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Series Finale: Friday Night Lights – “Always”

“Always”

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.

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Friday Night Lights – “Texas Whatever”

“Texas Whatever”

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.

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Friday Night Lights – “Don’t Go”

“Don’t Go”

January 19th, 2011

If Friday Night Lights had ended after three seasons, I would have been incredibly disappointed. The fourth and fifth seasons of the show have featured some tremendous moments, introducing new characters and offering more opportunities for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton to demonstrate their command of the Taylor family dynamic. The idea of losing the tragedy of “The Son,” and never meeting Vince Howard and Luke Cafferty, is the sort of televisual counterfactual that I don’t even want to consider.

And yet, “Don’t Go” made me consider it. While the episode demonstrates the degree to which these two short seasons have made a considerable impact, it also demonstrates how far one character in particular has fallen. While the series may be reaching its conclusion, there has been no attempt to sugar coat the fact that not everything is going to turn out in the end. In fact, “Don’t Go” is very much about the interrogation of what exactly would constitute a happy ending for this series, questioning if there is any combination of conclusions which won’t simultaneously touch our hearts and break them in half.

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Season Finale: Friday Night Lights – “Thanksgiving”

“Thanksgiving”

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.

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Friday Night Lights – “I Can’t”

“I Can’t”

January 20th, 2010

If you’re one of the people who are holding off watching Friday Night Lights until it debuts on NBC, you received good news this week: the show returns on April 30th. And I’m going to be really interested to see how viewers respond to “I Can’t” when it airs in early July, because the episode has the show headed in some potentially controversial directions in terms of both cultural and narrative taboos.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the latter are my only real concern, as the show continues to demonstrate a deft hand when dealing with sensitive subjects. However, I don’t know if the same kind of sensitivity could possibly rescue the show from itself in its other major storyline, which is creating some compelling television now but is creating far more concerns than I would like heading towards the end of the season.

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Friday Night Lights – “The Lights of Carroll Park”

“The Lights of Carroll Park”

January 13th, 2010

The problem with episodes of Friday Night Lights which feel overrun by homicide or criminal elements is not that those stories are inherently terrible, but rather that they feel incongruous with the show’s world. This is purposeful, meant to manufacture tension, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. It’s entirely possible to confront these types of issues within the show’s particular worldview, demonstrating the consequences of crime in ways which feel less contrived and disruptive of the show’s natural order. The show can be about the conflict between the criminal and law-abiding without the show becoming defined by that conflict (or by characters flirting dangerously between the two worlds), and “The Lights of Carroll Park” is a good example of how that can be accomplished.

It’s a slightly more problematic example, however, of how the show can confront the question of abortion. While I am not judging that storyline too quickly, as I’m sure it will be given more time to develop over the weeks to come (and perhaps into next season), the show sort of stretched the believability of its characters’ maturity in dealing with the situation. While I’m all for level-headed approaches to these kinds of storylines, as it’s one of the show’s strongest qualities, I also feel as if there are certain character who should be responding in ways that aren’t mature, and in ways that reflect how challenging these kinds of moments can be.

I guess me distinction is that I want the show to be challenging as opposed to challenged, and while the revonation of Carroll Park naturally fit into the first category I think the teen pregnancy sort of forced its way into the same position.

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Friday Night Lights – “Toilet Bowl”

“Toilet Bowl”

January 6th, 2010

Friday Night Lights is a show that, despite various dips in quality, has not fundamentally changed since its first season. It has always been a show about the people in a football-crazy town, revealing both the problems which complicate their lives and the people (and the sport) that helps them keep grounded.

The show’s problem has been those moments (primarily isolated in the second season, but cropping up in the first season as well) where it feels as if the problems are the only thing that’s working about the show. The second season didn’t just struggle because a character murdered someone, but rather because the show simultaneously retreated from the football culture that was its heart: I don’t believe the murder would have ever been a good idea regardless, but it could have been handled much more efficiently if it had been folded into the community rather than remaining a distraction.

While the fourth season started as an homage to Season Three, with Matt Saracen’s farewell arc echoing Smash and Street’s exits, it has quickly evolved into an extended test of whether the show better understands the mistakes it has made in the past. The show has never been beyond having people make mistakes, and delaying the consequences of those mistakes, but the show is stepping into familiar stories, and not in a good way. “Toilet Bowl” is filled with red flags, characters taking actions that come from a somewhat logical place but which for the sake of narrative expediency are coming faster than they probably should.

It’s adding up to a show that I’m not quite as excited as watching, even if (relative to the second season) there are more reminders of the show and the community that elevate that drama to another level.

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Friday Night Lights – “In the Bag”

“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.

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Friday Night Lights – “Stay”

“Stay”

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.

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Friday Night Lights – “After the Fall”

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“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.

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