February 18th, 2014 Friday Night Lights, Rerun Reviews 1
Every so often, a show appears that teaches you more about the world than you thought a fictional entity could. We live in a time where television has the ability to transcend its label of “vast wasteland,” given to it by Newton N. Minow in 1961, and become art. While the majority of the television is unfortunately filled with an abundance of mind-numbing reality shows and soap operas, there is now, more than ever, a large number of shows for those who want to be challenged by what they see, not just to absorb garbage. Many of these shows can be found on cable networks like HBO, Showtime, AMC, etc., but broadcast networks have been known to put out some of these fantastic shows among their programming of lesser quality. I recently watched the entirety of Friday Night Lights on Netflix (originally an NBC show), and was so impressed with it that I felt compelled to write about it, even though it has now been off the air for just over 3 years.
The show follows the trials and tribulations of the Coach and players of the Dillon Panthers, the high school football team of the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, where football seems to matter more than anything else. Though much of the show’s drama comes from what happens on the field, the show is really about what happens off it. The idea of watching a show based around high school football players in a small town may not sound interesting, which is exactly what makes this show so special. It takes a pretty mundane concept and makes it some of the most riveting and emotional television I have ever seen. Many things separate FNL from the typical network drama, but more than anything it stands out because of its intense realism. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many well-rounded characters on a television show before. The relationships between every character feels organic and real, and each character was able to evolve from where they started. The marriage depicted between Coach and Mrs. Coach, also known as Eric and Tami Taylor (fantastically portrayed by Kyle Chander and Connie Britton), is likely one of the most realistic marriages ever depicted on screen. While most dramas seem to use various scandals to create conflict and drama in “happy” TV marriages, FNL uses the mundanities prevalent in long-term relationships to cause the main drama in the couple’s life. The Taylors have a very strong marriage, and though they may get into arguments, they find ways to compromise, and get past the hardships.
The Taylors may technically be the leads of the show, but they are not the only characters that populate it. We get to spend time with a handful of the teenagers that live in Dillon, as they try to figure out their lives in their football-centric small town. The characters are faced with some of the same types of issues that face teenagers on other dramas (getting into college, relationship troubles, the future), but they are rarely portrayed with the melodrama found on other shows. The most dramatic stuff takes place on the football field, which makes all the moments off the field feel much more honest. It may seem odd that some of the most emotional moments take place on a football field — as someone who is the opposite of a football fan, this was my biggest excuse for avoiding the show as long as I did — but after seeing how important the sport is to its players and fans, you can’t help but get dragged into the spirit of the game.
Though the characters are a huge part of the realism of the show, the show’s filming style increases this exponentially. The show is shot like a documentary, though without the laziness of using talking heads (speaking directly to the camera). The show isn’t a mockumentary — the characters aren’t being filmed for some fictional documentary like in The Office — but the camera moves naturally as characters move and speak, which allows little moments to be focused on that would be lost with cinematography that was more structured. This format also allowed the actors to have much more control in their delivery, including improvisation, which adds to the natural feel of the dialogue. Characters will often talk over each other, which doesn’t seem like something overly important, but actually is incredibly rare in television.
Everything that I’ve mentioned so far are reason why the show is so well-crafted, but I have yet to talk about why I find it so special. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve watched many TV shows. Some I’ve loved more than others, but most have had at least a few characters that I could identify with and connect to. For that reason, I was shocked by how invested I was in every detail of each character’s life, both on and off the football field. While games were occurring, I found myself screaming and cheering at my screen. I memorized every character’s corresponding jersey number, figured out the jobs of each position, and attempted to understand plays before they were performed. Again, I’m the last person who would be interested in football, but I can’t help but want these characters to succeed and got pulled in to their world. I’ve shed tears over the results of the games, something that I would never do at a sporting event in real life. These extreme emotional responses are due to how much everything that happens off the field allows me to connect with the characters. I have very little in common with the majority of the characters on the show, so it seems odd that I could identify with all of them. The fact that my life isn’t similar to any of the characters doesn’t hinder my connection with them; because they are all so much more than their assigned archetypes, they are as human as fictional characters on a television show can be. After seeing the different obstacles each character faces, we can recognize the importance of football to their lives. By showing us the different facets of each character’s personality, as well as the insecurities that they carry, we can determine what they’re thinking from their facial expressions. When one of the multiple rallying cries is uttered, you can’t help but cheer along with them, something that occurs because of how much meaning has been attributed to each phrase. As much as it is possible to be invested in a show, even the best shows on television tend to keep the audience at a distance by having some element that will always remain fictional. Friday Night Lights blurs that boundary with its realism, and anyone that hasn’t gotten a chance to experience it yet should get on the emotional roller coaster as soon as possible.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.