licensing issues. It’s very hard to pin down comprehensive and accurate information as to the exact running time differences and music alterations – believe me, I’ve tried. What I can tell you is that these episodes appear to be the exact same masters that have appeared recently on Netflix.]
Audio is included in the original English 5.1 Dolby Digital broadcast mixes. They’re not flashy, but the soundstage is nicely wide, the clarity is excellent, and there’s good atmospherics. The show uses music well too, and when it does, it sounds terrific. You’ll be pleased to know that every episode includes optional English subtitles for those who need them.
The one strike against Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release is that there are no extras, which is a shame because Universal’s previous DVD sets included some good ones. Naturally, that means you’ll have to keep those DVDs if you want to hang on to that material – deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, even some audio commentaries. I’ll be honest, I was a little irritated by the lack of bonus content at first. But then I started sampling these episodes on Blu-ray… and I kept getting sucked in. I spun every disc in the set and checked out about half of the episodes for this review. And every damn time, it was tough not to keep watching the whole episode. So I got over the lack of extras. I wasn’t going to ditch my DVDs anyway.
Friday Night Lights is a extraordinary piece of television, one of the very best series of the last twenty years, and one of my all-time favorites. If you’re already a fan, then you know how good it is. And if you’ve never see it before, I envy you. You’re in for one of the great TV binging experiences you’ll ever have, and it’s one you can experience with your whole family. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray set doesn’t exactly provide the best value, but the A/V quality is solid. And I can’t begin to express how glad I am simply to finally be able to own this series on Blu-ray. Get it on sale if you must, but do get it. And savor every minute of it. Clear eyes, full hearts.
- Bill Hunt