The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Friday Night Lights — The Best TV You’re Still Missing

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageLast week I crowned Friday Night Lights my high point of television in all of 2010 and did penance for not singing its praises loudly and frequently enough before. I continue doing penance this week and give you the article on FNL I originally posted around Christmas time 2009. See how everything comes full circle? Clear eyes, full hearts…

First off, my apologies to you, dear readers. I have left you high and dry the past couple of weeks, which is all the worse because Christmas time has come around, which means the airing schedules of your favorite shows have all been messed with and can’t be relied on for entertainment. So at least your favorite TV columnist should have been there for you to guide you through the mess.

I will try to make up for it with today’s installment, when I will once again attempt to turn you onto a show you have probably skipped until now. I have sung the praises of this “little show that could” before, but I never tire of singing it. And its fourth season currently airing on DirecTV gives me only more reason to rave. TV this season just hasn’t been better than Friday Night Lights. When the first episode of Season 4 flickered across my screen, I was literally crying of happiness, because it was so beautiful and so damn good.

Yes, I am saying it, not even Dexter or The Good Wife could top what Friday Night Lights has brought to the table this season or any other season. (Mad Men, as a summer show, really runs outside of the competition anyway.) The quality of FNL is even more comforting and remarkable because it is created in the most uncertain and discomforting circumstances. More than once it has looked grim for the show — praised by critics but scorned by the masses cancellation seemed its destined fate. But the die-hard fans rallied and the people over at NBC actually for once had some artistic sense.

So NBC struck a deal with DirecTV. During the summer/fall FNL airs on DirecTV and starting in January NBC airs the show for the rest of America to see. What’s most exciting about this is the fact that the fifth season is already secured. Production on it will begin in March and although it hasn’t officially been confirmed, it is most likely going to be the show’s final season and some of the characters we have come to love since Episode 1 may be at least partially missing from the show then.

The beauty of Friday Night Lights though is that we genuinely miss characters, when they leave, and not just for one episode. The show has a way of slowly letting you come to care about each and every character you encounter without ever forcing someone on you. Piece by piece each character reveals themselves to the audience and most of the time this isn’t achieved by words, but by actions. Instead of rattling off a list of promises to the coach, Vince simply goes out onto the field and does what Coach Taylor asked him to do. Instead of saying “I care about you, you’re pretty cool” Tim Riggins sits down for a beer with Becky and tells her to shut up and just sit there with him for a minute. Instead of giving Matt one long comforting speech about how life goes on even after your father dies, Coach Taylor simply puts a hand on his back and walks him home.

ImageIt’s the simplicity of the show that makes it so complex. A lot of it has to do with the spirit of small town, football-obsessed Texas so heavily induced into the show. These are people of few words when it comes to the big emotional stuff. Grand speeches are only ever made after a great victory on the football field. Advice of your elders is answered with a respectful “Yes, sir” or “Yes, Ma’am”. Beer is a recreational drink just like soda and who you know is everything, because nothing happens on its own in these types of towns.

The show’s backdrop town of Dillon is no different and FNL feeds off this energy. Tami Taylor is as Texan as a woman can be when she storms in with her adorable accent, greets the football team’s boosters with a “Hey, y’all” and then charmingly but assertively lets them know that West Dillon’s best new player  legally has to go to the crappy East Dillon High and she will see to it that he does.
And her husband, Coach Eric Taylor, is the man of fewest words on the show and yet the one you respect the most. He has integrity, a good heart and the decency to fess up when he has made a mistake. Oh yeah, he also knows he ain’t nothing without his woman. Damn straight!
(Side note: as a kid, I wanted MacGyver to be my dad. Nowadays, I want it to be Coach Eric Taylor.)

ImageBut when I rave about the characters and especially the actors and actresses who play them — I am officially a HUGE fan of Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler — I must not forget quiet, mumbling, down-on-his-luck Matt Saracen, played by Zach Gilford. Matt is easily the character to care most about, taking care of his grandma suffering from dementia, his dad gone on Army duty in Afghanistan, his mom having abandoned him for quite some time. Matt even gave up college to be with his grandma, because she had given up so much for him. Seriously, this kid’s story is heartbreaking to no end. And it is elevated so much higher by the raw, unpolished talent of Zach Gilford.
His performance in episode 5 and 6 of this season are reason enough to nominate him for an Emmy, a Golden Globe and any other award they give to TV shows in this world. Since he is already only listed as a guest star for this season, we may very well have seen the last of Matt and Zach for now. All the better he got to go out on such a high note, acting-wise anyway.

Some of the new characters that were brought in now that Coach Taylor is over at East Dillon still need some time to develop and become important to us, the viewer, but I am certain they will get there. After all, I couldn’t see myself caring about Lyla, the snooty Prom Queen who had it all, but once you got to see how messed up even her family was and when she let her guard down and actually allowed herself to care about Bad Boy Tim Riggins, she became a lot less shallow and a lot more relatable. So I am sure the same will go for Jess, suffering under the patriarchy of her father when all she wants to do is to be allowed to care about football.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Friday Night Lights is not a show for the viewer, who wants “their weekly shows” to cheer them up, distract them but don’t feed them any substance. FNL is a show for the viewer with an eye, with a thinking head and a feeling heart. It feeds off the undertones, the words unspoken and the scenes left off the screen. Only if you don’t expect it to run a certain course and show you certain things will all its layers become apparent.

So give this show a shot. I guarantee, it’s the best advice I have given you all season.