Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Lights over Dillon

OK, it's an obsession. It truly is.

I've just finished (re) watching the last season of Friday Night Lights.  And as usual at the end of it, I feel my heart breaking just a little.

I feel such a sense of loss every time I watch the last season of this show, the same kind of loss you feel at the big changing moments of your life, going off to college, moving to a new place, embarking on marriage.  While you are excited about the future and what lies ahead, part of you wants to stay wrapped up in your former life forever.

It's bittersweet.

In an earlier post I tried to explain a little bit about why it is that I am so drawn to Friday Night Lights.  I am telling you, if you haven't seen this show, GET THE DVDs, you don't want to miss this.  I don't know when I have ever been so moved by a TV show, so much that it permeates my thoughts for hours or even days after I watch it.

I loved the Sopranos and continue to love Mad Men  and like those series, Friday Night Lights is more than just good tv, it's resonating TV.   I saw little bits of  myself in people like Carmela, Charmaine Bucco and even the mercurial Janice Soprano.  In Mad Men I kind of identify with Peggy and I definitely see myself (and my mother) in women like Betty Draper or Rachel Menkin.  But on FNL I don't particularly see myself in any of the characters, but because it takes place in a small town and I went to high school in a small town, because the characters are so real, because the show exemplifies a real community, one where covered dishes are an every day occurrence, one where life is bookended by Church and high school sports and activities, a town where people are defined firstly by what role they play in the town and finally by whether they are getting out or staying and what that all means, I am reminded of California, Pennsylvania, the town where I lived during my high school years.

There are a lot of things to love about this series, the football, the characters, the marriage of Coach and Tami, Coach's mentoring of his players, Taylor Kitsch with his shirt off, Julie and Matt's young love, but what I think I love the most about it is that each character faces real hardship, each character makes mistakes and a lot of the times, they don't get their happy ending but they are all striving to be better people.

There's nothing more uplifting and beautiful than that, which is probably why, even after multiple viewings I cannot get through an episode dry eyed.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments:

  • "Let's touch G-d this time boys"  Season 1, Episode 1.  The pilot is perfect.  It sets the stage for the whole rest of season 1 but also introduces us to Dillon and the multi layers of the town and its characters.  Of course the tragedy befalling Jason Street soon takes center stage. But in this moment, hanging out before the big game, Riggins so beautifully shows us what football means in Dillon and how G-d and football are almost one.  We also hear Riggins utter "Texas Forever" for the first time. You can see it here.
  • "Champions Don't Complain!" Season 1, Episode 3, Wind Sprints.  The team, falling apart after Jason's injury begins to splinter and they lose focus and their second game of the season.  Coach, frustrated, rouses them in the night, puts them on a bus and makes them run uphill and down in the pouring thigh-high rains while he yells at them about how champions don't give up, how they give 200%.  The beauty of the moment is when the players, exhausted, begin to come together,  led by Smash Williams in Coach Taylor's mantra "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" and how in that very moment, this group of exhausted young men are once again a team moving full speed ahead.  
  • "Everybody leaves me, What's wrong with me?"  Season 2, Episode 14, Leave No One Behind.    Season 2 was rhe low water mark for the series, mostly due to one poorly chosen storyline.  But this episode stands out to me.  Matt Saracen, in an uncharacteristic tailspin, gives up trying and adopts the philosophy of teammate Tim Riggins, skipping school, drinking and not caring about anything.  Coach, frustrated with what he is seeing throws him into a cold shower and starts yelling at him, telling him to get his head out of his ass and start making good decisions.  Matt, totally spent, asks the Coach what is wrong with him because everyone in his life (his parents, the coach and his girlfriends) have all left him.  Coach, once again struck by all that his young Quarterback has had to deal with in his life is so moved, he can only mutter, "Nothing at all."  Many people feel that Zach Taylor's finest hour on FNL is later in season 4 when his dad dies, and he is great there too, but this one really did it to me.  
  • "3 years ago I had enough hate in my heart to start a frickin' car!"  Season 3, Episode 12, Underdogs.  I love this entire episode but this scene between Tyra and Landry is my favorite.  On the way to State, Landry is trying to help Tyra organize her thoughts for her college essay.  Tyra, the first in her family to go to college, is trying to write an essay which will put her over the top and prove to herself that she is more than just another Dillon girl bound to choose bad men and questionable  jobs.  She makes a couple of attempts at an essay but they sound canned and on the drive to State with Landry, out of ideas and frustrated she mentions how her life has changed over the past 3 years, how Jason Street's paralysis showed her that everybody has to deal with difficulty in their lives and that she could choose another life for herself.  Later in the episode comes her college essay which is touching and beautiful.  I think more than any other character in the series, I have rooted for Tyra Collette the hardest, she truly against so many odds, changed her life.  
  • "I can't want it for you."  Season 3, Episode 1, I Knew You When.  We begin season 3 seeing Smash again losing another college scholarship due to an injury sustained during the last season's playoffs.  Smash, the player with the most promising future (although we don't know what happened with Vince) has had mishap after mishap stand in his way, many of them brought on by his own foolishness, ego and hotheadedness.  Under it all though Smash is a good kid, and like a lot of other kids just sometimes makes bad decisions.  In this episode though, an injury has dampened his hopes of ever realizing his dreams, he has resigned himself to working at the Alamo Freeze and has given up, saying his knee will never be what is used to be, so he is finished.  As for Coach, feeling also a little down in the mouth after losing the playoffs, his new team for the year not exactly jelling, Buddy Garrity, yet again threatening his job if he doesn't find a way to win and his wife Tami, deflated after she realizes that her new job of Principal is more about budgets than helping students.  He goes to Smash after his first game and takes him to play raquetball "the whitest sport in history" and tells him that he will do everything possible for him to get him playing football again.  Smash asks him why he is so important to him and he answers truthfully, "I need something good to happen." and promises him that he will help get him his scholarship and won't stop until he gets him there, but he tells Smash, he has to want it.  
  • "It's in the tryin" Season 5, Episode 3, The Right Hand of the Father.  Vince is struggling with his father's return to prison and what that means for him and his mom.  His dad a former drug dealer has vowed to make a clean start with Vince's mom and she wants to forgive him and be a family.  Vince's anger at his dad and his fears about what being a family might mean are causing him to make mistakes both on and off the field.  Coach, angry at Vince for walking away from a community event, calls him in his office and gives him what for and tries to get at what is going on with him.  Vince at first responds with anger, questioning Coach's decisions, telling him the standards he is trying to set for the team are stupid.  Coach reminds him of just how far he has come, and how honor is tied up with trying to build character and be a better person.  Vince breaks down and tells him he doesn't know how to be better, because he didn't have a father to show him.  Coach gently explains to his star quarterback that character isn't about being the best person there is, it's about striving to be a better person, that it is in the trying.  One of the best Coach/Player moments of the series. 

There are so many other wonderful moments and I realize that the moments above didn't even include one Tami Taylor moment and she is so wonderful too, as are the rest of the inhabitants of Dillon.  

Watch this show.  It will move you.  

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