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'FNL': An evening with the Panthers

February 2, 2008 |  9:38 am

Palicki_wi_15405870_250 Panther fans, I saw the Panthers. They were all dressed up and on display, part of an evening with “Friday Night Lights.”

This was Thursday night at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood, for a screening of last night’s episode and a panel discussion with the producers and cast (complete with mini red carpet outside).

Riggins was there, and Tyra, and Landry, and Lyla, and Coach Taylor and his wife, and their daughter Julie, but not Smash or Saracen or Street.

Speaking of Street, here's a plot spoiler alert (skip the first paragraph on the jump if you wish):

lRemember that waitress he ended up going home with a few weeks back, after bailing on that chick he met on the Internet? Series executive producer Jason Katims revealed that we’ll discover that the waitress is pregnant after their one-night stand. Also next week, "FNL" creator Peter Berg shows up as an old flame of Tami Taylor’s.

Otherwise, the evening with the Panthers was a little on the anti-climactic side — proof, I guess, that meeting your heroes can inevitably be a little deflating, not what you’d thought it would be.

Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) was very Riggins, all loose swagger and saying of his beer-guzzling, chick-chasing character (whom he kept calling “Riggs”): “I wanna see him bottom out even more.”

He was seated at the end of the stage, like catnip for the ladies (which he was later asked about, initially seeming confused, hearing himself described as catnip, eventually settling on a demure response).

Next to Riggs was Lyla (Minka Kelly), who had Landry (Jesse Plemons) to her left. Plemons was in a shirt-and-tie-and vest ensemble. (My g'friend, who was there to gawk at Riggins, lost her crush as soon as Riggs opened his mouth, switching allegiance to Landry, saying he was a lot cuter in person.)

Anyway, Landry talked about the emotionality of his story arc this season with Tyra (Adrianne Palicki, who was wearing a purple scoop-neck dress cut low from every angle). 

The discussion among the actors was kinda light on the insight and heavy on the shy giggles and all-credit-due-to-the-writers comments. You could tell, though, that they feel the show’s intense popularity (among its small core base of fans, some of whom were in the audience snapping their little digital cameras like paparazzi).

I wish the panel had talked more about process — "FNL" is shot in Austin, Texas, entirely on location, with hand-held camera folks tracking the action. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) compared these stealth cameras to “snipers,” because you never see them, and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) talked about how the show’s docu-style (no soundstage, no blocking) is so freeing and loose, enabling the actors to get into their characters to achieve that intimacy and character evolution.

Amid the accolades all around for the writers, Katims, who runs the "FNL" shop here in L.A., acknowledged that the whole Tyra-Landry-killing of stalker arc might have thrown people this season. But he really wanted to give the show over to the ensemble cast this season. Fellow producer Jeffrey Reiner said: “It wasn’t a device,” adding that they went into it from a purely emotional place.

Katims said the show was “just about to go into a really big football arc” when the writers strike shut things down.

That was the elephant in the theater — was this all there would be? "FNL" has one fresh episode left, made before the Writers Guild of America walkout, and chances of the show’s return to NBC next season range from murky to anyone’s guess.

But for an evening, it seemed as if these people who exist in Dillon, Texas, had put on their finery and come to L.A., revealing that it’s all just make-believe.

Like, was that Julie or an actress named Aimee Teegarden?

That’s what felt, well, strange, and what is ultimately a testament to the show.

— Paul Brownfield

(Adrianne Palicki, photo courtesy Wireimage)

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