So many smart friends had told me over the years that they liked the television series Friday Night Lights. “It’s about much more than football,” they told me. If memory serves, it was a Jonah Lehrer tweet about how the finale was the best 43 minutes of television he’d ever seen that pushed me over the edge (more specifically, pushed me to log onto www.netflix.com).
A few weeks ago I finished all five seasons of Friday Night Lights. I have not read the book nor watched the movie version. But the TV show was awesome.
The show worked for me on several levels. First, the marriage porn. The marriage between Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor has been praised by critics as one of the best ever on television. The marriage is perfect in part because it’s not a perfect marriage, but they manage to muddle through, and so to viewers their relationship dynamic seems at once amazing yet attainable. The husband-wife gender roles are also realistically complex. Sometimes it’s traditional, with a strong breadwinner man and loyal wife who raises the kid and follows him wherever his career takes him. But other times the roles reverse to a more modern dynamic, with the wife becoming principal at his high school and telling him (indeed, having the power to tell him) that she ain’t taking any of his crap. This interplay in gender roles approximates how many 20 and 30-something men and women today envision their 21st century marriage playing out; thus, how Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor work through their issues makes for fascinating viewing.
Second, the show let me enter a world I’m out of touch with: small town, middle to lower class America, by way of west Texas. The characters, their dilemmas, their evolution, their dialogue, their life choices — much of it was familiar enough for me to get emotionally invested, yet foreign enough where it felt like I was genuinely learning about a different part of America and the people who live there.
Third, the cinematography and music. When you watch the opening montage of small town Texas life with the Explosions in the Sky soundtrack playing in the background, it’s hard not to get a little reflective on What It All Means.
Fourth, Coach Taylor’s leadership — on the football field and off — was reliably inspiring. Tim Riggins says in one episode that Coach is a molder of men. You get fired up after his locker room pep talks. And in the way he keeps a steady voice and clear gaze when confronting one of his players, you want to emulate his style.
There are many TV shows people rave about that I have yet to see: Breaking Bad, The Wire, Lost, among many others. I’m holding off on committing to another show because many months of Friday Night Lights cancelled out time I would have spent watching movies. And while the character depth and emotional investment you build with a cast over five seasons cannot be rivaled by a two hour film, at the same time, the creative energy and money producers pour into a two hour film vastly exceeds that which goes into two hours of TV. A movie is a more intense experience. I find that a great movie (like Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close which I recently saw in Palm Springs) can hold my undivided attention for a full two hours — which is a rare treat in our always-on, always-connected culture.
In any case, here’s to Friday Night Lights. A show that I did not foresee would draw me in so deep, and a show I won’t soon forget. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.