Monday, April 23, 2012

FNL: clear eyes, full hearts.

the latest addition to my top TV shows of all time*: Friday Night Lights.
...hit play already for the soundtrack to this post.

"...but isn't that a football show?" 

yes it is. and it was that sentiment which left me as dismissive as you probably are.

i'm not a football guy. but i went to a football school. hell, i grew up in a small suburban southern town, where people's "teams" were of the highschool/college variety (there were no nearby pro teams) - and of those football was king. but i was on the sidelines of that culture - as the child of immigrants, and a scrawny/nerdy one at that. so yea, i was hesitant to dive in to a show about football.

but friends of equal/superior television-viewing taste* had been recommending FNL for quite some time. then several months ago, i actually read a Time article (spoilers within), for which this particular (non-spoiler) quote caught my attention:
"Just as HBO's crime-drama masterpiece The Wire was a searing vision of what is wrong with America, Friday Night Lights has been a clear-eyed, full-hearted tribute to what is right with it."
that's right. TIME just said FNL was the yin the Wire's yang. and the Wire is arguably the best show ever made. so it was no longer a question of IF i would watch FNL, just WHEN. and that began a few short weeks ago.

and yes, you remember correctly. there was actually a movie (2004 - starring Billy Bob Thornton, NOT James Van der Beek) surrounding the same topic/themes (Texas high school football) - but condensed for 2 hours of Hollywood-ness (if you haven't yet watched the show - the film is a great appetizer - and here's a good trailer). apparently both the film and TV-series were based on a book by H.G. Bissinger, profiling a small town in Texas and it's relationship with high school football. while the film is historically accurate (names and places), it was limited in scope, not looking into the broader lives of the local town-folk. 

"...but while the show is all the better for its specificity, it isn’t limited by it." (USA Today)

FNL the television show digs much, much deeper. what it loses in historical accuracy - it more than makes up for in the development of character archetypes in the more contemporary, fictional town of Dillon, TX. what results is relevant, realistic stories of (a part of) America as it is, and America how it is changing. 

big/small government? race? abortion? military/Iraq? outside financial influence on our institutions? work/life balance? kids these days? all are on the table, and both views are expressed - but through the lens of their affect on one small town. unlike sci-fi (BSG, etc), it doesn't need the false veil of aliens, space-travel, and killer robots to make its points, but like with any great story - great character development is needed. and that is handled in spades by Eric/Tammy/Julie Taylor, Matt Saracen, Tim/Billy Riggins, Jason Street, Vince Jordan, hell, even Buddy Garrity, Landry Clarke, and all the other Dillon Panthers/Lions. 

nevermind the breathe-taking Texas scenery, real-life cinematography and emotionally inspiring score/soundtrack. i'm a particular music-geek, so the latter really hit home - whether it was Explosions in the Sky, W.G Snuffy Walden (also of the West Wing fame), or the unofficial theme of Tony Lucca's "Devil Town" (playing above). does the show start/go slow? sure. but all good so patience is needed (something that clearly does not exist in the mass-TV-viewing public obsessed with show choirs, crime dramas, quick laughs, and/or reality TV). the show doesn't just build you up, it also brings you the stark realities that are present in our society and lives. one critical point in the very first episode brings this point to life. 

it's an emotional roller coaster well-worth the ride.

so after a 3-week television love affair (my wife was surprisingly understanding, with a tad bit of condescension) with my friends in the the small town of Dillon, Texas - i firmly understand the importance of the shows leading sentiment: 

clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. 

*what else makes the TV- cut? in partial order: the Wire, BSG, Lost, West Wing, Scrubs, the Daily ShowAvatar (the cartoon, not the movie). sure, there are tons of other shows i (really) like, but these are the ones that start to finish, stand the test and go the distance. i'm a better person for watching them, and you would be too.

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