December 24, 2012 Leave a comment
This year I’m undergoing a bit of an experiment: Thirty straight days of doing/watching/listening to/reading something that makes me feel – however fleetingly – like an actual human being, in the hopes that this will thaw a layer of ice off my frozen shriveled little heart, and allow me to not be such a buzzkill this year. So let’s get to it.
Day Twenty-Three: Friday Night Lights
I guess it was kind of inevitable, huh? I mean, only a few days ago I was talking about the soundtrack, and now here I am to talk about the show. I fought for so long against Friday Night Lights y’all. I really did. So many people told me I’d love it, even though I don’t really care for sports movies. Some of them assumed I hated football itself because I only went to like six games in five seasons of college. [Sidebar: I had a roommate once come in and catch me watching ESPN and you would have thought it was porn the way he was freaking out. Seriously, he was yelling and getting shrill and saying things like “You CAN’T like football! What are you doing?!?” It was really bizarre]
Anyway, there’s only so much Netflix, am I right? And I thought I was scraping the bottom of the barrel with FNL, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I found was the television “Little Engine That Could.” It was essentially cancelled after the second season, but thanks to a vocal and passionate fan-base a deal was made with DirecTV that allowed it to continue for three more seasons.
Now, I’ve only just finished the third season, and will probably take a break, what with it being Christmas tomorrow and doing some travelling, and having a ton of end-of-year blogging to do (assuming I ever finish this
God-forsaken blog series labor of love), but I will say that it has already more than earned all the praise I heard about it.
Being a suburban kid, I don’t quite relate to the small-town dynamic going on, but I think I understand it. See, in my town, there’s an Old Town. The kids who go to that high school have grandparents who went there. Kids like bale hay during the summers. There’s a Rice Harvest Festival every fall. And football there is a LOT like in Dillon, TX (the town from the show). I’ve met people exactly like Mr. Garrity, who ignore their wives while worshipping football, praying to God for wins as if He really cares about the score. [Sidebar: I’m not saying God doesn’t care about sports, I’m saying He probably cares more about how you conduct yourself before, during and after the game, and that you use it to bring Him glory somehow] I’ve seen athletic departments that get shiny new gear every year while teachers get cut. I get Dillon.
Only being a substitute teacher (right now), I don’t quite relate to the struggles of Connie Britton’s character Tami. I don’t yet know what it’s like to deal with kids who want to get into college but are weighed down by their white-trash roots (other than my cousins that is). I don’t know what it’s like to see racially-charged fights erupt in your school and try to create dialogue. I don’t know the first thing about taking a special interest in a couple kids and motivating them to turn their lives around and forge a new future for themselves. But I want to.
Being me, I don’t quite relate to breaking my back in the first game of the season, or watching my parents get divorced, or being raised by a semi-alcoholic brother, or a grandma with dementia. And I am so grateful for that. But I don’t have to have experienced any of that, because these fantastic writers, directors, and actors bring crazy awful things like that to life. I feel how trapped Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) feels, surrounded by her stripper sister and co-dependent doormat mother. I feel how lost Tim (Taylor Kitsch) feels, abandoned by both parents, afraid of failure and even more of success. I feel how shattered Lyla (Minka Kelly) feels after her future is destroyed by one injury and her family collapses. I acutely feel the teenage loneliness of Landry (Jesse Plemons) who is smart but awkward. And so on. Every character has their issue, and you can’t help but pity them, hope for them and with them, and get invested in their futures.
The real standouts of course are Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach and Tami Taylor. They have, hands down, the best relationship I’ve ever seen on television. Sometimes they snipe at each other, but they always end with a quick kiss and an “I love you.” Sometimes they fight and yell, and someone has to cool down or sleep on the couch. But they always talk it out like calm, rational adults who listen to each other. Sometimes they have to wear a lot of different hats – such as Wife, Teacher, and Friend – but they stay consistent to who they are. They dance together, and say things like “I like you. I respect you. I’m proud of you.” They get excited about stealing hotel robes. They argue with their daughter. The Taylors are just so real. Flawed, yes, but deeply good people who love each other more than anything and become a foundation for a whole town. I feel like I’ve legitimately learned things about marriage by watching them, if that doesn’t sound too weird.
Other than that, the show is fantastically shot. There’s a documentary style to it, which would be really annoying if they ever looked at or talked to the camera. Luckily, they don’t and it feels more like Battlestar Galactica than The Office. When there isn’t shaky-cam and quick-zoom though, there are wide, sweeping shots of stadiums, towns, cities, and schools. It goes back and forth from intimate and personal to epic and grande really easily. As does the music, which I’ve already discussed.
Obviously, there’s a misstep here and there. There’s a plot-line in Season 2 between Tyra and Landry that feels more One Tree Hill than anything else, but it’s done a lot better. Cast cuts and episode reductions make some story lines feel a little rushed, or largely resolved over the time-skips. But overall it handles every curve ball it’s thrown with grace and poise and comes back stronger.
At the end of the day, this is a show about good people, and good people getting what good people deserve: good things. It may not always be their ultimate dream. It may be smaller than they wanted, or maybe just a little different, or change completely. But it is fun to root for these people, because they are rewarded for doing the right thing and corrected when they don’t.
Bottom line: this is an intelligent, topical, well-executed show with an amazing cast that tells positive stories about interesting people and will keep you coming back for more.