Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

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

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.



At Cal Newport's recommendation, I've watched three episodes of Iconoclasts, a television series that runs on the Sundance Channel. Each episode is 45 minutes and juxtaposes two iconoclasts from a range of fields who engage in conversation about each other's lives and work. Instead of a one-way interview from a journalist, each all-star is eager to ask questions of the other. This creates a dynamic conversation that gives you a unique window into the lives and minds of accomplished people.

My favorite so far has been NBA star Steve Nash and uber-movie director Ron Howard. It opens in Chicago where Howard is shooting The Dilemma, and the two of them talk about the creative process of film making. They compare the thrill of victory and disappointment of defeat in basketball to filmmaking. They play a game of one-on-one hoops. Howard comes off as humble and thoughtful. Nash comes off as articulate and wise. Nash's closing lines about the meaning of life were especially impressive.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and Norman Lear, Hollywood legend, were also interesting, although less philosophical and more biographical. I'm looking forward to watching Steve Penn and Jon Krauker next.

You can buy episodes on iTunes. Some are free on Comcast On Demand. Easy to watch, stimulating, inspiring. Recommended.


Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary that made me think a lot about the business of art. I recommend it highly.

“I Know What It’s Like to Feel Thirsty”

This two minute clip from White Men Can't Jump is the best relationship advice for men from any movie, according to Brad Feld.


Speaking of movies, I watched The Maid recently, a Chilean movie about one family's relationship with their maid. Excellent and highly recommended for anyone interested in the delicate dynamics of an outsider in the house, and especially recommended for those with experience living or traveling in Latin America. Finally, I recently re-discovered Alec Baldwin's famous scene on The Art of Selling from Glengarry Glen Ross. Awesome.

Movie Review: 500 Days of Summer

Artists explore love and romance constantly. If I had to rank the accuracy and helpfulness of discussions of love by medium, from worst to least-worst, it would be: Hollywood movies, pop music, non-fiction writing, fiction writing.

The movie 500 Days of Summer is an excellent exception to this ranking. It’s the story of boy meets girl in Los Angeles. But as Morgan Freeman’s narrator voice warns, “It’s not a love story.” In this film, it’s the guy who falls for the woman, and then has his heart broken. She’s taken by him but ends it because it doesn’t feel right. After things go south, he can’t quite get over her. He tries to win her back. It doesn’t go according to plan. But he does find a light at the end of a different tunnel.

The movie jumbles the chronology — it starts near the end, then jumps to the beginning. This is an apt approach for a love story. When you reflect on failed romance, you often dwell on the low points and either forget the high points altogether or confuse when they happened.

The side plots are fun and interesting. At one point a split screen shows “Expectations” and “Reality” and proceeds through the scene showing the differences. After the guy and girl sleep together for the first time, the guy walks to work with a spring in his step, as you’d expect — and a spontaneous Bollywood dance sequence you don’t expect.

Here’s Roger Ebert’s thumbs up review of the film with these three winning sentence: “One thing men love is to instruct women. If a woman wants to enchant a man, she is wise to play his pupil. Men fall for this.”


The Hurt Locker is another good movie out on DVD. I thought about it for a couple days afterwards, which is always a good sign. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, one can easily forget what’s happening there. This movie brought me into that world for a couple hours. A memorable scene took place not in the war zone. The main character, who de-activated bombs in populated areas in Iraq, is in a supermarket back in the U.S. after completing his tour of duty. His wife asks him to pick up cereal so he wanders over to the cereal aisle. The dull florescent lights shine down on the abandoned aisle. Supermarket music plays in the background. He looks at the endless variations of cereal. Hundreds of different types. You could feel the triviality of the moment reverberate in his head. Going from saving lives on a daily basis to electing which type of Cheerios to purchase. He re-enlists and goes back to Iraq.

Other movies watched and recommended: Capote and Away We Go.

Finally, if you haven’t already read the excellent Esquire profile of Roger Ebert, you should.


On a completely unrelated note, I’m going to Brazil next month for 1.5 weeks, mostly Rio, if you live there or have tips, drop me a line.

Movie Review: Religulous

Bill Maher, the always provocative comedian-cum-commentator, has a new movie out called Religulous, a round-the-world documentary on the irrationality of religion and those who believe in it.

I saw it last night. There were many laugh out loud moments and some truly frightening scenes of religious extremists off the deep end. Occasionally the movie was sad more than anything, such as the scene of John Westcott who was once gay but has “cured himself” and now, in the name of the Lord, helps other gay men rid themselves of homosexuality via Exchange Ministries. The irony is the guy still looks so obviously gay — haircut, voice, etc. Or the man who told Maher he believes in miracles and as evidence relayed a story of how one day he prayed it would rain and 10 minutes later — wait for it — it started raining! Unbelievable!

While I’m sympathetic to Maher’s basic points I have one stylistic complaint and one philosophical complaint. Stylistically, he repeatedly interrupted his interviewees and brought to the conversations a clear agenda for the answers he was looking for. Philosophically, he treated all believers the same — bozos through and through. The movie opens with Maher visiting a “trucker church” — a very small trailer in the middle of nowhere America where truckers gather together and pray. Maher, the smooth talking, blazer-wearing, L.A. comedian berates the overweight, blearly-eyed, not well educated truckers for their lack of skepticism about their faith. Huh? Why not let them be religious in peace?

Here’s the thing: Maher is convinced religion on the whole does more bad than good in the world. I entertain the notion that in the end religion does more good than bad. Take the truckers with whom he opens the film. Sure, I’m concerned about the slippery slope argument (if you’re willing to suspend rational faculties in this area, what else might you be irrational about?) but on the whole I bet these truckers derive a certain comfort and security from their weekly prayer sessions.

Later on, Maher interviews a senator and prominent God-believing scientist with these folks I do share his concern about how they’re letting religious doctrine influence their thinking. I’m totally fine with a trucker talking admiringly about God. I do get concerned when President Bush says God’s will informs his foreign policy, or when a CEO cites God as reason for doing something.

At the end Maher insists that if you’re atheist and quiet about it, speak up! To wit, his prime audience: passive atheists. Hard core believers won’t watch a movie like this, hard core atheists will love it but they were already sold. It’s the light weight non-believers who just might be moved.

One last point. Religulous suffers from the limits of the medium (film). It’s very hard to explore a topic like religion in any kind of depth and near impossible to resist the kind of emotional cheap shots that video and music and animation allow. Just like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is a perhaps entertaining but shallow way to understand the lead up to the Iraq war, Religulous is a rather shallow way to explore the atheist argument.

Bottom Line: As entertainment and comedy, Religious is well worth it. If you want an atheist treatise on religion, there are many books which explore the topic better.