Several months ago, I received a care package from my mother. Lying in the box amidst candy, t-shirts, and books, was a DVD box-set of the first season of NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Throughout the past year I vaguely remember friends, TV critics and bums raving about the football-drama being the greatest show on network TV; little did I know that was a cruel understatement.
The truth of the matter is that I avoided FNL like the plague. Any pop-culture associated with sporting events, even something involving a game of croquet, is something I tend to skip. My upbringing taught me to cherish singing divas over charging quarterbacks. However, there are few TV shows that cater to my likes, and ultimately I decided to settle into my crest on the couch and watch an episode or two of FNL. It was just to eat the time before something more enticing came around.
I devoured this show. From the opening of the first episode, where the viewer is introduced to one of the greatest ensemble casts to ever hit the small screen, I realized how little the show is actually about football. The all-American sport acts as a setting for the writers to portray honest story lines about what it is like to live in America in 2007. Not my America, New York, which is about as skewed of a perception as you can get about what America is really like, but small town America.
Key among the reasons for the success of the series, which has struggled to find an audience despite the critical lauding, is the writing. Set in small town Texas community affected by war and putting their hope into the football team, the show tackles issues that often fill after-school specials. There are sports injuries, cheerleaders sleeping with football players, bi-polar students, racism and much more. Yet every plotline is handled with dignity and grace usually left to premium networks. Regardless of how many times we have seen the stories before, FNL make us see them for the first time.
In a show that contains roughly twelve central characters, what is perhaps most staggering about the writing is how fleshed out each and every one of them is. They manage to be everyman without ever seeming like cookie-cutter clichés. Each member of the community has their own tie to the football team, and for everyone it carries the same sense of beacon of hope, and acts as a savior to the drama of life. For all the similarities in a general sense, each character is full of heart, humor and internal struggles, that are uniquely their own.
Those struggles are handled through the genius of the corps actors of the cast. A majority of them have few television credits, and the naivety is utilized to tremendous effect. Many of the scenes leave the viewer feeling as if they have been privy to conversations taking place in a real Texas town. The realistic dialogue, in conjunction with the filming style, create a sense of authenticity that has all but evaporated from the comedy or operatic drama that has overtaken network TV.
In addition to the show acting as a savior for network TV (and how it didn’t get a single nomination at any awards show this year is beyond me) the series acted as a personal savior of sorts. A friend recently asked me if the reason I felt so connected to FNL was because one of the central characters is a football player who is paralyzed. In many ways, I have associated with my struggle with EBV to the central character of Jason Street. While I’m not in any way saying the extremity of my illness even comes close to the injuries and struggle he undergoes, the perseverance that he shows as a character has been inspiring. I’ve wept while watching the show, I’ve laughed, and I have sat and reflected on the state of American life; that’s no small feat for a network drama.
Whatever reservations I had about devoting time to a football drama were swept away once I immersed myself in this brilliant show. After finishing the first season, I watched it all over again. Part of the glory of a TV show is that, unlike a movie, you have hours and hours of time to get to know the characters. Take the time to get to know the men and women of Dillon, Texas. I promise you that it’s worth it.