February 9th, 2011
“Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.”
Perhaps more than any other show on television, Friday Night Lights is actively concerned with the notion of legacy. The Dillon Panthers were one, the East Dillon Lions are becoming one, and the show itself has formed its own sense of legacy with distinct notions of past, present and future despite a relatively short five season run.
In politics, or even in sports, the final moments are when the legacy is at its most vulnerable. As unfair as it might seem, the legacy of Friday Night Lights could very well come down to how “Always” brings the series to its conclusion. This will be the final time we spend with these characters, their final actions and reactions, and Jason Katims’ challenge is finding that balance between progress and consolidation.
He found it. “Always” is not perfect, getting a bit too cute for its own good towards its conclusion, but it all feels so remarkably “right” that it captures in an hour what the series accomplished over the course of five seasons. It is uproariously funny and incredibly moving, and those moments which resonate emotionally are not simply those which have been developing over the course of 76 episodes. The weight is felt across the board, with characters old and new finding self-realization amidst a larger framework.
They are legacies within legacy, as “Always” captures the emotional current of what will go down as one of the decade’s finest drama series.
February 2nd, 2011
Friday Night Light has never really been interested in the challenge of coming home. The vast majority of its story arcs are about the idea of moving beyond Dillon, Texas, of taking that next step towards the rest of your life. Despite the fact that the series opened with Jason Street and Tim Riggins sitting over a fire swearing that they were ‘Texas Forever,’ the show has to some degree indicated that one must leave before they truly find themselves.
Tim Riggins would be the one exception, really. While Jason Street has returned to Dillon, it was only as a successful sports agent who could comfortably connect with his former hometown from a privileged position. By comparison, Tim Riggins has twice returned to Dillon with no sense of direction, and considering that the last time resulted in an illegal chop shop resulting in an extended jail sentence there is plenty of evidence to indicate that it’s not easy to try to reintegrate into society.
“Texas Whatever” brings the notion of coming home to the forefront more than perhaps ever before, pulling together two people who are having to deal with the question of what being from Dillon, Texas, means to the rest of their lives. And while the conclusion of the series is obviously concerned with the idea of saying goodbye to Dillon, understanding what it means to “go home again” seems just as important to closing off this particular chapter in the life of a small Texas town.
January 12th, 2011
Thanks to a particularly busy schedule and some difficulties getting access to the episodes in question, Friday Night Lights’ fifth season has been mostly absent from Cultural Learnings. And yet, this is about to change, both because of greater access and because there is a growing sense of urgency.
Not really within the show itself: while there is certainly plenty of tension on the series right now, it continues to follow the slow burn mentality it always has. And yet my relationship with the series has taken on a certain tension, as it is becoming more and more clear that this is a show which is about to come to its end. I could have waited until the NBC airings to cover the show, but this is going to be the real ending: this is when critics will write their posts on the series’ legacy, this will be when the fans will respond to the fond (or, who knows, potentially tragic) farewells, and this is when I want to say goodbye.
And so I’ll likely be checking in with the series weekly from now until the finale – for now, a few brief thoughts on the season as a whole and a more detailed review of “Gut Check” after the jump.
August 6th, 2010
The best compliment I can pay Friday Night Lights right now is that I left its fourth season finale wanting so much more than I received.
I know this is normally considered a negative statement, in that the show was somehow lacking in something that I desired, but that’s sort of the point of the ensemble drama: by showing us the lives of so many characters, there will inevitably be plots we don’t get to follow, relationships we don’t get to spend time with, and stories that could have had broader implications. The mark of a good ensemble drama is that we actually wanted to fill in those gaps, and the mark of a great one is that even with those gaps we are enormously content with the story that has been put on screen and want to see more.
Friday Night Lights hasn’t had a perfect fourth season, trapped between interesting new characters and paying service to those who came before, but the world of Dillon, Texas remains as vibrant and empowering as ever before. “Thanksgiving” is neither a definitive goodbye to original cast members nor a defining moment for the new characters who arrived earlier this season, but rather a series of moments that define this ensemble and the world in which they play football and, more importantly, live their lives. And while some part of me wanted a three-hour finale, giving us the scenes that it felt like we needed before the various stories came to an end, the selective gaze which Jason Katims adopts in the episode feels satisfying as a whole, bringing to an end an uneven but affecting season of network television’s finest ensemble drama series which bodes well for the final chapter this fall on DirecTV.
January 27th, 2010
Friday Night Lights is a show about convergence.
Really, all ensemble dramas end up driving towards climaxes which tend to bring various story elements together, so this may not seem overly remarkable. However, as the show heads towards the conclusion of its fourth season, the show is doing a lot to bring together stories, simplifying in some instances and complicating in others.
And while some of the tension created by this convergence is engaging, what I tend to enjoy more is the sort of indirect effects: this is the first time in a while where the show actively demonstrated the show’s central dilemma of ignoring the football in order to service the characters on a personal, non-football level, and that tension (when used, as opposed to simply created and elided) is part of the show’s tragedy.
“Injury List” is about capturing the tragedy of stories converging at the worst possible time, although the show manages to keep (most of) that convergence from seeming too convenient in the show’s late season push.
“In the Bag”
December 16th, 2009
In the show’s third season, the show said goodbye to two characters who, for the most part, were unconnected to the remaining characters. Yes, everyone had a relationship with Smash and Jason Street, especially the audience, but there was the sense that their relationship was coming to an end. Smash and Jason Street were ready to leave Dillon, and the show’s characters were ready to see them leave and achieve their dreams. As much as people respected these individuals, they were moving onto bigger and better things.
However, last week’s character exit left behind people who were emotionally connected to them beyond respect, people who don’t entirely know how to function without them. And accordingly, “In the Bag” becomes a discussion of those intense connections, as people try to deal with parts of their lives on which they are dependent and those parts where other people are dependent on them.
December 9th, 2009
“What else do you want?”
Last season, when Friday Night Lights said goodbye to Jason Street and Smash Williams, they were leaving to be able to follow their dreams. Jason left Dillon so that he could be with his baby mama, while Smash left so that he could fulfill his dream of playing college football despite his recent injury. In both cases, what kept them in Dillon was out of their control: Street’s injury kept him from taking the path he had always imagined for himself, while Smash’s injury delayed what was supposed to be his triumphant moment. They did not so much stay in Dillon as they were forced to remain in Dillon, and as such we were able to view their eventual departures as an overcoming of unique circumstances.
However, if we root for Tim Riggins or Matt Saracen to leave Dillon, Texas, we are effectively arguing against staying rather than arguing for their departure. Dillon is holding these two characters back more than it is helping them move onto the next stage of their journey, and while both Jason and Smash found support and opportunity in Dillon that could give them the boost they needed it has become inherently clear that living in a trailer and delivering pizzas is not going to be a stepping stone to a prosperous future for either 7 or 33.
Accordingly, “Stay” is about those characters (and quite a few others) dealing with the separation anxiety that people have with the town of Dillon, the people who live in it, and the connections they made that cannot be overwritten so easily by things like common sense or opportunity. You may want to stay, but if you ask yourself what else you might want out of life you might find that staying isn’t going to achieve those goals. While not quite the emotional powerhouse of last week, it’s an almost too consistently themed hour that connects well with the last we’ll see of Matt Saracen for at least a little while.
December 2nd, 2009
The last time someone died on Friday Night Lights, the show took what is unanimously considered its largest misstep. This time around, the show has delivered perhaps one of its most effective episodes yet.
This is, of course, not to suggest that anyone is surprised that the death of a potential rapist is in any way comparable to the scenario we see in “The Son,” but it demonstrates that death is still an enormously powerful thing within this show’s universe despite Landry’s murderous ways. The show has always been about the way its characters respond to the adversity of crisis or in some instances the adversity bestowed upon them by the simple reality of their lives, and here grief becomes a necessary component of that universe.
And since Sepinwall, Poniewozik and Phipps already posted detailed thoughts about the episode, and because critics have been hyping it for a few weeks now and thus everyone know it’s pretty great, what will follow will be less than comprehensive but nonetheless extensive, as I do have some quasi-complaints (scandal) about shortcuts this particular story takes.
“In the Skin of a Lion”
November 11th, 2009
It isn’t precisely a dud, but “In the Skin of a Lion” is certainly the weakest episode of the fourth season thus far. It’s really an issue of premise more than it is of execution: every scene and storyline that they ask these actors to portray is effective and hitting the right notes, but there are some underlying imbalances to be found within them.
It’s a problem that the show had, to some degree in its third season, but which felt overcome by an intense emotional centre that kept the show balanced. Part of what the episode is about is how that emotional core is absent in East Dillon, and while the episode works to bring it back the vacuum at the centre of the East Dillon Lions makes this episode distinctly less enjoyable or empowering than the episodes which came before it.
“After the Fall”
November 4th, 2009
“What exactly does that mean, start over?”
Going into the show’s fourth season, the narrative was drawn as clearly as the zig-zagging border line: with two football teams in town, one led by our fearless hero and the other by the villainous interlopers, this season was going to be about the fight between the Lions and the Panthers. And the season finale drew out this narrative, pitting the respective opening games of the two teams against each other as Coach Taylor put together a group of scrappy underdogs and Wade Aikman looked to continue the Panthers’ momentum from last year’s state championship appearance.
But what the season premiere demonstrated, as we abandoned the Panthers narrative to witness the bludgeoning of the East Dillon Lions to the point of Eric Taylor forfeiting the game, is that the show can’t sustain that narrative. The East Dillon Lions are not ready to become rivals with their crosstown brethren, for as we learn here they are not actually a team at all. After the humiliation of their loss, the players are either disillusioned by the less than glorious nature of the team or angry at Coach’s hypocrisy to warn them against quitting when he did the very same thing on Friday night.
What Coach Taylor needs to do is start over not so much in terms of abandoning these players, but rather shifting his own narrative perspective to one of building a team more than building a competitive one. They’re not unconnected ideas, of course, but the show has to essentially take a step back from the season’s central premise to get the Lions (independent of the Panthers, unless when entirely necessary) up to fighting shape.
The result is another strong episode, but one which is somewhat trapped by the need to rewind the clock and yet also advance ongoing storylines that don’t necessarily relate to the team.