Today, after its run on DirecTV and ten days before it debuts on NBC, Universal Home Video has released the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights on DVD. Here's an inside look at the three-disc release.
In the interest of not spoiling things for viewers who are waiting to see this last season on NBC, I'm not going to give a detailed review of the fifth season itself. I will say that if you're a fan of the series by this point, it's more of the same - you're going to love this season just as much as you loved the previous four. I actually hadn't even seen the series until I picked up season four last week (I can thank former FNL and current Chicago Code star Matt Lauria for that), and even I didn't have a dry eye at the end of season five. While I'm not as high on this as some of my fellow critics have been, I can say that it's definitely a quality series and one that doesn't drop off in its final season like so many often do.
It's certainly an interesting choice to release the season to DVD now, but given the show's unique dual-run situation, I think it was probably the only choice. If Universal had held off until after the NBC run had finished, they'd risk making the fans who watched on DirecTV wait even longer for the DVD release. And I suppose if you're a die-hard fan who watches on NBC, you can pick this up and watch the whole season in the next ten days, if you're so inclined. If you don't want to spoil it, you can just wait a month or two and who knows? Maybe the price will go down (although the $23 I paid for this isn't bad at all). Although it looks strange on paper, it's really not a bad situation for the fans.
If you own season four, season five is the exact same thing, just with a different color. I love that the FNL sets have uniform art styles, so I can just set them next to each other - although the packaging itself is a minor irritation. Both season sets I have, have seen the cardboard slipcover over the case be a little hard to get off, and then once it comes off, it seems to revert to being tilted rather than a normal rectangle. I don't know why it does that, but it makes it hard to put the thing back on. If the inside case could stand on its own, I'd chuck the outer slipcover in a heartbeat.
This set opens up to fold out with one disc on each panel. The contents for disc one and disc two can be seen right when you open the cover; disc three is on the very back of the interior case. You get episode titles and summaries in the content listings, so there's no need for a booklet. It would be nice, however, if either there or on the menus, the set listed who was on the commentary tracks. Since there's only one person on each with this set, it's not a huge deal but it's one of those little things I've grown accustomed to with DVD releases.
The menus are easily navigable, with episode indexes but no scene selection. You can access deleted scenes from the main menu via "bonus features," as well as the episode indexes, but for commentaries you'll have to go to the episode itself. One word of caution - at the end of an episode, when returning to the episode index, my set defaulted to the deleted scenes for that episode, rather than the next full episode. It makes sense if you want to see the deleted scenes immediately after viewing the episode, but it might be a minor inconvenience to some.
There's a forced trailer for Psych on disc one, but you can skip past it. Universal has also included a smattering of adverts within a "previews" option, including ones for House, Law & Order and the Blu-Ray format.
Specs-wise, you have no additional language support on this set, audio or subtitles-wise. Just an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and English SDH subtitles. That's a surprise; given the acclaim and fan love for this show, I'd think that Universal would want to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Video presentation is 1:78:1 widescreen, and I can say that it looks great on an HDTV.
The Special Features
Like season four, there aren't too many special features on this set. It's a little disappointing, because I think there's ample opportunity for more here, but at least you get something.
Deleted scenes: Some add to the episodes, some don't. That's not a slight against this particular set. It's been my experience that most deleted scenes aren't groundbreaking. After all, they were deleted for a reason.
Photo gallery: On disc one. This is done in the form of several yearbooks, and covers the series. Nice to look at once, but like most photo galleries on DVD releases, once you've seen it, you probably aren't likely to rush back for seconds. There's a spoiler warning here: the pictures do give away plot points.
Featurette: "The Lights Go Out" (approx. 30 mins.) is the obligatory 'end of the series' featurette that one expects on a set like this. It's thorough - you're going to hear from producers and a lot of crew, in particular a lot from showrunner Jason Katims - but you hear less from the cast than I was expecting, and it's at times almost more of a "how they make the show" than a retrospective (with talking about the score and the editing, etc). Regardless, I would call this the best special feature on the set. It comes with the usual warning, though: there are spoilers, so don't watch this until you've seen all of season five.
Two commentary tracks: Both come on the final disc. One for "Don't Go" with director Michael Waxman, and another for the series finale "Always" with executive producer Jason Katims. I'm a little bummed that they couldn't find more than one person to sit on each track (maybe I'm somewhat spoiled, but single-person tracks seem rare to me these days). And what about a cast member or two? These are fine to listen to, I just think they could've been even better if more people had been involved.
What's not on the set: On the package, there's a third commentary track indicated for the episode "Texas Whatever," but no such track exists on the disc itself.
While the special features on this disc are good, I can't help but have a bit of a fan's POV and wish that we heard less from the producers and more from the actors. The producers are great, but it's more fun to hear from the people that we get to see on screen every week. Though I'm sure there's good reason for their absences, it would've taken this set from good to great if there had been a little more of the cast involved.
The Bottom Line
It's a good show, with a good DVD release. While I don't necessarily think of it as highly as some, I can't deny that for $23, it's a deal. Pick this one up if you're looking for a new show to sink your teeth into.