Monday, July 18, 2011

Goodbye, Friday Night Lights

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts...

Perhaps it’s cliché to say that ‘Friday Night Lights’ is the best show you’re not watching (or didn’t watch now that the show has ended its run), but just because its cliché doesn’t make it untrue.  For five turbulent seasons FNL proved quite a few things that most TV shows these days say can’t be done.  You can have a TV show about a sport (even though those of us who watched will tell you it really wasn’t about football) and more importantly you can have a show with a happily married couple that is still compelling to watch. 

I don’t often write about TV shows, but rarely is there one that I feel deserves it like FNL does.  Possibly one of the ultimate downfalls of the show was that it wasn’t life or death.  As much as football in small town Texas may seem like lives are in the balance, they really aren’t.  The CSI’s and Law and Order’s of the world have an inherent advantage with drawing viewers in as each show deals with the trials of life and death.  You can imagine the difficulty in pitching this show “it’s a show about a family who’s patriarch coaches football, is happily married, not crazy, and has a good family life.’  Doesn’t sound intriguing to an executive, but as with all other TV shows and movies, solid writing and acting trumps everything else and FNL was one of the best shows on television for 5 seasons.

‘Friday Night Lights’ was great possibly for the reason that they didn’t try to get each character to fit a mold of villain or good guy.  Every character had their motivations, their bright spots, and their faults making them, ultimately…human.  Smash was not a villain for shooting up on ‘roids or refusing to play and nearly sabotaging the season, Coach Taylor wasn’t a villain for benching Matt Saracen and starting the young hot-shot QB J.D. McCoy, Becky wasn’t a villain for making her life decisions, Vince wasn’t a villain even when he tried to be, and Vince’s father wasn’t a villain when he came back into the picture.  All of these characters were given enough to humanity to make them, if not sympathetic, understandable.

In 5 distinct seasons there were quite a few scenarios that the Taylor family had to be guided through.  Coach Taylor trying to live in two  different places, having a young child 16 years after their first, dealing with their daughters heartbreaks and suspect decisions, as well as all the trials and tribulations that come from being the head coach of a football team and head counselor of a high school. 

The Taylor family was able to find their way through it all amicably.  Never has the family been portrayed so accurately on television.  All the problems that were dealt with were done so as a family.  Arguments were had between all members but two things were never lost sight of through it all, they were a family and they truly all loved each other.  This is something we don’t see on TV very often.  What usually makes it into shows are plotlines about husbands and wives cheating on each other, children getting into trouble with drugs or worse, and general dysfunction.  Modern day America hasn’t really had a drama with a good family life.
This all contributed to the greatness that was ‘Friday Night Lights.’  While most people probably look for a little bit more ‘out there’ stuff to be an escape for their life, the rest of us passionate fans who appreciate realism only loved this show more and more as the seasons rolled along.  This love extended beyond the Taylor family as well.

Another strength of the show was their ability to find incredibly talented young actors and actresses.  Actors such as Zach Gilford, Taylor Kitsch, Gaius Charles, Minka Kelly, and Adrianne Palicki whom nobody had really heard of but were extremely successful in their roles.  Each character had their moment that really grabbed you and pulled you in to see them as televised versions of people you knew or even yourself and you understood their emotions and their choices and were able to relate to them.

Jason Street had his entire world turned upside down, and while most of us don’t have to deal with paraplegia, nearly all of us have to deal with crushed dreams.  Tyra thought she had found the man of her dreams and used him to get out of Dillon, but later realized that just leaving wasn’t going to solve all of her problems and Tammi Taylor was there to welcome her back with open arms.  Matt Saracen grabbed us from the first episode when he emphatically shouted that he was “QB1 OF THE DILLON PANTHERS!!!”  Luke Cafferty walked into our hearts when he stood by Becky during the hardest decision of her life and Vince sucked us all in when he almost sold his soul to get his mom to rehab.

Not only did the show have such interesting characters, but they did what not many other shows could do and that is completely reinvent their cast halfway through the show’s run.  Moving Coach Taylor from coach of the Dillon Panthers to coach of the East Dillon Lions was a bold move, but one that paid off.  Coach Taylor was able to take another player under his wing in Vince Howard and turn him into not only the best QB in the state, but a true man.  All of the players for East Dillon didn’t know what they were getting into but by the end of it all they were giving everything they had to Coach Taylor and he gave it all back to them.

Having nearly two full casts of characters left quite a lot to be tied up with the end of the series, but they did a good job of getting it all taken care of.  Tim Riggins may be a different man after prison, but he still has his dream in his sights of ‘Texas Forever.’  Matt and Julie may be too perfect for each other, but does that not just make them a microcosm of their ideal relationship Eric and Tammi Taylor?  It is fitting they ended up together.  Tyra is on to bigger and better things in college but she has an appreciation for her hometown now that she didn’t have before and will allow her to be successful in life as she will always be ‘Texas Forever’ in her heart.  Vince will be off to stardom at the college of his choice, but he is now prepared to handle it as Coach Taylor has given him the tools he needs to succeed in every facet of his life.  Luke Cafferty, although not mentioning anything about it before, has seemingly found a place where he finally feels he belongs in the Army.

As for the family Taylor, Tammi finally gets her turn and she gets to live out her dream.  Anybody who says that Coach Taylor asking Tammi to take him with her to Philadelphia didn’t get them teared up is lying.  A perfectly fitting end for the couple we all should strive to be.  They were not perfect, but they understood what it took to be in a successful relationship, and they lived it.  Coach Taylor may not have his chance for football coaching greatness in Texas, but he will be able to achieve greatness in life by giving his family what they need which only proves him to be true: “Clear eyes, full hearts….can’t lose.”

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