Monday, July 18, 2011

Tube Steak: A Fond Farewell to Friday Night Lights

I put this up after the finale aired on DirecTV's then Channel 101. Obviously a lot of you had not seen it at the time. Since you have now, here is a timely re-publish.


SPOILERS ABOUNDING! You have been warned.

As the montage in the series finale's coda struck out to tie up five-year-long storylines, the sinking feeling that I was losing a family member began to engulf me.

Friday Night Lights has been a part of my life for a while now. It's filmed in the town I've called home for seven years. Connie Britton and Adrianne Palicki* used to walk their dogs by my place of employment three days a week. Kyle Chandler would come down to the dock and rent a canoe with his family**. Matt Saracen's 'Chicago' apartment was two doors down from another job. He said goodbye to Julie in the alley that I've parked in two days a week for three years.

*I also saw her on the way to the wrap party back in August or so. She smiled at me in the Hyatt lobby. 

Ms. Palicki, you were stunning.

**I feel like I was weirdly dickish one of these times. I get oddly territorial about the bigger boat that serves as the office, and one of his delightful daughters was asking questions in the way that a young child would, walking into it to look around. I drolly said, "It's a boat." I apologize if this came off dickish, Chandler family.

But there are a lot of things filmed in Austin. I haven't cared about any of them like I do Friday Night Lights.

These characters. Their lives. Somehow they have meant as much to me as actual people in my life.

I guess that's the true testament to the full extent of what FNL has accomplished. I truly care about what happens to these fictional characters. Their realistic trials, their relatable tribulations somehow seem to make these people jump off the screen and into my life. I know that from time to time (especially at the hopefully soon to be no longer dormant Munch My Benson) I have taken joy in blurring the line between pop culture and reality. For me, Friday Night Lights actually transcended the genre of television series and introduced these real people into my life.

Perhaps the most impressive thing that Peter Berg, Jason Katims, & Co. accomplished in their run was their reboot after the third season. They raised the stakes, threw the Taylors into flux by stripping some of their status away, introduced an almost entirely new cast, and flourished. Seeing Vince* grow from a teen on the brink to a stand-up man has taken me places that the first three seasons were never able to take me, and he has only been on for the past two seasons. The scenes with his mother in "The March" had me holding back tears. Sure, some of the relationships may not have mattered as much as the ones with original cast members might have to us, but they certainly got us to care about many of the more integral pieces to the fourth and fifth seasons.

*There is also the added 'what if' element inherent with Vince's character for all fans of The Wire, and Michael B. Jordan (and accordingly, Wallace) are all growed up.

The thing about Friday Night Lights is that this is not uncommon. I can't tell you how many episodes have seen me get choked up multiple times--during "The Son"* I was bawling.

*For those who do not remember episode names this is the episode from the fourth season with Saracen's father's funeral.

The finale, "Always" was no exception. Eric's aside to Vince in which he tells him, "You may never know how proud I am of you" got me. Vince's response, "You changed my life coach" got me. Jess's dejection while telling Coach she was going to be moving away got me. The Lions walking on the field at the Cotton Bowl got me. Tami's non-verbal reaction to Eric's speech about what marriage means at the dinner table got me. Eric's detour to the mall to ask Tami if she'll take him to Philadelphia with her got me. Riggins telling Becky she was family got me. Luke getting on the bus got me. Hell, the extended series recap before the episode even started got me.

Now, the finale had its slight problems. As it was a definite series finale, there were a lot of character story lines that needed to be tied up. This resulted in an insane amount of declarations of undying love for one episode. Granted, it was a long episode, but it felt like there was one every five minutes. The conflation of these moments was inevitable, I suppose, but it was sort of a lot to take. At least, they had the common sense to keep Tyra and Riggins apart in the short-term. Between that and their decision to have Jess's announcement that she would be moving to Dallas be to Eric not Vince, the episode had its two strongest moments and set at least a few of the female characters in orbits that were not dependent upon the men in their lives but would instead be setting out on their own paths.

And then there was State. I don't know if the show could have had a stronger statement about how it was always much more about the characters than the football than how they dealt with the State Championship game. Its conclusion and subtle revelation of its result through the closing montage were absolutely inspired.

Maybe it's that I'm from a small town. Even though it isn't filmed a small town, it's a town I know. Its portrayal of small-town life is as accurate as I've seen since Northern Exposure. It is entirely possible that this resonates with me more than most, but I don't think that is it. I think it is that Friday Night Lights was a brilliant damn show. It is one that I will always love dearly, and one that I will miss more than possibly any show before it.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't Lose!

1 comment:

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