Feb 27, 2014

Friday Night Lights: My First TV Obsession of the Year

Friday Night Lights cast

Friday Night Lights: My First TV Obsession of the Year
THIS SHOW. Oh, where do I even begin? I’ll tell you this: when, having reached what I thought was the midway point of the second season of Friday Night Lights, I realised that the season was actually only fifteen episodes long (and, furthermore, that seasons 3 to 5 were similarly short), I nearly burst into tears. I didn’t want the series to ever end, and the realisation that I only had half as many episodes left to watch as I’d originally thought hit me hard. By then, I knew for sure that I’d come across my first full-fledged TV obsession of the year.

The action of Friday Night Lights takes place in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and it’s centred on a high school football team, the Dillon Panthers; on coach Eric Taylor and his family; and on the lives of some of the players, high school students, and inhabitants of Dillon. Several people recommended Friday Night Lights to me over the years, but the fact that the series revolves around sports made me hesitate. I should clarify that this was not because I look down on sports (as John Green so well puts it, we give things meaning by deciding to care about them. The collective joy and sorrow and the shared experiences of people who are invested in sports are a beautiful thing), but because I was worried that not sharing such a passion myself would make me feel like I was on the outside looking in.

I should have known better. In fact, I do know better: I know how storytelling works; I know that part of its power comes from the fact that it allows us to live many lives, to step into the shoes of people who passionately care about things that never much mattered to us and see the world through their eyes for a little while. I knew all along that a well-told story would allow me to experience a passion for sports I never participated in myself from the inside, and I should have trusted this knowledge. So, for those of you who might be similarly resistant: I could try to convince you by emphasising the excellent characterisation in Friday Night Lights, or by saying that, like all the best stories, it’s really about life. But while this is true, I don’t want to tell you, “it’s not really about sports”, because that would be selling the show and my experience of it short. Friday Night Lights IS about sports (and yes, also about life), and I grew to care passionately about the team at its centre because that’s what the best stories do. They illuminate corners of human experience that you were a stranger to up until then, and suddenly they make perfect emotional sense.

Friday Night Lights has one of the strongest pilots I’ve watched in a long while. We’re introduced to Dillon, a small football-obsessed town in Texas, and to a patriarchal world where football players — teenage boys — are treated like super stars and told that the world revolves around them. They have daily baking put in their lockers by the Rally Girls, who will often do their homework to boot; they’re popular, powerful, and held as role models in a culture that reveres hypermasculinity; they’re told that the world is their oyster — as long as they keep winning and making their town proud. It soon becomes obvious that the immense popularity these boys enjoy is a fleeting thing, and that being put on a pedestal comes with a considerable dose of pressure attached. And it becomes equally obviously that many of the people who participate in Dillon’s football culture have complicated feelings about it.

When I first watched the pilot of Friday Night Lights, Dillon scared me. I found the town’s portrayal fascinating, but I also wanted to get away. But then, bit by bit, and without me quite realising it was happening, this fictional community pulled me in. All the knotty elements of football culture remain at the centre of the show, but what happens is that you begin to see Dillon from the inside. The systemic problems remain, but the individuals involved are humanised. And that, to me, is the most effective form of critique, and the most rewarding form of storytelling: the kind that analyses problems with empathy and humanity; that shows you that people and the communities they participate in are often complicated; that highlights the ambiguous nature of the universe and makes you want to engage with something you were initially inclined to simply walk away from. The way the series achieves this is nothing short of masterful.

There’s plenty more I want to say about the series, but expressing my thoughts coherently is going to require a) subheadings and b) lots of spoilers. So if you haven’t yet watched Friday Night Lights, beware of the rest of this post. If you’d rather stop here, know this: I totally loved this series. It’s complex and emotionally resonant and full of memorable, well-drawn characters. I didn’t think it was perfect (in fact, I think I’ll have to devote an entire section to all the things I’d like to rant about), but I still recommend it wholeheartedly.

Spoilers from here onwards:

1. Jason Street

The pilot of Friday Night Lights ends with Jason Street, star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers, injured on the field and unable to get up. We soon learn that he has become paralysed, and that he’ll have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I can’t help but make some parallels here with what I said last year about Kevin Girardi in Joan of Arcadia: both Kevin and Jason are star athletes who become disabled, which means they shift from going through life on the lowest difficulty setting to having to navigate all the complications of disability. I think Joan of Arcadia was more overt when making points about loss of privilege and all that this implied, but the process the two characters go through is more or less the same. The lives they thought were mapped out in front of them are suddenly out of reach, and this means they have to go through a long and strenuous process of social as well as physical readjustment.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the ideal person to assess portrayals of disability in fiction: my knowledge is limited, and as much as I try to read about it, I know there are things I wouldn’t pick up on immediately. But I’ll say this: what I liked best about Friday Night Lights was how the events that followed Jason’s injury were about him, not just about everyone else. His accident does have long-lasting repercussions on his friends, family and community (in fact, this is pretty much what the entirety of S1 is about), but his experience of it always takes centre stage.

When Jason eventually leaves the show in S3, he does so having had to figure out how to follow his passions in his new circumstances; having experienced shifts in his personal relationships in the aftermath of his accident; having gone through anger, sorrow, hope, and determination to live a good life even if things don’t turn out as he’d originally hoped. It’s a moving journey the viewer watches him go through, and when we see him part ways with his best friend Tim in New York, we know he’s going to be just fine.

Friday Night Lights: Jason and Tim

2. Girls and Sex

You might also remember that when I wrote about Joan of Arcadia last year, I said I was tired of seeing a rejection of sexual activity be presented by TV series as the mark of a “good” girl. This is why my heart sunk when, during episode 17 of S1, “I think We Should Have Sex”, Tami Taylor told her daughter Julie that she should rethink her decision to have sex with her boyfriend, that sex might “degrade” her, and that if she thought virginity was not a big deal that just went to show that she really wasn’t ready to have sex (my inner Hanne Blank fan was screaming).

I can understand this perfectly well from the perspective of a concerned parent who is keenly aware of the vulnerability involved in sexuality and of society’s double standards, but the really disappointed thing was that the overall narrative arc of the episode sided with Tami. Julie, like countless “good girls” before her, decides that she’s not in fact ready, and that she was merely feeling peer-pressured to have sex. Like I said in relation to Joan, it’s not that this kind of pressure isn’t a real thing, and it’s definitely not that I don’t want to see stories that acknowledge it; it’s just that when that becomes the dominant narrative, you risk erasing the fact that teenage girls genuinely experience sexual desire.

However. In a comment to my Joan of Arcadia post, Amy told me that she felt that more recent TV series had become a lot better when it comes to this, and Friday Night Lights is actually a great example of this progress. I won’t lie, it took me a while to get over that episode (I think the word “degrade” in particular pushed all my buttons), but now that I’m done with the series, I can see how it contains one of the most positive portrayals of sexually active teen girls I’ve ever seen on TV. Julie and Matt eventually do get it on, and later in the series Julie is allowed to explore her sexuality with other people. She makes mistakes, but they’re more down to general coming-of-age angst than to sexuality. (I loved Julie, by the way, and I thought it was really interesting that she was allowed the kind of guarded nature and emotional awkwardness that are normally the prerogative of nerdy boys. Matt was the more emotionally expressive of the two, which made for interesting and unusual dynamics.)

It’s also interesting to compare Tyra and Lyla, two other important female characters. When we first meet Tyra, we’re given plenty of reasons to worry about her. She’s portrayed as a bit of a wild child, and later in the series she reveals that she lost her virginity at age 13. But while this is a problem because it signals the vulnerability of her upbringing, it’s not the sex that she’s having at 16 and 17 that should be the focus of our worries. Most importantly of all, the writers don’t feel the need to turn Tyra into some sort of cautionary tale. She’s not punished; on the contrary, when we last see her she’s a confident, driven college student who you just know will go on to do awesome things. Lyla, on the other hand, is pretty much your standard “good” girl: a cheerleader and a straight “A” student from a well-off family. The fact that she’s also sexually active from the start helps the series challenge any lingering links between female sexuality and causes of concern. None of these girls are in trouble because they’re having sex — if anything, the problems they face are about society’s attitudes towards female sexuality.

Friday Night Lights does take place in a community where, like pretty much anywhere, sexual double standards are hard to escape, but when the series tackles slut-shaming, like in the episode “Different for Girls”, it does so without unnecessarily punishing the girl in question. And when Becky becomes pregnant in S4, she’s allowed to terminate the pregnancy without this becoming an event that ruins her life forever and ever. Again, the fact that she’s one among several unapologetically sexually active teen girls makes it less likely that her story will be held as a cautionary tale. This isn’t to say that the series is perfect (although Tyra escapes narrative punishment in the end, I’ll have more to say about the awful stalker storyline in the “Rants” section), but it’s a richer and more nuanced portrayal of contemporary teen girls’ experiences of sexuality than anything I’d encountered on TV to date.

Friday Night Lights: Matt and Julie

3. BFFs

One of the things that made me fall for this show as hard as I did was the abundance of complicated, emotionally satisfying relationships between the characters. I could easily write a whole other section about family ties (Tim and Billy [sob], Tim and his father, Tyra and her mother, Matt and his parents and grandma, the Taylors and Julie, you name it), but I wanted to focus on three friendships I particularly loved.

Jason Street and Tim Riggins, we learn in the pilot, are best friends. However, when Jason is injured Tim is unable to face what happened, and as a result he doesn’t visit him for weeks. To make matters worse, he begins to fall in love with his girlfriend. Watching Jason and Tim go through and then recover from this complete mess was mesmerising, moving, and immensely emotionally satisfying. Some of my favourite moments in the series involve the two of them spending time together: the day when Tim and Lyla sneak Jason out of the hospital was beautiful, even though you know that the shit is about to hit the fan. I loved their trip to Mexico and Tim’s determination to both support and protect his friend; and their final on-screen moments together in New York = all the tears. I just can’t help it, okay? I’m a sucker for boys having feelings at each other, the more complicated the better, and these two really deliver. There’s just so much work and effort and commitment involved in making their friendship survive all the hurts and disappointments and betrayals of trust; so much determination to stick around and rebuild their bond, because they know how much they matter to each other. There was no way I wasn’t gong to be a goner.

My favourite girls’ friendship in the series was Tyra and Julie’s, especially as it opens the door for Tami Taylor’s relationship with Tyra, which eventually turns her life around. Julie likes Tyra from the start, and she stands up from her friend when her mother (with more than a whiff of class prejudice) tries to warn her against her. Julie’s faith in Tyra catches her mother’s attention, and when she really looks at the person in front of her she sees a determined, fiercely intelligent young woman who was dealt a bad hand in life. It was wonderful to see Tyra become a regular at the Taylors’ house, and to watch her confidence grow and her plans for her life develop because someone believed in her (much more on which later).

Friday Night Lights: Tyra and Mrs Taylor

Lastly, I have to mention Tim’s friendship with Becky. S4 Tim Riggins is my favourite Tim Riggins, and the care and compassion with which he deals with Becky are a big part of the reason why. I was thrilled not to see their friendship become a romance in the final season — not because I wouldn’t have liked to see them together, but because there aren’t enough stories about boys and girls who care about each other in a way that isn’t romantic or sexualised. Tim keeps Becky company, listens to her and supports her, and takes her to see Tami when Becky gets pregnant. And in her turn, Becky believes in Tim when few other people will, and supports him through his imprisonment. Their friendship was just lovely to watch.

Friday Night Lights: Becky and Tim

4. Stay or Go?

Throughout the five season run of Friday Night Lights, we follow several characters as they join the football team, graduate high school, go away to college, or move out of Dillon for other reasons. Some other characters remain in the series even after they’re no longer football players, which allows the writers to explore what it’s like to lose all the prestige and sense of possibility associated with being part of the team. The shiny promises of football aren’t always delivered, for several reasons. How to people rebuild their lives after that?

Another thing the series deals with in some detail is the ambiguity members of small and somewhat insulated communities often feel towards the place that shaped them. Throughout the series, several characters say they want to get away from Dillon and never come back. But most of them eventually get to a point where they realise there are some unexpected complications involved in this wish. As Julie says in one of her college interviews, her desire to get away from Dillon eventually morphed into protectiveness and pride — Dillon may not be where she wants to live forever, but it made her who she is, and she’s grateful for that. This aspect of the series, and particularly the careful way in which it was handled, really resonated with me.

Friday Night Lights never attempts to determine whether it’s right or wrong to want to leave Dillon. There’s no one true answer; there are only individual choices, which are often filled with ambiguity and regret. Matt, Jason, Brian and Lyla know that leaving is right for them, even if doing so kind of breaks their hearts. Tim turns out to be the only one to stick by the motto “Texas Forever”, and his decision not to go to college is never oversimplified by the narrative.

Friday Night Lights: Smash and Mrs Williams

And then there’s Tyra: two of what were for me the most moving moments in the series revolved around her. First, there’s her tearful “why can’t I want this?” at her sister’s wedding: she knows that wanting more conventional and gender-normative things in life would make everything a lot simpler, yet she can’t change her path or avoid the complications that lie ahead without smothering herself. There are so many strands of subtle commentary here, about socioeconomic background and expectations and social pressures as well as gender, and it was all so wonderful to watch. (I did also like, I have to say, how Mindy became a more central character in seasons 4 and 5, and how we’re clearly shown that wanting marriage and kids doesn’t make a female character uncomplicated or uninteresting. There’s no wrong way to be a woman.).

Secondly, there’s Tyra’s college application letter, which reduced me to a tearful mess:
Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere on first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up and be generous and big hearted, the way people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life. It’s not that I think I’m going to get all these things, I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change. I can’t wait.
The things Tyra wants lead her out of Dillon, and while this isn’t inherently better than choosing to say, it’s certainly better for her. It was wonderful to watch her life open up and see her seize those possibilities. The more I think about Tyra, the more I’m inclined to think that her journey is my favourite in the whole series. In season one, we see Tyra tell her mother that as much as she loves her, her greatest fear in life is to end up like her. Her mother is at that moment in an abusive relationship, and the “I love you” is key. I’m very, very wary of narratives that make the difference between people who escape above and people who are trapped in abusive a matter of determination or personality, because that way lies victim-blaming nonsense. I think, however, that Friday Night Lights manages to avoid this, because the thing that saves Tyra in the end is the opportunities she’s given.

Tyra is raised in a world that tells her that girls like her — pretty girls from her socioeconomic backgrounds, girls people dismiss as “trashy” — only escape the small towns where they feel suffocated if a man takes them away. Tyra always tries to resist this narrative, but she also feels trapped, desperate, and like she has absolutely no options. In S1 she sleeps with an older man she can tell from the start is a sleazy player because in him she glimpses the possibility of LA, of escape, of a life with more than what she’s getting in Dillon. And in S3, when her confidence is destroyed, she turns to Cash and ends up in a situation of abuse. Tyra manages to get out not because she’s “stronger” than her mother, but because she has resources at her disposal that Angela Collette never had. Tyra has someone she can call for help. Tami Taylor not only picks her up from Dallas and gets her away from Cash, but she reminds her that there’s another path for her — one where she doesn’t have to settle for sleazy men to get away; one where she can do it through her smarts and academic achievements. It takes someone like Tami to make this narrative available to Tyra in a world that would never even have allowed her to imagine it, and it’s this that makes all the difference.

Lastly, there are the Taylors: at several points in the series we wonder if Coach will leave his beloved team behind and move on to greener pastures. Accepting a better job offer at any point wouldn’t have made him a villain, yet conflicting loyalties are something people often have to grapple with, and often the viewer’s loyalties are with Dillon. When the Taylors do leave, though, the reason couldn’t be more perfect. Tami gets an irresistible job offer from an East Coast college, and she reminds her husband that after eighteen years of moving from town to town for his job, her turn has come. Navigating this isn’t easy for them (I thought their struggles where portrayed with amazing nuance), but the ending is a triumph: a personal decision with far-reaching political implications, and a perfect finale for a series where male privilege is an important theme.

Friday Night Lights: Tami and Coach

Friday Night Lights: Matt and Grandma

5. The Shift (S4 and S5)

At the end of S3, most of the characters we’ve been following since the beginning of Friday Night Lights graduate high school, and as a result many leave Dillon. Also, something else happens that signals that a major shift is on its way: the town is redistricted, an old and under-resourced high school reopens in East Dillon, and Coach Taylor loses his job with the Panthers but is offered the opportunity to coach the East Dillon Lions.

S4, then, introduces us not only to new characters but to a brand new setting: we move from the privileged, privately-sponsored Dillon Panthers to a team that has to make do with the bare minimum. I’m not going to lie, I was wary of what the series was going to be like without so many of the characters that got me hooked in the first place, but Friday Night Lights handled the transition better than I could have imagined it. The main reason is that it used it as an opportunity to explore race and class riffs that had until then gone unaddressed. Class had been a theme for the first three seasons of the series (see what I said above about Tyra, or Tim and Billy Riggins’ lives), but the new direction the series takes allows them to dig deeper.

East Dillon is far less well off than West Dillon, and, as is so often the case, there are racial implications to the class divide. The kids in Coach Taylor’s new team are underprivileged, socially excluded, and understandably suspicious of programs headed by white men. One of the things that make it possible for the Lions to make such a difference in these kid’s lives is the fact that the team becomes truly theirs. I loved the social awareness of series’ final two seasons; I loved how it improved on its hitherto poor record when it came to characters of colour; I loved aspiring football coach Jess; and I loved Lions quarterback Vince and his family.

Friday Night Lights: Vince and Jess

6. All my sunken ships

There are a lot of break-ups in Friday Night Lights. And you know, as invested as I was in certain romances, and as much as I might cry into my coffee while staring at certain gif sets on tumblr, I wouldn’t expect a show about high school students to be any different.

Couples break up in Friday Night Lights for many reasons: because they fall out of love, because one of the partners feel trapped, because someone meets another person, because they’ve grown apart, and because even though they care about each other deeply they want different things in life (sob), and they both know that the most loving thing they can do is not require the other to give up what they want. As much as I may occasionally have screamed “NOOOOOOOO, they belong together!” at my TV, I really loved the series’ approach to romance. It never slips into oversimplicity: former partners are not villainised; people who once shared a connection are not required to dismiss that tie for their current romantic pairing to be constructed as “real”; and girls and boys alike are allowed to have complicated feelings. It broke my heart, but in the best possible way.

Friday Night Lights: Lyla and Tim
SOB FOREVER.

7. Tim Riggins

Yes, he gets his own section, and not only because he looks like this:

Friday Night Lights: Tim Riggins

I was only a few episodes into season 1 when I tried to tempt a friend into the show by sending her a Tim Riggins photo set accompanied by the words, “Meet the new pretty boy with daddy issues of my heart”. And that’s, in a nutshell, what Tim Riggins is. I know there’s a lot that could be said about this type of character — how they’re often glorified assholes, how they occupy a space in our collective imaginary that’s not really available to women, how we forgive them so much while judging others so harshly. There are characters of this type I never really manage to warm up to, and I can’t explain logically why I do love the ones I do. But the fact is that Tim Riggins soon wormed his way into my heart, and I was powerless to resist.

I know he can be a sexist jerk, that he has a lot of privilege at his disposal and takes advantage of it, and that he spends a lot of time living up to every stereotype of the thoughtless jock imaginable. In the end, though, Tim won me over because he is kind. He’s kind to Bo, kind to Becky, kind to his friends; kind — in a conflicted way — to his brother. And his kindness only grows as his life moves closer to what he needs it to be. Tim Riggins wasn’t at his best when he was under the spotlight as the Dillon Panthers Fullback, and perhaps this realisation is part of what moves him away from football. He tries to carve out a space where he’s allowed to a better, kinder, softer sort of man, and I was cheering him on until the very end.

(Besides, you know a character is memorable when people are writing poetry him his perspective so many years down the line.)

8. Why, show, why? (In which I rant)

Having sung the show’s praises thus far, let me turn my attention to all the things that frustrated me. First of all, Friday Night Lights has some serious continuity issues. The second season was cut short because of the Writer’s Guild of America strike, and some of the problems can be traced to that. But you’d think that when a hitherto important character disappears from the series, an in-world explanation would be given. For example, Waverly, who we last see dating Smash and struggling with bipolar disorder, disappears and is never mentioned again. Even more puzzlingly, Santiago, who joins the Panthers in S2 and is pretty much adopted by Buddy Garrity, also vanishes without a trace. Carlotta, Grandma Saracen’s live-in nurse and Matt’s girlfriend in S2, does have her disappearance explained by the narrative, but the fact that she has to return to her family in Guatemala so soon after the beginning of their involvement makes it look like once she’d deflowered our hero, she could conveniently be gotten rid of (to be clear, I really liked Carlotta — I just think she deserved better than to have the narrative treat her as a fleeting love interest). When you note the fact that all of these characters were people of colour, their questionable treatment looks even worse.

There was also a fair share of WTF storylines during the show’s running, and I wanted to highlight the two that made me seethe the most. First of all, I hated the storyline about Tyra’s stalker in S2, mostly because from the moment Landry gets involved, it becomes about him rather than about her. The whole murder subplot is convoluted and absurd, but the most insidious thing is that, again, we have a story where a woman is as a victim of sexual violence, but where the focus is almost exclusively on the event’s repercussions on a man. (I should also add that, as much as I cared about Landry as a person, his relationship dynamics with Tyra were far too Nice Guy-ish for my liking. This impression was unfortunately only further cemented as the series progressed.)

Secondly, I really, really disliked how Jason pressured Erin into keeping the baby when she became pregnant, and especially how the show only had him address this in the most cursory of manners, with a passing “it’s your body and your decision and I don’t want to pressure you, BUT…”. I’m sorry, but the “but” is your cue that you should stop talking. His struggles as a disabled man who didn’t think he’d get to be a father absolutely do deserve to be taken seriously, but this is one of those situations where systems of oppression intersect, and there’s absolutely nothing that makes it okay to guilt-trip or emotionally manipulate a woman into continuing with a pregnancy. The fact that they got a happy ending didn’t lessen my distaste for this subplot.

***

WELL. Obviously I had a lot of feelings. So many words later I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface: I’ve barely talked about my beloved Lyla; about Matt Saracen; about Eric and Tami Taylor’s work with the kids they mentor and the amazingly nuanced portrayal of their marriage and their careers; about how invested I was in the Panthers’ and Lions’ victories and losses; about the show’s amazing use of music. There’s just so much to Friday Night Lights.

Parting words for the brave souls that made it this far: as you may have gathered by now, this show gave me ALL the feels, and the occasional moments of WTFery and frustration didn’t lessen my overall love for it. As I was saying on Twitter recently, with TV I worry, in a way I don’t with other media, about running out of beloved things to discover and being stuck in a rut forever and ever. The day I discover the next series that gets me as hooked as Friday Night Lights will be a happy day indeed. Until then, I’ll be looking for more hug gift sets on tumblr and trying to tempt my friends into this show.

17 comments:

Shannon @ River City Reading said...

This is such a brilliant post to wake up to. I, too, was a reluctant Friday Night Lights-er for many of the same reasons. A friend finally sat me down and pretty much forced me to watch the pilot and I was done for. I'm such a Tami Taylor fangirl, I can hardly contain myself.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Lyla = beloved? Really? I'm one of I'm sure many who didn't like Lyla -- not that I didn't like her exactly, but I tended to find her plots to be the least interesting ones.

Anyway, THIS SHOW. It's so thoughtful and lovely, and I just couldn't have loved it more. Especially Matt Saracen. I feel like I cried in a majority of Matt Saracen's scenes. :p

(I started watching FNL shortly after I moved to New York, and although Dillon is nothing like my hometown, it still made me tremendously homesick for the South.)

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Shannon: She was so amazing. Oh, the ending - just thinking about it gives me ALL THE FEELS.

Jenny: I know what you mean - it makes me homesick for Portugal which is definitely NOTHING like Dillon :P But the emotional reality of following a path that takes you away from the place where you grew up was captured so well. RE: Lyla, I do think she was underused by the narrative (she deserved a story as cool as Tyra's), but I still really liked her, and all the slut-shaming thrown her way made me feel really protective of her. AND MATT. I should have written a Matt section <3

Amy said...

I started watching this last year and stalled out around the sixth episode or so. I keep thinking I need to give it another try because like everyone I know likes it, and it's likely I just really wasn't in the right mood, but time is a thing that is limited.

Anyway your post does make me want to give it another try lol.

Too Fond said...

I love, love, love FNL, and you have done such a nice job here of explaining why. YES. Combine this with the fact that you introduced me to Orphan Black, and you are officially my tv-watching guru. :)

P.S. Tim Riggins rocks my world.

Laura said...

I'm so glad (but not surprised!) that you loved the show! I could talk about FNL forever. One of my favorite friendships was Becky and Mindy in season 5--the way Mindy went from being so put-out about Becky living with them at first to being so sad when she left--!! I just love the variety of relationships on the show. And the positive portrayal of a marriage. And the awesome that is Jess. And the fact that Tim Riggins was supposed to be a sophomore in season one (oookay, show). And Coach Taylor's hair. And and and.

Teresa said...

I liked this show much much more than I expected it too. Watching it got me through a rough patch last fall, and I remember it especially fondly for that reason.

The character I could go on and on about is Matt. I loved him and I loved his and Julie's relationship so much. And his relationship with his Grandma and all his struggles with football and his love of art. Just everything. Like Jenny, I cried in most of his scenes.

Another thing I appreciated about it was how authentic Dillon felt as a community. I grew up in the rural south--Virginia, not Texas, so not precisely the same, but similar enough--and there was so much about the look of the place that I recognized. The houses for kids from different social strata were especially striking. I don't see rural working-class or poor people often on TV, and they got it all just right.

And I agree about the continuity problems. There were a few real groaners along the way. The one that bugged me the most was how Lyla's religious conversion and her abandonment of religion both happened off-screen. They did well showing that particular Christian culture (and the role of religion in rural communities in general), but I would have liked them to delve more deeply into a character's personal experience.

Anyway, so glad you enjoyed the show!

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

OMG, saw this last year, all 5 seasons straight and loved it so much. One of the best TV experiences I've had. Perfect from beginning to end. Miss it a lot but it will stay with me forever.

Trisha Eclectic Eccentric said...

I love on this series so much that I've actually watched the first three seasons twice (the whole series once). I could not agree with you more about Tim Riggins; like all of the characters, he is complex, meeting so many of the stereotypes and then whipping out some serious kindness. And my god he is gorgeous. Seriously gorgeous.

The relationship between Eric and Tami is one of the most wonderful, realistic, sweet, and complicated marriages I've seen on tv. I loved them.

Thanks for writing this; it was like re-living my experience watching the series for the first time.

Vishy said...

Beautiful post, Ana! I haven't heard of 'Friday Night Lights' before and it was wonderful to discover a new-to-me series. It reminds me a lot of 'One Tree Hill' which I totally loved and which was my TV obsession last year. ('One Tree Hill' has a similar story but it has a basketball background. Have you watched 'One Tree Hill'?) I didn't read the second part of your post, because I want to watch this series. Whenever I do, I will get back and write a longer comment. Thanks for gushing about this series. It is sad that it ended after 5 seasons. It deserved a longer run. I don't know why the most beautiful TV shows burn brightly like candles but have short lives.

Jeanne said...

Your descriptions of the characters and story lines make me feel like this show focuses on what I needed to leave behind when I left my home town. I'm reading your analysis and hearing the closing lines of Absalom, Absalom: "I don't hate the south. I don't hate it."

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Oh, also: You know what I liked about that scene where Tami's talking to Julie about sex? It's not the sex she minds, it's the talking about sex like it's meaningless. I don't love everything Tami says to Julie in that bit, but I love it that what she wants for Julie is for her to get meaning out of sexual intimacy. I found that rather touching.

Debi said...

Well, you sold me. Of course. :P So I stopped reading when I got to the spoilers section. Anyway, the way you described the show--well, I doubt anything else could have convinced me. I seriously believed I wouldn't want to watch that show for anything on earth, but you proved me wrong.

Juhi @ nooks & crannies said...

Thank you! I keep discovering wonderful new things through you!

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

This post had me literally crying on my couch thinking about Friday Night Lights. And Tim Riggins. And friendship! And TYRA. I'm so happy to see that you loved Tyra as much as I did. I love her so much that I just get so happy when I see Adrianne Palicki. The trajectory of her character throughout the show is the best, except for everything about the beginning of Season 2 which we can just pretend never happened.

As for what Tami says to Julie... I agree with you that it can't be the only narrative, but it did feel true to character. I think that is something that Tami would feel important to tell her daughter. Fortunately the show does a good job, as you brought up with all your excellent examples!, showing that that's not the only narrative or the only way to think about virginity and sex.

Now I think I'll go rewatch all my favorite episodes again. Thank you for such a lovely, thoughtful post about this show. I miss it and I wish I could watch it for the first time all over again. I guess rewatches will have to do.

Sometimes I wonder if my kids will like these shows or if they'll just think they're old? Like will there be a time when I can sit down with my kids and make them watch FNL and we will have an awesome bonding experience with it? Will they think it's lame?

Paperback Reader said...

Texas forever.

I want to be Tami Taylor when I grow up. The relationship that Coach and "Mrs Coach" had was one of the most nuanced representations of a marriage that I have seen portrayed in a TV show; such a sweet and realistic depiction. The gave me goosebumps and butterflies and, yes, all the feels.

I also loved their respective relationships with Julie, especially the father-daughter one. I think that the surrogate mother-daughter relationship Tyra had with Tami was what Tami and Julie could have had if Tami could have let go of "her little girl". Her words were wrong but I can understand her desire to protect Julie from hurt.

This was our TV show obsession early last year and I have been asking G if it is too soon to revisit Dillon...

The music is so good because of the involvement of W.G. Snuffy. Walden, of The West Wing fame; that says it all really,

This is tied with Veronica Mars as my number two show of all time (yes, even ahead of Joss). Tim Riggins and Logan Echolls will always hold special places in my heart for pretty boys with daddy issues.

Eva said...

I'm in season 4 right now! So I didn't read much of your post yet in fear of spoilers (lol). I love lots of things about the show, but I think there's one giant flaw: where are the Latinos?! Until S4 I just thought it was typical white dominance of media, but now they've started including black characters, so this is just a complete mystery to me. I live in south Texas, but I've driven through west Texas, and I've yet to see one without Latino culture (after all, the whole area was Mexico for ages). I looked up the book, which was about Odessa, so then I looked up Odessa's demographics and sure enough it's 50% Latino. It seems like a missed opportunity/weirdness. Ok, I'm done with my rant now! I really do love the show. :)