For five seasons, NBC’s Friday Night Lights used high school football as a vessel to explore the stories that sprang up around the game. The show was most brilliant for the way it blended the sport with relatable, all-American subjects.
A new documentary series — executive-produced by Peter Berg, FNL’s creator and director — is doing the same, without the benefit of writing the script.
The series is called QB1: Beyond the Lights. It will stream for free on Verizon’s go90 and on the go90 app, available on the App Store or Google Play. (Anyone can watch; Verizon users can watch on their phones without using data availability.) There are 10 episodes of about a half-hour each, released in shortform batches of three to start, with the first shows coming out on Wednesday, Feb. 15. QB1, which centers around three Power 5 QBs from the 2017 signing class, has echoes of its predecessor all over.
Here’s an exclusive look at the series’ first few minutes:
When you’re watching QB1, you’re thinking about FNL.
That starts with "QB1," the label the fictional coach Eric Taylor gave to his starting quarterbacks in the NBC show. There are three QBs1 in this series, all followed by cameras throughout their senior years: Ohio State signee Tate Martell, Georgia signee Jake Fromm, and Wake Forest signee Tayvon Bowers. Their stories are set around their homes and schools in Las Vegas (Martell), suburban Georgia (Fromm), and Central Pennsylvania (Bowers.) They’re all similar enough to Dillon, Texas.
“There’s really kind of an infinite number of stories that you could tell around football, and I think that’s what they encountered when they were making those original-scripted programs,” co-executive producer Peter Richardson said in an interview. “The documentary really became, I think, an extension of that idea and that ethos, that, yes, it’s a series about high school football, but it’s really also very much a series about relationships and families and being a brother and a sister and a kid and a classmate and a teammate.”
In FNL, Berg’s world was his own. Dillon’s first star quarterback, Jason Street, was more or less in the same position as Fromm: a heavily recruited celebrity in a small Southern town, tasked with leading a state title contender. When Street was injured at the end of FNL’s pilot, it was crushing, but it also made for a storyline that drove parts of that series for years. QB1 had to find stories without conjuring such drama.
“I think the funny thing is that true life has a way of surprising you in ways that you can never possibly imagine,” Richardson said. “I think that going into the series, I had those same concerns of, ‘Wow, we’re doing 10 episodes. These are all amazing kids and really interesting and unique football programs, but are we gonna have enough story, ultimately, for these 10 episodes?’”
I’ve been able watch one episode ahead of the show’s release, and I think the answer is “yes.” The show will feature some gripping game action, like Martell’s Gorman team winning the national title in a triple-overtime banger. The same series features Bowers continually confronting the loss of his father.
“It’s the kinds of moments that often do get scripted into sports stories like this. You think, ‘Well, scripted, and that doesn’t really happen in real life,’ but it does,” Richardson said. “And when it does happen in front of your cameras, that’s a really remarkable thing.”
The show faces challenges, but it’s still a fun watch.
Not everything feels new, if only because nothing about high school football really is new. There is a quarterback musing to a friend that his coach doesn’t want him to have a girlfriend. There are coaches threatening to push players harder than they probably should. (“If you’re just sick, I mean, come on. You’re not gonna die. You’ll be fine,” one head coach tells his players about missing practices.) There is an intense Sports Dad who wants his son to rest during easier games to protect himself from injury.
Documenting high school kids is tricky. There are blurred faces in hallways and in locker rooms, because not everyone had a release to appear in the film. High schoolers do things that, for myriad reasons, can’t be filmed. Coaches don’t always want camera crews in their locker rooms. It’s not doable to shoot every intimate moment.
But what the QB1 team captures comes off as impressively non-choreographed for a show featuring people who have never been filmed this much.
When Bowers sloths out of his bed in the morning, only after examining his phone, it’s real. When Fromm gets up with tons of pep in his step and heads to the gym, it’s real. When Martell applies hair spray across multiple shots, it’s real. And when a cramping Fromm has blood drawn and it spills all over his arm, that’s real, too.
Trailer: Pete Berg's 'Beyond the Lights' follows top QBs
The creator of Friday Night Lights has a documentary series that follows new QBs for Georgia, Ohio State, and Wake Forest. Check it out.Posted by SB Nation College Football on 2hb Februari 2017