Kyle's Career Filmstrip: TV Series and Movies

May 28, 2013

Gateway Episodes: Friday Night Lights

Summer is right around the corner—the perfect time to catch up with a few of those shows everyone is always saying you should watch. But there are so many! How can you decide which to try? Pilot episodes have so much introductory work to do; they’re usually subpar compared with the great stuff to come. And the very best episodes of a series often demand too much knowledge of what came before.

You need to find the gateway episode, one you can watch without any background knowledge and which will give you a real sense of the show—and whether you’ll like it. In this weekly Brow Beat series, we direct you to the best gateway episodes for great series you should watch this summer.
Zach Gilford and Kyle Chandler

I long resisted watching Friday Night Lights for one simple reason: It’s about football, a sport I haven’t cared much about since John Elway led the Broncos to their second Super Bowl. But, as fans so often like to say, the show isn’t really about football—it’s about what the sport means to these characters in the football-crazed town of Dillon, Texas.

Football structures the lives of Dillon’s inhabitants. For the players, the Dillon Panthers provide an alternate family—Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), are the parents we all wish we’d had—and a potential way out of their small town via a college scholarship. But it also creates a skewed social structure that gives good players free passes for bad behavior and marginalizes those who aren’t athletically gifted or inclined.

The pilot isn’t a bad place to start with this show—it’s a wonderful episode of television that establishes the feel of Dillon, and the shocking event at the end sets most of the show’s conflicts in motion—but it’s not particularly indicative of what a typical episode of the show is like. It’s divided up into days leading up to the season’s first big day and this structural cleverness—along with the necessity of introducing the basic outlines of each of the show’s many characters—makes the episode almost feel more like a movie than an installment of a serial TV show.

A better test case for Friday Night Lights fence-sitters is “Nevermind,” the first season’s 11th episode. The show’s heavy serialization makes it a bit tricky to jump in midstream, but “Nevermind” stands alone reasonably well if you’re willing to use context clues to figure out what’s going on. (That guy yelling at the football players? He’s the coach.) The one piece of backstory you do need to know is that—spoiler alert—a love triangle has developed among Jason Street, Lyla Garrity, and Tim Riggins. (More spoilers, mostly about the pilot, follow.) At the beginning of the series, Street (Jason Porter) is the golden boy quarterback, but a hard play on the field at the end of the pilot leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. His girlfriend Lyla (Minka Kelly) stays faithful for a while, but finally succumbs to the bad-boy charms of his troubled and extremely attractive best friend, Riggins (Taylor Kitsch).

Like most episodes of this show, “Nevermind” keeps a few plots running simultaneously until they all come together at the climactic Friday game. The father of replacement quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) comes home on leave from Iraq, but the reunion isn’t as happy as it should be. Jason adjusts to his new life and tries to mend his relationship with Lyla. Mrs. Coach drafts Matt’s nerdy best friend Landry (Jesse Plemons) into tutoring Riggins. Meanwhile, the football team attends the annual church dinner.

The episode doesn’t cover all of the season’s main arcs—bad girl Tyra is left out completely, and brash running back Smash only appears during the game—but it displays most of the show’s strengths nonetheless.* The Landry-Riggins plot epitomizes the show’s low-key humor—Landry, we learn, has a Christian metal band called Crucifictorious—and includes some of Tami Taylor’s patented straight talk. (“It’s part of my job to make sure that you don’t grow up stupid,” she tells Riggins. “It’s bad for the world.”)

On the more serious side, the tense bond between Matt and his dad may be the saddest relationship in a show full of twisted family dynamics. Matt’s excitement over his dad’s return quickly evaporates as it becomes clear the older man is uninterested in supporting Matt’s endeavors or helping him to care for his ailing grandmother.  When Matt’s dad tells Coach Taylor that he just hopes that Matt won’t screw up under pressure, the look on his son’s face is quietly devastating.

Even the show’s soapiest plotline—the ongoing saga of Street and Garrity—becomes a careful meditation the effects of trauma and the nature of forgiveness. In “Nevermind,” the reunited couple grapples with newfound sexual challenges, both physical and emotional. And the writers understand how inextricable those two can be when it comes to one’s self-image, particularly for young men who are worshiped for what their bodies can do. When, after a failed attempt to have sex, Street snaps, “If you want to get laid so bad, call Riggins,” it conveys both his ongoing anger at Lyla’s betrayal and his despair at his body’s refusal to cooperate.

Friday Night Lights does many things well—create a sense of place, depict the pains of adolescence, flesh out a genuinely happy marriage—but the show’s power comes from its gloriously, painfully human characters. You don’t have to like football to root for the Panthers. You just have to recognize how much it means to the people you can’t help but love.

May 21, 2013

Ward Bond, Kyle Chandler .. and Liz’s Book Club?

By Elizabeth Snyder

Is Kyle Chandler, seen in the left photo with Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” this generation's Ward Bond (seen at right with Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind”)? And what does that have to do with Liz's Book Club? Nothing really, except to remind you the deadline to submit books is Wednesday. 
Which came first, the journalist or the deadline?

In my own variation of the “chicken or the egg” question, I’ve never known whether I started working for newspapers because I need the tyranny of an absolute deadline to accomplish anything or if I need the tyranny of an absolute deadline to accomplish anything because I work for a newspaper!
The deadline thing doesn’t just apply here in the newsroom either. Ask me the last time I dusted anything at home ... and no one was coming over. (Hint: Never.)

I recently told a group of friends over lunch that “I live my life by library deadlines,” explaining I had to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo” on DVD that afternoon and then finish a 469-page book by the end of the weekend to stay in the good graces of our local librarians.

Watching the films back-to-back that way did offer this observation: Kyle Chandler is the modern Ward Bond.

Bond was a popular character actor who appeared in more movies than any other performer on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 U.S. films. He had roles in seven titles on the AFI list — “It Happened One Night,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Searchers.”

Jimmy Stewart is next on the list, appearing in six movies.

Bond was never a leading man, but he was able to enjoy a long, flourishing Hollywood career by being a dependable presence in a number of films — from a screwball comedy like “Bringing Up Baby” to dramas (“Gone with the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath”) and John Ford’s searing Western classic, “The Searchers.” In all, he made 23 films with his longtime friend John Wayne and also starred in the TV series “Wagon Train” until his death at age 57 of a heart attack.

I hope Chandler — who is probably best known as high school football coach Eric Taylor on “Friday Night Lights,” for which he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2011 — enjoys a long, Bond-like career.

He had roles in the big-screen films “King Kong” (Peter Jackon’s 2005 version) and 2011’s Steven Spielberg sci-fi romp “Super 8.”

Chandler also had supporting roles in “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which were both Academy Award Best Picture nominees this year (“Argo” won). That places him squarely in Ward Bond territory; Bond appeared in 11 Best Picture nominees.

This is a very long, meandering way to remind folks reading this column that you also have a deadline.  May 22.

That’s when this year’s book suggestions for the fifth edition of Liz’s Book Club are due.
To join the club, just tell us about a great book (fiction or nonfiction) you’ve read and why you liked it so much. We’ll run the book list and descriptions on May 26. And, to sweeten the deal, we’ll even offer an incentive. One person, chosen at random, will receive a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.  (Sorry; this isn’t Oprah’s Book Club and we can’t give everyone a car.)

Send your suggestions — by Wednesday (May 22) — to “Liz’s Book Club,” Kenosha News, 5800 Seventh Ave., Kenosha, WI 53140. Send emails to: The deadline is May 22.

And, if you’re curious, the book I was reading — and did hustle back to the Northside Library on time — is “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer. The book, which just came out in April, follows the lives of six teens who meet at an “arty” New England summer camp in 1974. As for the movies — “Zero Dark Thirty” plays like a two-and-a-half-hour very special episode of “60 Minutes” (complete with torture scenes!) while “Argo” is an entertaining tale of guts and intrigue.

Note from KCC:  We also hope for a long Bond-like career and look to see Kyle is some more principal roles.

May 16, 2013

'Friday Night Lights' Movie 2013 Based on TV Show Planned, Producer Brian Grazer Says

Kyle Chandler
"Friday Night Lights" actor Kyle Chandler talks to U.S. service members Nov. 14, 2009, at the Warrior and Family Support Center on Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo : Staff Sgt. Bennie Davis, USAF/Wikimedia Commons) 
Fans of Friday Night Lights could be treated to a movie version of the football drama, says producer Bryan Grazer.

With successful Kickstarter campaigns for Zach Braff's "spiritual" sequel to Garden State and the record-setting Veronica Mars movie adaptation project, the producers of television's Friday Night Lights are looking to tap into the crowd-funding trend.

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Producer Brian Grazer told Deadline on Thursday that a movie based on the series is being planned:  "We made a terrific feature with Pete Berg, turned it into a terrific TV series and will now make a movie from that series."

Though crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have helped independent projects of famous people and entities as of late, it is not foolproof.  Melissa Joan Hart shut down her own campaign after lack of interest failed to fund her project.  Producers of Friday Night Lights will be banking on the series' cult following to fund this movie project.

The Friday Night Lights franchise started with the 1990 book Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, which was adapted into a 2004 film starring Billy Bob Thornton.  Raking in $61 million at the box office, the movie was adapted into a television series on NBC, recasting most of the roles and renaming the characters.

The television series ran from 2006-2011 despite low ratings and a move to DirecTV, and garnered an Emmy win for Kyle Chandler in the show's last season and nominations for Connie Britton and the show itself.

Since the series ended, the cast has appeared in high-profile roles in film and television.  Kyle Chandler has had key roles in films like Super 8 and Zero Dark Thirty while Connie Britton has taken on lead roles in television's Nashville and the first season of American Horror Story.  Taylor Kitsch has starred in big-budget action flicks like Battleship and John Carter.

May 15, 2013

The Yorker (UK) Review: Friday Night Lights

Under normal circumstances, the phrases “high school drama” and “American Football drama” conjure up negative opinions when referring to American television. It’s not that they’re inherently bad concepts; it’s just that they’re the types of show where stereotypically, the creative effort goes into reaching their target audience rather that creating an immersive, well-written show. Thankfully Friday Night Lights, going strong into its fifth and final season, has always bucked the trend.

©NBC; Image credit: NBC

The basic premise of the show is that it follows a group of high school teens and their families who are all connected to the ventures and failures of the local small town Texan high school football team as it carries the hopes and heavy attention of the town. A simple and not unheard of concept, but in practice the show is leagues ahead of the competition due to the ways in which; the show realistically and cinematically represents the atmosphere and intensity of American football games and the dramatic storylines between the characters feels natural and not forced.

Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) has to adjust to her new role as guidance counsellor dealing with rougher kids than she is used to. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) continues to revitalise his team after their poor season record the previous year with help from Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) whose brother Tim (Taylor Kitsch) is suffering the consequences of his actions in season 4, much to the disappointment of Becky (Madison Burge). The characters introduced in season 4 are back and just as integral to proceedings as the mainstays; Luke (Matt Lauria), Vince (Michael B. Jordan), and Jess (Jurnee Smollett) team up to try and convince the athletically talented Hastings (Grey Damon) to ditch basketball for the more popular football team. The fact that there are also many recurring characters that we see little of but get glimpses into their truer identities is testament to the way in which the show is written.

So as a drama, Friday Night Lights is top notch. The real cherry on the cake, however, is the football matches themselves. Thanks in part to the nature of American Football as a sport, which encourages isolated moments of constant drama and late brilliance in real life, the show can consistently afford to ramp up the drama on game day. The real beauty of the way the show is shot really comes out in the matches in a way no other sports shows can really compare to, whereas the score of the show consists of dreamy Texan post rock complementing the barren, open feel of the town.

©NBC ; Image credit: NBC

As opposed to other TV shows, where the drama might tire or the rails may come off the plot slightly at times, Friday Night Lights is one of the most consistently entertaining shows out there. If you can’t watch the first four seasons at some point, I would still recommend tuning in to the new season if only so you don’t miss out on one of the best made shows on television.

May 5, 2013

Why It's Been An 'Unusually Difficult Pilot Season' Across The Board

Pilot Season

Broadcast and cable networks — as well as new TV player Amazon — are all participating in the current pilot season, which means that more than 100 new shows are scouting A-list actors and directors simultaneously. As a result, 20th Century Fox TV chairman Dana Walden says that it's been "an unusually difficult pilot season for everybody." The talent run means that shows like Bravo's The Joneses, USA's Horizon, and NBC's Donor Party had to be shelved because they couldn't attract suitable actors. And some ended up in a lurch even after successfully recruiting a big name: While ABC's Pulling signed up Mandy Moore and NBC's Girlfriend in a Coma snagged Christina Ricci, both actresses ended up walking away from the projects, possibly because a desperate scramble for stars produced some bad matches.

Meanwhile, several cable and digital shows were pleasantly surprised by their ability to lock in attractions such as John Goodman (Amazon's Alpha House),  Kyle Chandler (Showtime's The Vatican), Amanda Peet (HBO's Togetherness), and Alicia Silverstone (Lifetime's HR.) Though the broadcast networks still got their fair share of stars (Robin Williams joined CBS's David E. Kelley comedy, while Greg Kinnear went to Fox's Rake), the stress of this year's competition has given executives like Walden hope that "networks will look at the success that their cable competitors are experiencing and change [the casting] process a little bit," though overhaul is not likely until number 1 network CBS does it first.

Read the whole story at Vulture