As mentioned earlier, my wife and I were having some trouble seeing how things turned out for Coach Taylor and the Dillon Panthers in the new series Friday Night Lights. Thanks to our Shanghai-based friend Tom Carter, we got .AVI files of the final two episodes, which allowed us to watch them on a laptop computer (hey, the rigors of the foreign-correspondent life) without the 30-seconds-on, 45-seconds-off herky-jerky effect of watching "streaming" video from NBC's own site while based in China.
So now we know the first-season fate of Coach, Mrs. Coach, Smash, Riggins, Buddy, Tyra, Landry, Lyla, Street, Matt Saracen, and all the rest of the Dillon population. (An important virtue of the series: every one of these people, plus many more, comes across as a fully-rendered non-cliche character. Eg Tyra's mother, Matt's father and grandmother, Riggins's neighbor and her son, Smash's mother and girlfriend, Jason Street's parents, Herc, and Coach and Mrs. Coach's daughter.)
1) I cannot easily come up with a more impressive series on network TV than this one.
The Sopranos, ok -- but it was on HBO; similarly for most other "inventive" uses of TV you can quickly think of. The obvious counterexample would be The Simpsons, arguably the greatest achievement in modern American pop culture, which has pulled off its trick for about twenty seasons rather than one. But to think of other "interesting" network series -- 24, Prison Break, The X Files back in its golden age -- is to emphasize how non-hackneyed and non-formulaic FNL is.
2) As several people have written: Shouldn't I feel bad to be buying these disks in the oft-mentioned local pirate video stores here in Shanghai? Perhaps I should, but I don't. Here's why:
About TV series in particular: I don't feel bad because I would have been watching these free in the U.S. (or storing them up on TiVo) in the first place.
About pirate copies of US or European movies in general, which I buy for 87 cents rather than renting for $3 or $4 in the US -- or attending for $8, or whatever the price is now, in American theaters: When I can see a good movie in a theater, I will go. It's more expensive to do that in China than in America -- my wife and I paid about $12 apiece to see the latest James Bond movie here in Shanghai -- yet the big-screen experience is different enough to be worthwhile. But very, very few American movies are allowed into China for theater display, so we don't have that option.
I don't feel bad about going to the local video store and getting, as I just did, the Simpsons movie for 87 cents. China's lax approach toward intellectual property-protection is a problem for the U.S. now and a worse problem for China in the long run. (How can it develop its own movie, publishing, or software industry, if everyone knows that any advance will be immediately stolen?) But it is not a problem I can solve while living here -- and to the best of my knowledge, there is no option for "doing the right thing" by renting legit copies of movies. There's practically no rental business, since buying DVDs is so cheap; and if legit DVDs are on sale here, they are very hard to find.
I don't buy ripped-off software here -- except the $1.30 version of Vista I bought in Shenzhen as a test case. I don't buy photocopied U.S. books. I can find legit versions of both products - software, and books -- here, or easily shipped here. But it's not feasible to buy legit movies here -- so I complain about that policy, and in the meantime I go to "Even Better than Movie World," the local video store.