"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Timely Discussion of Friday Night Lights (including spoilers)


This is in no way culturally timely (sorry for the misleading title), but I just finished watching the series Friday Night Lights. I know I'm late to the party. I nearly always am. But since my wife recently got to rant about the show Smash, I thought I might rant about something I've watched.

I read a part of the original Friday Night Lights non-fiction book and enjoyed the feature film based on the book, but I wasn't about to invest in a weekly TV show about football. But I read a lot about stuff and the critics kept telling me it's a great show and that it's not really about football anyway. Or at least, there's very little football in a show about football. Then my wife watched it, the whole series while I was busy doing other stuff, and she kept telling me it's a great show and that it's not really about football anyway. So a few months ago I decided Friday Night Lights would be my new treadmill show.

There are five seasons, only the first of which is a regular full season of episodes. The rest all have 13 or 15 episodes each. This is due to a couple of things: the writer's strike a few years back, which killed more than one worthy show (RIP Life and Pushing Daisies), and the fact that NBC cancelled the show, like, three times each season then decided to bring it back. I think the last two seasons ended up broadcast on Direct TV before being burnt off at some point on NBC. Still, the show remained a critical darling and they kept telling me I should be watching it.

Oh, well. So here I can understand how the series could be uneven and require some retooling. Five years is a long time to drag it out, but since no one was watching they never really had a chance.

I liked it enough to watch, that's true. In fact, the parts I enjoyed the most were the football parts. Even though every single game comes down to a last second effort (big problem #1), the game sequences drive the show and even gave me a push on the treadmill for these few months.

And even though the majority of the characters, whether youthful teenagers or grown adults, are annoying and unrealistic (huge problem #2), a handful of characters are seriously engaging and worth the investment in their lives. First of all, Coach Taylor and wife Tammy have some tough times and try their best with what they are given. Their story comes full circle at the end of five seasons and is particularly satisfying. The few kids worth watching: Matt Saracen is a worthy underdog, loser Landrey is essentially likeable, and Tyra redeems herself and gets out of the trap that her home in Dillon, Texas, has in store for her.

How can you NOT root
for this guy?
Then you have Tim Riggins. This is the character played by Taylor Kitch, who is this year enjoying the notoriety of box office failure John Carter and guilty pleasure Battleship. Tim Riggins is a good guy. Somehow he overcomes the fact that he sleeps with every girl (or woman) he knows by actually caring about them all. And clearly he's an alcoholic, apparently since the age of thirteen or so. His drinking is taken for granted and the show never addresses this at all (massive problem #3), but in spite of everything, you still want him to win, not just the football games but the game of life.

If you haven't seen Friday Night Lights, especially if you plan to one day, maybe you should stop reading now. I'm about to list a few more problems with the show and you probably won't know what I'm talking about. Plus, to quote River Song, "Spoilers!"

And I'd bet these issues have all been discussed ad nauseam on the forums and chat rooms and blogs. I can't be the first person to notice these things (as I've said, I'm rarely the first one to the party), but if you have watched the show, I'd love to hear what you think.

Other problem # 4: How old are these teenagers anyway? The "Pilot" episode establishes that star quarterback Jason Street is in his final year and makes big plans with BFF Tim Riggins, girlfriend Lyla Garrity, and his future in the NFL. Apparently this senior football star's best pals are only sophomores in high school because they both stick around Dillon High for three full years. Coach's daughter, Julie Taylor, starts the series as a sophomore herself, but stays in school for four years before graduating and going to college. Finally there's Landry Clark, who at the beginning of season one is made out to be the smartest guy in high school before he's even started high school because he sticks around for four years, too.

And why didn't anyone do anything about
those bangs?
Other problem # 5: Julie Taylor. Season 2, Boo Hoo. You have a new baby sister who gets all of Mom's attention. Poor girl! It's okay to act like a brat week after week. Season 5, way to make the decision to sleep with your married TA three weeks into college! Don't worry, Matt Saracen will take you back. You can walk all over him for the rest of your life and he'll take you back.

Other problem # 6: Where did that character go? Not only from season to season, but even in the midst of a season, FNL might present a story for one or two episodes, then never bring it up again. In season one, it was Voodoo Tatum, a displaced Katrina survivor who was recruited illegally, then kicked off the team, then magically shows up many episodes later as their adversary in the state finals. Not one word about how he mysteriously ends up eligible to play on some other Texas team since he wasn't eligible to play in Dillon.

And in season five, where was JD McCoy, the star quarterback of Coach Taylor's new rivals, the Panthers? Not one word. It's frustrating because this would be so easy to fix with just one line somewhere: "The Panthers suck this season, so his dad took his son and the coach to greener pastures." Instead we are left to conjecture.

I haven't even mentioned how too many episodes are way too nice. How too many things end up just swell for these people who consistently make poor decisions. It's manipulative, in fact, but if you can accept that, focus on the characters who aren't complete tools, and let yourself feel the drama of the actual football, you might enjoy yourself.

14 comments:

  1. I have heard SO much about this show from a lot of people but have never bothered to watch. Is it on instant Netflix? If so, I might give it a go. If its instant, I don't feel so bad about starting it and not finishing it like I did with the Wings series. Terrible show... Thanks for the post!

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    1. It is on Netflix, so you should give it a go. You'll like it more than Wings, guaranteed.

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  2. I think what I most appreciated about the show was it's complete lack of cynicism. You point out that most of the episodes have a happy ending. But, while the character's emotional crises usually work out, there are a lot of things you can point to about the show that reveal the hard facts of life. Not one of the players goes on to play ball after high school. (OK. Riggins gets a scholarship to a junior college). Yet, the show doesn't highlight this fact in an ironic fashion. A lot of other shows would be subtly ridiculing this passion for football as not taking anybody anywhere. People get injured. Jobs don't work out. But these folks continue to see the world as ripe with opportunity. Call me old fashioned, but I found it refreshing.

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    1. You're right. It is unironic, and I liked how it portrayed these people, especially the adults, as football fanatics without making fun of them.

      And Smash Williams also got a football scholarship.

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  3. I haven't seen the show or the documentary. But we are considering getting Netflix so maybe I'll give it a go, based on your recommendation.

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    1. Despite my negativity, I still recommend this show. Perhaps I should make that more clear above.

      Oh, and the film is actually a fictionalization of the nonfiction book. Billy Bob Thornton stars as the coach.

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  4. I'm not a big football fan. Actually, I'm not a big sports fan. I mostly drink tea and knit lace scarfs for my poodle to wear to the dog shows.

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    1. I'm not much of a sports fan, either. But I also don't knit scarves. Instead I do puzzles.

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  5. Ha! I've never seen it, and now I don't want to. Sounds like it has some serious flaws. Especially the whiny girl. I can't stand that. Nice review.

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    1. Julie, I would actually recommend it to people, despite my negativity. Accept it's production problems, suspend your disbelief, and it's better than a lot of the tripe out there.

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  6. No TV, so I can't comment on the weekly show. I did like the original movie.

    I left an AWARD for you on my blog - you're one of my fifteen newest followers. Stop by and check it out.

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    1. Thanks for the award, faraway. I'll try to mention it next week or something.

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  7. I've never caught this show but was curious about it. I may have to give it a go at some point.

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    1. You've got good taste in your entertainment choices, Michael. I think you can handle this one. :)

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