The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Friday Night Lights – “New York, New York”

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“New York, New York”

Season Three, Episode Eight

Airdate: November 19th, 2008

Entering into its third season, which a majority of you probably haven’t seen yet thanks to the strange DirecTV exclusivity, Friday Night Lights had two main goals: to say goodbye to its graduating players who no longer felt organically tied to the Dillon Panthers, and to recapture that sense of magic that made the first season so special. With 11 of its 13 episodes finished airing, the season has managed the second goal quite well, and is on its way to achieving the first.

[To respect the fact that most of you haven’t seen these episodes (they start airing on January 16th on NBC), I’ll put the rest below the fold – Myles]

But there were two people who they said goodbye to sooner than others, with both Smash Williams and Jason Street faced with a real world that isn’t the same as Dillon: where they were once stars, with considerable capital to get loans or part-time jobs, they are now also-rans, injured or jobless and struggling to start new lives independent of their old identities. In them we have the show’s most emotionally powerful storylines thus far this season, and in their respective goodbyes we have the season’s most accomplished hours.

Picking which one to place into the Time Capsule ended up being an issue of personal preference – while I think that Smash’s exit felt considerably more organic within the structure of the series, I felt more emotionally involved in Jason Street’s struggle. I feel like this story is the one that has been building forever: his separation from football was not a sudden result of an injury, but a long gestating struggle to define a new identity. Yes, the show had to rush his conclusion into four episodes, but it felt like where he should be: finding a way to return to football on something closer to his own terms, not part of the Dillon Panthers but using his skills he learned on the field.

What inspired me most was that “New York, New York” was that Jason’s perseverance had an impact on other people: Smash’s sendoff felt like it was meaningful, yes, but Street’s felt more final. When Tim Riggins broke into tears as Jason pours his heart out to his child’s mother, it didn’t feel as contrived as his path there: it felt like a character reacting to a sort of fairy tale ending to a character that deserved one.

The episode also offered another saga in one of my favourite relationships, as Eric Taylor has to balance his coach/player and surrogate father/son relationships with Matt Saracen when the issue of Matt playing wide receiver emerges. The scene is so simple, so quiet: an empty street in the darkness, with Eric tossing passes to Saracen to see if he can prove his mettle, with Julie and Tami watching on. The end result feels so perfect, Eric’s hard exterior hiding the intense pain in his right shoulder that required immediate attention.

Yes, the episode’s storyline with Tyra felt a bit like nothing, and it was all a bit too quick and contrived, but there was something about the episode that resonated with me: I remember Smash’s exit, sure, but there is something about Jason Street’s departure that felt very real to me, if not in any logical sense. Anyone who watches the show would be moved by Smash’s departure: even the people within the show couldn’t hold back tears at Jason Street’s.

And that’s the Friday Night Lights I’ll personally remember, and the one I toss into the Time Capsule out of great reverence.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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