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Some Thoughts About Friday Night Lights

 

Gary Clark Jr. – Bright Lights

For five seasons Friday Night Lights has been a well kept secret on NBC and Direct TV’s Audience network (Formerly The 101). Loosely based off of the movie which bore the same moniker, FNL took a look at the lives of several Texas high school football players. At closer look FNL did more to shed a light onto what some think is the most realistic look at the pit-falls that are faced by the non-privileged teenage populous of America compared to some of FNL television counterparts. I always maintained that high school football was a plot device that provided a background for the characters that inhabited Dillon, Texas. They were just people who happened to be involved with a particular sport, similar to the characters in Bang the Drum Slowly.

Here’s fellow key-striker Drew’s take on FNL. I’m not going to spoil anything about the show or its ending. Those of you who watched on Direct TV or Netflix know how the story ends but NBC is still airing the final season so I’ll just talk about my favorite characters and why each one of them struck a chord with me.

Matt Saracen

The first time any of the viewers see Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is when he is forced to step into breach and fill the shoes of fallen Dillon Panthers quarterback Jason Street, who received a career-ending spinal injury trying to prevent a pick six. Unlike Jason Street, Matt was not anybody’s idea of a golden boy. In fact it could be said that his life just flat out sucked. If he were in a comic book his name would be Peter Parker. If he lived in West Baltimore his name would have been Duquan Weems. His mom bounced to go cook on Treme, His father would rather go to Iraq, and his grandmother didn’t know what was going on half of the time due to her Alzheimer’s disease.

Matt did have a few small victories in his life such as dating the coaches bratty daughter Julie and leading the Dillon Panthers to the Texas State Championship but they were all followed by multiple set backs like losing his starting job to a ringer and then rich brat. After all of this and the realization that he didn’t love his own father (This epiphany was much like Hank Hill’s realization that he did not love his father Cotton.) during his funeral Matt endured. He not only endured and appeared to not let the insanity of his life and Texas football get the best of him. Unlike his counterpart on the Wire, Dukie who wandered aloud about leaving his hometown, Matt got away.

Corrina “Mama Smash” Williams

Corrina Williams (Liz Mikel) was the mother of The Dillon Panthers’ star running back Brian “Smash” Williams. Mama Williams had her hands full raising three kids and working fulltime as a nurse but she never once let up. Never receiving enough screen time she stepped up when she found out her son was on steroids and quickly reported him to his coach Eric Taylor who benches her son immediately.  Corrina Williams stuck out simply because I know more than a few moms who would have done the same thing. She was the anti Cecil Newton.

The Taylors

Most shows with ensemble casts claim not to have main characters, but FNL’s claim of being ensemble is just for show. The show’s pace, mood, and plot were ultimately straddled on the shoulders of Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton). Eric Taylor’s life could best be described as crowded.

When you are a high school football coach who actually treats your players as young men and not assets. This meant that Eric Taylor had no choice but to become involved in their lives of his students. Mix in his own family life, meddling boosters, and rabid fans, let views know why the ever-present look of passing a stone  was on coach Taylor’s face. The stress simply never stopped. Whether handing out advice, attending parole hearings, or trying his best to ignore talk radio show callers Taylor never once went left. He always followed his code.

Tami Taylor, just simply went in. The school children of America would be better off if all of their teachers and administrators actually gave as much of a damn as Tami Taylor. Like Mama Smash, she also has kids—A bratty teenager and toddler to watch over. As much hell as her husband caught coaching football she caught more watching it all go down. I could go on but spoilers would be involved and I hate the term *Spoiler Alert*!

Vince Howard

Oh sh*t, it’s Wallace from the Wire! The first time we see Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) he is being escorted by Nnamdi Asomugha to meet Coach Taylor at East Dillon high school. Clearly teetering towards a life of crime coach Taylor uses his past experiences with coaching and Vince Howard’s own inner strength to help him “get right”. Similar to Matt Saracen before him, Vince is caring a ton of weight on his shoulders but still manages to keep going only briefly returning to his criminal past to raise funds to pay for his mother’s rehab.

When focused his prospects pick up when his athletic talent presents itself.  Again, like Matt Saracen, Vince learned how to be a responsible man. The lessons came a few years too early due to his family life but he did learn them. Although he was only around for two seasons, Vince’s storylines help drive the show’s point home.

I could keep going on about how great this show is but that would turn into the longest post ever. There were other great characters like Tim and Billy Riggins (Taylor Kitsch & Derek Phillips), Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), and Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) that deserve to be talked about but I simply don’t have the space or time. Sure FNL suffered through some disastrous plot missteps (Including a murder by Landry Clarke) in the strike shortened second season and the split between NBC and Direct TV was also questionable but the latter was a move that eventually kept the show on the air. There were also some continuity issues but I ignored them so that I could get out of my own way and enjoy the show. Honestly, I think Friday Night Lights ran its course much like The Wire. Every show can’t be Gunsmoke. Matt Dillon policing Dodge City for 20 years was believable but Eric Taylor being mired in the insanity of high school football in Texas just wasn’t. More shows should intentionally limit themselves before they just become stale.

*Cough* Grey’s Anatomy *Cough*

Overall, FNL was good TV while it lasted.

Vaya con Dios.

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4 responses to “Some Thoughts About Friday Night Lights

  1. Did you ever read the book “Friday Night Lights”? Great read, btw. The series was based loosely on this book about the fanatic nature of Texas high school football. Growing up here, I know all too well about it, we take it real serious…lol
    Friday Night Lights was always a great show, I just don’t think NBC knew what to do with it. I watched the 1st season religiously, but stopped watching it, when I couldn’t be bothered to figure out when it was on…lol Hopefully, I can catch up and see how it all ends.
    It’ll always have a soft spot in my heart becuase a lot of it was filmed here in Austin, and I have a few friends who’ve been on the show as extras.

    • I’ve yet to read FNL. Buzz Bissenger is an interesting cat. I follow him on Twitter and he’s kind of gruff. NBC sucks with the nuances of shows like this. They jettisoned Life and Southland to show crap except for Thursday.

      Be sure to catch up on the rest of the show except for the short season, it’s all worth it. I read some where that Austin supported the show. I heard it was a cool town.

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