Friday, July 15, 2011

Clear Eyes and Full Hearts

I am easily involved in the lives of fictional people and their worlds. Give me a character to love or hate and I will. Give me an almost-couple to root for and I will. Give me something to laugh at or cry about. I like fiction not because it's less messy or complicated than real life but because it can be just as messy, just as complicated. Because it brings you out of yourself and into something else, a life or a world or a view that's not your own. It introduces you to people you'd never speak to in your everyday life and places you'd never visit.

But the funny thing is Friday Night Lights doesn't feel like that. It doesn't feel, to me, like other people and other places. It feels like home and I can't quite say why. The focus on high school football reminds me of the town (Arizona, not Texas) that I grew up in, sure, but that's not enough and trying to explain all the ways and reasons I connect so deeply with this show would be impossible, but I do. From the very first episode I was hooked. I loved it. While many others had to watch the first three or four to really get past the sadness that presents itself in the pilot, I knew from the get-go that this was a show I'd watch each week. I was at first captivated by those first couple seconds -- the landscape shots with Slammin' Sammy Mead's radio voice over -- but quickly grew attached to the characters and their stories.

As much as I know that many people didn't love the pilot - it was incredibly sad and hugely focused on football, which could be off-putting to some - I really think it's one of the best television pilots I've seen in terms of not only writing, acting, and all those other things we love FNL for, but also because it sets the stage for the series so perfectly. Coach's end-of-episode speech/prayer says it all.
Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable and we will all, at some point in our lives, fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts, that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves. --Coach Taylor, ep. 1.1
Friday Night Lights is a show about football, family, and Texas But more than any of that, I think, it's a show about being tested. About the vulnerability of people and that testing to our very souls. Every character in this show has fallen. With Jason Street it happens early on, when his legs and the future he always thought he'd have is taken away from him. With other characters it comes later. Matt Seracen is tested most notably when his dad dies. This is a show about people falling down and having the courage, one way or another, to get back up again in a very real way. Tim Riggins is one of those characters that seems to have the disadvantage of his entire life being one big test and the show doesn't give him an out when - miraculously - he ends up in college. Nope, for Tim his biggest challenge is still to come. The show never lets up in pushing these characters to the brink. Not in an overdone, melodramatic way, but in a life-like way. Stuff happens in life. Tami's pregnancy with Gracie Bell happening at the same time as Coach had taken the TMU job was so incredibly great and while it would have been so easy to play it like a soap-opera twist, that's not the way Friday Night Lights ever went. (As possibly the one person who loved season two, I stand by that statement.) Everything seemed so authentic. Even when Lyla Garrity drives an ex-convict home from jail I'm like, "oh, yeah, this is definitely something Lyla would do."

I don't like Lyla. For the first couple of seasons I didn't like Tim. I used to like Julie and now I don't. Jess bored me in season four and now I think she's probably one of my favorite - and one of the best - characters. All of this is due to the fact that Friday Night Lights lets their characters grow and change and make mistakes and come back from those mistakes or not. It pushes them into places that you wouldn't imagine but that, when they do it, make perfect sense.

I know that Dillon is fictional. I know that these people don't actually exist. I know that. But in my heart... in my heart they are all very much real and very much a part of me. Friday Night Lights and the town of Dillon, TX, will probably always feel a bit like home to me. I never thought saying goodbye to a show could make me feel so emotional or like I'm saying goodbye to a little bit of myself and my home, but this show. It has such desperation and honesty and hope. It's everything great storytelling should be and I feel confident in saying that for those who love it, football in Dillon, TX, is more than just a game.

clear eyes full hearts can't lose

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