Critics have gone wild over Friday Night Lights, a series about high school football in small-town Texas. Audiences haven't gone wild, but it's time to start, people. NBC has begun airing the fourth season at an unconventional time, just as 2009-10 is winding down for other dramas. That should give us more of a chance to concentrate on steely Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his East Dillon Lions, who face big problems on their small patch of torn-up ground between the goalposts.
This week (Friday, 7 p.m.), the Lions' players have defected after Coach called a forfeit in the previous game. They refuse to show up for practice, and the empty Texas sky looks mighty melancholy. In the meantime, Coach's wife (Connie Britton), the principal at rival West Dillon, blows the whistle on a star player who's attending school illegally.
Coach convinces the players to hear him out at a special Saturday night practice. He starts a bonfire in a trashcan and gives an inspirational speech worthy of Vince Lombardi: "Who will finish this fight with me? Who wants to finish this fight? Who wants to finish this fight?"
I felt stupid for yelling "Me!" before any of the characters did.
Sunday, 6 pm (NBC)
In recent years, the Miss USA/Teen USA organization has drawn attention to itself for all the wrong reasons. One pageant contestant was so high that she doesn't remember being crowned the winner, and she made headlines afterward for her hard-partying ways. Another spewed such idiocy during the Final Question that she became an enduring national joke. And at last year's Miss USA pageant, a contestant spoke out against same-sex marriage under the banner of family values, after which she was found to have posed for sleazy pictures.
Why is this so delightful? Because of the pageants' offensive practice of putting women on a pedestal, as if they were perfectly virtuous and virginal. As that old-fashioned vision collides with modern-day reality, the embarrassing moments will continue to occur.
In other words: I wouldn't miss this week's Miss USA pageant for the world.
Sunday, 7 pm (CBS)
The season called "Heroes vs. Villains" concludes this week, following episode after episode in which "heroes" like JT and Amanda were seriously outmaneuvered by "villains" like Russell and Parvati. The message has been clear: Villains rule, heroes drool.
I've had fun watching this truth emerge over the course of the season, even though it doesn't bode well for the human race in a general sense.
Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)
In the latest episode of "Foyle's War," set in England after World War II, police chief Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is ready to quit the Hastings force and sail to America. But he gets caught up in the case of British soldier James Devereaux, who'd been a prisoner of the Germans. Devereaux was drafted into the British Free Corps, a group of POWs who fought for the Nazis. Now he sits in a Hastings prison, accused of treason. The defense could be simple: "I was coerced." But the depressive Devereaux refuses to make that argument, or any argument. He seems to want to be hanged. In the meantime, the secretary for his wealthy, distant father has been murdered.
It's an intriguing mystery, and Foyle is the man to solve it. As played by Kitchen, the chief is not sexy, or quirky, or deeply flawed. He doesn't need a Big Personality Trait because he's believably human and intelligent, and that's enough to hold our interest.
If Foyle wants to sail to America after this case wraps up, I, for one, would welcome him with open arms.
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
To be honest, my heart didn't race at the prospect of an American whaling documentary. But American Experience's "Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World" is utterly fascinating. Whale oil was the petroleum of its day, greasing the skids for the Industrial Revolution. It became the engine of America's economic growth from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and it created a sailing subculture full of danger and romance.
Whaling ships set off on epic voyages into a vast wilderness, searching for 80-ton monsters. Their hunts were marked by primordial bloodlust, as small groups rowed out to harpoon the whale, track it through the ocean, and finally lance it through the lungs. At this point, geysers of gore would shoot into the sky, and the men would yell "CHIMNEYS OF FIRE!" to signal a successful kill.
I felt sick to my stomach after the documentary's vivid descriptions, but I was secretly thrilled at the thought of saying "CHIMNEYS OF FIRE!" sans gore, of course. Maybe I'll try it in my basement when nobody's home.