Same Dramatic Sensibility as "Friday Night Lights"?
June 1, 2010 7:13 PM   Subscribe

TV or Movie with Same Dramatic Sensibility as "Friday Night Lights"?

The television series "Friday Night Lights" has become my all-time favorite drama. What appeals to me about it is the struggles of "normal" people trying to do the right thing in imperfect circumstances. I also like the authenticity and its creation of "emotionally resonant moments that feel true." (The Matt Saracen storyline is particularly affecting.)

Is there anything out there that is at all similar?
posted by Jon44 to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
perhaps the movie, 'Friday Night Lights"?
posted by elder18 at 7:34 PM on June 1, 2010

Have you seen The West Wing? While everyone works at the White House (so may not be considered "normal"), they're still very human, and always trying to do the right thing -- and the right thing is always complicated.

(I love FNL.)
posted by cider at 7:37 PM on June 1, 2010

This might sound weird, but Battlestar Galactica always felt very similar to me. They're both very claustrophobic and focus on people trying to make good decisions in extenuating circumstances.
posted by GilloD at 7:45 PM on June 1, 2010

The Wire
posted by k8t at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Generation Kill -- the 7-hour miniseries that aired on HBO in 2008, by the dudes who made The Wire -- is the epitome of what you describe. I love FNL, but GK is even better.
posted by eugenen at 7:59 PM on June 1, 2010

I would say no, there is nothing like it that I know of. I completely disagree with eugenen--GK is not in the same vein and is nowhere near the quality. I was tired of it after an episode and a half and should probably have used my time for other things rather than finish it.

The fourth season of the Wire deals mostly with the kids and is the best season of the series, imo, and though not similar, it's about as close as anything else I've seen.

FNL is probably my favorite currently running (or not canceled) show. Other shows I recommend are Breaking Bad (which has family drama in addition to it's drugs/cops plots), Deadwood (the greatest show ever made) and John From Cincinnati (my number two). I won't say these shows are at all similar but they're of equal quality or better. JFC is a very tough show to crack but worth it, imo, though don't judge my other recommendations based on it. You might also like Treme.

As for movies, I can list many that deal with regular folks trying to figure out their best moves when their enemies are normal people or themselves, but my favorites are probably:

Five Easy Pieces
Carnal Knowledge
Scenes from a Marriage (actually, a series)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Laws of Gravity
Rosetta (and any other movie directed by the Dardenne Brothers)
Moonlight Mile
posted by dobbs at 8:22 PM on June 1, 2010

the melodrama is more amped up, but i think that nbc's parenthood shares some of those qualities with friday night lights.
posted by jimw at 8:47 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

ditto Parenthood, which is made by the same people who did FNL. Minka Kelly (Lyla Garrity) even guest starred for a few episodes.
Sports Night and the West Wing may interest you.
You should give Breaking Bad a try too. It improves every season, but the first season is still awesome (and probably the most 'normal' part).
posted by acidic at 10:00 PM on June 1, 2010

Unfortunately, I've never seen anything on television that comes close to Friday Night Lights in terms of quality character-driven drama. (I'm not sure if it's aired on NBC yet, but there is one Matt Saracen-focused episode in season 4 that was the most emotionally affecting thing I've seen on television probably ever. FNL has long been an absolutely criminal Emmy oversight, but if Zach Gilford doesn't at least get nominated this year, there is something very wrong with Emmy voters.)

Six Feet Under is a lot less subtle than FNL, but I think the familial relationships of the Fisher family at its core have the same kind of emotional honesty. (Aside from the aforementioned episode of FNL, the Six Feet Under series finale is the biggest emotional gut-punch I've ever had at the hands of TV.)

I would never call FNL a "teen" show, but both My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks take the same kind of nuanced approach to adolescence.

Previously mentioned Breaking Bad and The Wire are both amazing shows. Definitely more plot-driven than FNL, but "the struggles of "normal" people trying to do the right thing in imperfect circumstances" basically defines both of them. Breaking Bad's Walter White is a very complicated character, and Bryan Cranston has won the Emmy two years in a row now.

In terms of dramatic sensibility, Nurse Jackie isn't the same as FNL at all--it's more of a dramedy than a drama--but along the lines of "people trying to do the right thing," I find the title character the most morally ambiguous character on TV right now (aside from Walter White)--a drug-addicted, lying and cheating nurse who nevertheless does everything in her power to "do the right thing" for the patients she sees. (Plus Edie Falco is exceptional. If you haven't yet watched The Tony/Carmela is basically the antithesis of Coach Taylor/Tammy, but a fascinating look at a marriage nonetheless.)

Additionally, I haven't seen the Friday Night Lights movie, but the book that started the whole thing is worth a read. Certainly more about football than the TV show is, but it was a great way for me to really grasp the high school football culture of small-town Texas.

Looking at my recommendations, I'm disappointed that I can't come up with anything really similar to FNL--I will definitely be watching this thread with interest. FNL is probably my favorite drama, too.
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:57 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "but there is one Matt Saracen-focused episode in season 4 that was the most emotionally affecting thing I've seen on television probably ever"

Just a quick note to completely agree with this sentiment--from what I see on websites, I think the episode in question ("The Son" ??) is coming up this week or next--I saw it last fall and doesn't feel like TV at all, more like sitting in the front row, watching a First-Class actor on Broadway.

Thanks for all recommendations so far--I have been getting into "Breaking Bad," at times it seems more style over substance, but the style is so unique (e.g., weird visuals of stuffed animal's eye floating around), they feel substantive.

Some of the other recommendations make me reexamine my initial reactions to shows--I watched first episodes of "The Wire" and "Treme" and nothing grabbed my interest, (and, I felt hit over the head with "Gritty Realism" as if it was writtin on a big chalkboard somewhere.) A little bit similar with "Six Feet Under"--I loved first episode, but after that I felt kind of pushed away by Big Ideas. (Maybe my reactions were distorted (we feel things are "authentic" if they deal with themes we like (?))...)
posted by Jon44 at 5:48 AM on June 2, 2010

I think Six Feet Under is exactly what you're looking for, but you need to hand in there a bit. This show started as a show about a concept and then quickly evolved into a show about life decisions. I also think Freaks and Geeks is a good suggestion.
posted by xammerboy at 6:00 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

the episode in question ("The Son" ??)

That's the one. Gilford was so, so good--the scene where [SPOILER] he sees his dad in the casket? Heart-wrenching.

With regards to Breaking Bad, it's one of those shows that I think needs to be "digested"--sometimes the emotional content is lost in the shuffle of the action. Reflecting on episodes later has made me really appreciate the depths of the characters much more.

It took me a while to get into The Wire, which at the time made me feel like a Big Failure of a critical television viewer--I started watching while the third season was airing, by which time it had already been declared The Best Show of All-Time so I plowed through. Seriously, stick with it. It took me at least halfway through the first season to start liking it, and then until the end of the season to really love it. (And I confess, I watched the first three episodes of Treme and put it on the back burner. I suspect, much like The Wire, it will be one of those shows that's better on DVD.)

Six Feet Under is hit-or-miss, I think. How many episodes did you watch? If you didn't like the first season, it's probably not worth sticking with--most people think it slips after the second season. (Here's another AskMe thread that deals with people's reactions to the show.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 7:15 AM on June 2, 2010

We are fans of FNL in my house too. I think I especially like it because it is a great jumping off place for discussions with my kids who are the perfect age for certain talks that need to happen but are not always easy to just bring up.

With that said, I think the show "Joan of Arcadia" might be what you are looking for. Well written, thought provoking, funny, people with real world issues, and well acted. It didn't get the credit it also deserved.
posted by maxg94 at 7:25 AM on June 2, 2010

The films of Mike Leigh share a similar humanist angle. His characters feel truly real to me in the same way FNL's do.
posted by keever at 8:39 AM on June 2, 2010

What we love about FNL (and most of our other favorite shows or movies) we sum up with the term "not like TV." I.e., it doesn't seem built from the standard parts list of most other American TV. It's more natural than standard TV, with real people talking real dialog (not reworked TV-land "clever"-talk), and it's not laced with bizarro, only-on-TV characters and situations, Big Themes or High Concepts, and has no crime or paranormal titillation thrown in, just to make everything better (Landry's dead-body problem in S2 notwithstanding). Plus the acting's subtle and accomplished and the characters are winning (plus gorgeous of course). Despite the realism, FNL does have a liking for resolutions that turn out happy more often than not, which we also like. This may be what really makes it stand out, since most other similarly realist works aren't likely to be so uplifting.

If that rings a bell, perhaps you're ready to graduate from American DRAMA! to British, Australian and European drama, which we find much more likely to ring true, feel natural, be beautifully made, be more mature, and not be tainted with American TVisms. Israeli movies are also often excellent and natural.

A few first-rate examples we've seen recently that felt FNL-ish, now that you mention it: The Damned United, a British flick about soccer coaching taken from a book that explores a true situation; and Campfire, an Israeli movie about a single mother with two teen-agers.

There's a mega-ton of great stuff out there once you decide to jump the border… And a lot of it can be easily found in AskMetaFliter threads like this and in the similar ones linked at the bottom of that page.

Have you tried In Treatment, btw? Not like TV.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2010

Scratch "European" in my comment above and replace with "Canadian." Not that there's anything wrong with European drama of course. But it's often a bit easier to feel at home with stuff from the English-speaking parts of the world if you're from the US. And the best Australian and Canadian work usually offers a fascinating alternative view of a basically British sensibility getting translated by those other émigrés from the Scepter'd Isle.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:19 AM on June 2, 2010

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