Monday, October 11, 2010

Best Kept Secrets: Friday Night Lights

Here's what you need to know: I grew up hating football.

Hey, nothing wrong with organized sports.  They're good for kids, breed team spirit, help people bond, blah blah blah.  And the entertainment industry spawns just as many assholes.  However, you couldn't convince teenage Unpro.  See, I came of age in a teeny tiny farm town where sportliness was next to Godliness.  And I was a reader/dancer/aspiring actress.  When I chose to attend college in Chicago, going the furthest away of anyone in my graduating class (of 34), exactly no one was surprised.

Though I do have a weakness for certain sports movies--A League of Their Own is what made me a feminist, and The Mighty Ducks had cuuuute hockey boys, plus Gordon Bombay is just really, really fun to say--I'm more a fan of uplifting montages with music cues so I can understand who's hitting what into where.  I guess I like the idea of sports, but not sports themselves.  So when NBC premiered a TV series based on the film Friday Night Lights (a good 'un, but not in my top five fave sports flicks), I was less than interested.

Fast forward almost one year: end of summer 2007.  Bob was on the verge of moving to L.A., but in between packing (him) and preparing to relocate seven blocks (me), he made a trip to Best Buy and blind purchased season 1 of Friday Night Lights.  Over cheeseburgers and coffee that night, we plopped down on the living room floor, fired up the DVD player, and waited to be entertained.

Four episodes and several Kleenex later, we were hooked.

See, Friday Night Lights is all about football, and it isn't.  In the fictional town of Dillon, Texas (based on the real-life town of Odessa, as chronicled in the book Friday Night Lights, written by H.G. Bissenger, cousin of Peter Berg, who directed the film and adapted the book for TV), high school football is essentially the cherry on top of a shit sundae.  The Dillon Panthers are the town's great hope--and for some players, it's the peak of their lives.  Many will escape the tiny town--often with the help of football scholarships, making the stakes even higher--but most will not, proudly sporting their championship rings into gray and paunchy adulthood as they work at car dealerships and/or live vicariously through their athletic offspring and younger siblings.  At the helm of the program is new coach Eric Taylor, who gets For Sale signs on his lawn when the Panthers lose and plays surrogate father to several kids who've had less-than-ideal upbringings.  And when a star player suffers a life-changing injury during the season opener, well, it's a whole new ball game.

Yeah, I know.  Pretty standard sports-movie stuff: coach as father figure, second stringer turned reluctant rising star, fans who at first glance just need to get a life and stop obsessively following teenagers.

So how the hell did Friday Night Lights wrestle laughter, tears, and "touchdown, goddammit!"s from two urban theatrephiles who successfully escaped their athlete-centered farm towns?

Again, it's about football.  But it isn't.

It's about families: balancing a career that both fulfills and pays the bills, with spending time with those you're supporting in the first place.  It's about relationships: falling for someone whose values are the exact opposite of yours, and maintaining love and respect for the ones who've stood by you for years.  It's about a community: zeroing in on the stifling aspects that have some yearning to leave, as well as the comfort that keeps many around.  It's about playing a sport because everyone else does; finding yourself challenged, revered and suspected all at once; caring for a grandparent afflicted with Alzheimer's; having a parent in Iraq and hoping he's safe but knowing life is easier when he's not around; wanting nothing more than to please Coach while also finding his daughter really cute.

And that last sentence?  Is just ONE CHARACTER.

Thanks to the stellar writing and acting of Friday Night Lights, even the most minor characters are everything and nothing they appear to be.  Just as you the viewer root for someone or write them off, one word or gesture changes your whole opinion.  The biggest stereotype evolves into the most complex.  And it's not all gloom and doom.  Every episode is a jewel: funny, intense, nuanced.  Kind of like life.

Seriously.  Even if Remember the Titans and Major League make you want to retch your cornflakes, give Friday Night Lights a whirl.  Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, whatever you need to do, track this show down.  Dive in, watch it, love it.

And for now, enjoy the exquisite opening credits music (four seasons in, and I still don't fast forward past it).

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. I'm especially enjoying the fact that ABC Family is reairing it from the beginning...a "new" episode every day! Gosh, I love me some Riggins and Saracen. :-)