Thursday, November 3, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Stop Watching Friday Night Lights

Riggins's shoelessness solidifies his role as "the cute one."
So I'm about five years late to the party on Friday Night Lights, but thank God for Netflix streaming and a very, VERY flexible schedule. I had always heard that FNL was a great show, but as a person who cannot confidently say how many players are allowed on a football field during a game (it looks like about 30, but I have a feeling that can't be right), I assumed I wouldn't enjoy it. Wrong. I just finished the first season, and was blown away.

Football serves as the show's organizing principle, and a metaphor for the intricate, interlocking, and at times combative way the students, players, and adults in Dillon operate and co-exist. What I like best is the way the writers allow the characters to be as deeply complicated and at times contradictory as real people are. From marginal figures like the assistant coach who is both casually racist and devoted to his African American players, to central ones like the junior fullback, and new love of my life, Tim Riggins, who is both a careless and narcissistic alcoholic and a loyal and wounded kid with a huge heart. There are no examples of what E.M. Forster would call "flat" characters. Even the most minor figures' interior selves and histories are sketched in with deft concision. The show doesn't try to fit these personalities into a formulaic "sports movie" narrative--in fact, it's one of the most organic-feeling shows I've ever seen. There's a real sense that we're just watching people make choices, and deal with the ramifications and consequences of those choices as they play out in the contained and at times claustrophobic bubble of a small Texas town.

Though dramatic things happen--the opening episode finds the star quarterback paralyzed in the first game in one of the best pilots I've seen this side of Lost--the show never veers into melodrama or sentimentality. It watches like a more earnest and less arch Jonathan Franzen novel crossed with Faulkner in comic mode--a neo-realist character study where all the joy and messiness and pain of human life are illustrated through one tight-knit middle-class American community. It's really quite smart and funny and moving. I have high hopes for the next four seasons, which at this rate, I'll finish by Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, love me some Tim Riggins. I'm so glad you like the show!