“The Son, The Family, The Town” – My take on Friday Night Lights.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”

Friday Night Lights has been known since its impressive season 1 in critic circles, it never garnered a huge audience for network but similar to that of a show airing on The CW. After the patchy and over-the-top second season, things were looking grim for the old little introspective show giving a mirror to issues that people face in every-day life. The families in the fictional town Dillon, TX go through the regular issues of money, race, sex and simply the troubles and happiness in life. Thankfully, the cable operator and network DirecTV realised this and picked the show up for another season, with the fourth coming along soon after and the fifth and final season beginning this fall.

After slowly going through the second season on a weekly basis, I knew I still loved the show and even thought for a couple of episodes that I’m fine with the melodramatics and familiar tropes that now curse the current teen-drama. It annoyed me, this wasn’t the Friday Night Lights I loved, but luckily I can stomach the trusted paths of student-teacher affairs and wavering marriages that plague “Dawson’s Creek”, “90210” and many other shows I have watched for longer periods of time. The note season 2 ends on, possibly due to the writer’s strike, is interesting because it doesn’t clearly resolve much. It, in fact, feels like the loose ending to “Veronica Mars”. A dramatic conclusion doesn’t happen. It’s more in key with underlying show, not the one that was distracting everyone for much of the year.

Season 3, for me at least, was a turning point. It made me realise how great a show this is, how fine the writing, directing and acting is and made me fall in love harder than I did the first time. It’s tight, very tight and contains the emotional punch that many shows lack. The series linchpins, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, are back in full force and seemed to be having a lot more fun than they did before. They play Tami and Coach Eric Taylor, respectively – and it’s seriously wonderful, especially from the first episode to see how connected a couple these two are. They work together, they have little fights (and bigger fights) and still have time to find the love and humour in their relationship. Something rarely seen in a TV soap. A lot of the best sequences from the show come from the banter between these two and also their eldest daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) in the early mornings before they go to school or when they return at night.

This season also went further with the characters we have known since day one and instead of jumping and dodging around the endgame, it goes ahead and makes them interesting. Tim Riggins and Lyla Garrity, for the majority of the season spend their time together. They struggle and survive through their issues thrown on them unexpectedly by their family. Tim’s adoration and respect towards Lyla makes for an interesting dynamic, highlighted when Lyla’s father Buddy loses her university money. Tim knows this man cares strongly for Lyla and wouldn’t do anything to hurt her, put into even stronger focus when Lyla’s younger brother and sister return having left Buddy with their mother and her boyfriend. They come back with a new perspective on everything they see in the town of Dillon, a way a lot of people might see a town like Dillon – full of tradition, family and history. Lyla begins to question the integrity of her father and wonder’s why she didn’t leave with them. Eventually, a reconciliation is made from help from both Tami and damn good TV luck, Lyla goes ahead to her first choice of college.  Lyla’s story-arc is brought to an interesting conclusion at the mid-point of season 4, she realises that she could stay there for the rest of her life, with Tim and her family and be happy – but that isn’t what she wants. She wants to see the world, get an education and perhaps come back to Dillon later in life. A reoccurring theme of Friday Night Lights is the wanting to escape – just escape without leaving anything behind. Certainly this is the central idea and basis for most of the characters, especially those in high school. The adults like the status-quo; the teenagers just want to break out, they just need something to help them get there…

Meet Matt Saracen, QB1 – he might not be the most talented, but he has the most heart. When we meet him in season 4, he’s left football behind and literally stayed behind to be with his girlfriend of almost four-years. Played wonderfully by Zach Gilford, we figure that the kid who’s always had a troubled life had almost figured it out at the end of season 3, only to be shocked when he really doesn’t. He stays with Julie, daughter of Coach and Tami and initially gets uncomfortable when talk of her college comes up. What does he do now? He stayed behind for a reason, but what was it? The confusion in Matt’s eyes is apparent and all the more hardening when he gets news of his father’s death in Iraq. Episode 5, “The Son” is a truly heart-wrenching episode of television – he needs to do something. Matt is taken to the Funeral Parlour, where he is told he can’t see his father even though he is in the coffin nearby. Tami helps him out with arrangements and not getting ripped off by the Funeral people. Later that night, Matt’s best friend Landry, Tim and Tim’s brother head down to the football pitch and get drunk, and end up going to see Matt’s father’s corpse. Julie seriously doesn’t know how to handle Matt like this, Coach barely does himself, underscored when Matt tries to come over to the Taylor’s house for dinner, but can’t eat anything and shouts out how much he hates his father and his inability to stick around, not letting him being  a normal kid. The episode ends with the riveting image of Matt burying his father in the pouring rain. He needs to do this, he needs conclusion and he also needs to get away from it all. He has comfort in that his Grandmother with dementia has his father’s compensation. And he simply leaves. He leaves Dillon. He escapes it.

Bringing the Taylor’s centrality to focus, season 4 ends in a similar way to how the began – it goes back to its roots, just in a different school, somewhat. Season 4 is a reinvention of the show. Tami and Eric now work for East Dillon High, the school with even less money and now need to make that work. Tami her way up at the other school, now she has to do it again. Except this time, we hate Dillon High.

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