Friday Night Highlight

We’re currently watching the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights, a highly dramatic show about a high school football team, its coach, his family, and the small Texas town in general. I guess it’s like Tremé except about Dillon and Football instead of New Orleans and Jazz. Or like The Wire except not about Baltimore and Scary Crime People.

I’ve said before that I think Friday Night Lights is great drama, and this season I’ve been wondering where I place it on my list of “TV shows I think are awesome”. I think what’s so interesting about it as a show is that it has a premise closer to something melodramatic like The O.C., but I think it’s spiritually more akin to shows like The Sopranos and The Wire. That is, it’s properly dramatic, not melodramatic or soapy.

People seem to react like people in Friday Night Lights, they seem to actually exist in a convincing way. That means that they don’t always go ahead and do the “obvious” dramatic thing you might anticipate in The O.C. (or Battlestar Galactica), they’re more complex than that. As such, the characters have the ability to stick more in your mind. When you see an old character again it’s got that “old friend” feeling, rather than that”oh, her” feeling.

Most impressive, for me, is that we’re talking about a show about Texas and high school football for goodness’ sake. In a sense, it’s almost as if The Wire and The Sopranos and Deadwood etc. get off somewhat easier because they’re about situations and people that are understood as respectably dramatic. Small town Texas and high school football, unless you’re from small town Texas, aren’t things that immediately spring to mind in the annals of respectable drama. but Friday Night Lights makes it work. For me, at least, it leaves me caring about a subject I otherwise think of as fairly trivial, and I think that’s an achievement.

Finally, as I mentioned briefly in my initial assessment, the show has something of an air of an ethnography of small town Texas. Not having spent much time in those parts, and certainly not enough to know anything, I can’t vouch for the show’s authenticity – but it feels authentic. The show feels like it gives us a picture of small town Texas (and small town America generally) that’s able to look without the heaping helping of mockery and condescension that I feel I’d normally see in the shows I tend to watch. That’s a gift.

So, if you haven’t seen it – give it a bit of a chance. I could be badly off, you may need to quite like American football to enjoy it, but I think I’m right – I think this is an unlikely candidate for a Great Show, but somehow it pulls it off.

20 December 2010
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