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Monday, June 18, 2012
A Review of TV Series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
NIGHT LIGHTS isn't about Texas high school football.
about Texas high school football.
to writing this stupid/cutesy opening and I don't even have a good reason for
it. I suppose it expresses my
surprise. I expected a sports drama. I anticipated a series about a scrappy
low-ranked team overcoming its difficulties and moving on to the semi-finals
and then the finals and then.....you know the story.
It's been done to death.
Underdog Triumphs Despite Impossible Odds.
Berg's masterwork about Americans at their best and their worst is way beyond
football scoreboards. The game dramas
we're given, the playoffs and championships, are almost footnotes. Do they win or lose the nationals? Yay! Boohoo!
Oh well...the story moves on.
you haven't heard, Texans have a local football culture like no other. Its passions fill in the great empty spaces
of the land. It entertains, it
distracts, it involves, it sucks people into its politics, it's a tornado and
it leaves nothing untouched.
serious. The aristocracy of star
players have perks beyond belief. They
are scouted by major college teams and the NFL looms in the background for a
few talented athletes. The perks have to be within the bounds, so
to speak. There's no buying and selling
of games and players (or, at least, there'd better not be). This adherence to
the strictures of amateurism doesn't preclude assigning a virtual harem to the
stars, the quarterback, the tight end, the wide receiver and so forth. These guys stride the halls of school like
NIGHT LIGHTS isn't about Texas high
school football because it's really about character, relationships and
star of this drama is a relationship.
The marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor is the spine of this narrative's
skeleton. It's the beating heart at the
center of the town of Dillon, Texas.
Without the marriage of Eric and Tami, there is no story.
Actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play their parts
with such natural grace that their marriage should receive an Emmy. It is one of the great marriages in
the new Head Coach of the Dillon Panthers.
Tammy is the high school counselor.
Their marriage is subject to pressures that would crush most commitments. If Eric and Tammy can survive this
alchemist's crucible, they will be peerless.
They will be jewels.
can't, they'll be another sad divorce that leaves behind a shattered
family. Their daughter Julie is at that
age just before she starts to rebel and roll her eyes. We need to wait until Season Three for the
foot-stomping, eye rolling and the
whole alphabet of gestures of teenage contempt for adult restrictions. Meanwhile, she's a nice cute kid with a
Tammy have tough jobs. If you think
coaching high school football
Aimee Teagarden as Julie Taylor
is small time stuff, think again. This is Texas. Eric needs all the qualities of a drill sergeant, a general, a
shrink, a priest and a politician. He
has to raise his voice and deliver a fifteen minute harangue to a team of
wall-sized athletes until they are reduced to terrified little lumps of jelly,
quivering on the locker room floor. Or
he can put his arm around a confused, demoralized quarterback, pull the boy's
head onto his shoulder and choose the right words to unleash a deluge of
tears. He must puncture the macho armor
of these arrogant teen prima donnas and make them, FORCE them, to live in the
real world where they are not God's gift to women and football. Creating better athletes is secondary to
creating better people.
across the country, the name of Eric Taylor is being discussed. He's a young, new coach, he's just emerging
and he's the man to watch. He may be
next year's High School Coach Of The Year.
He's at the beginning of a career that may some day take him to the
by nature, a man of few words. At home,
he's a firm
but gentle presence who doesn't make a lot of noise. He's busy.
He's working, watching playback of games, evaluating his own calls and
his players' moves. He works ALL the
time. He lives football. His wife understands this, she has grasped
it from the very beginning of their marriage and rather than pout and grow
disillusioned, she creates her own life.
She uses her own strengths and interests to engage the world. She's a high school guidance counselor. This makes her the equivalent of a prison
warden and The Great White Hunter on an African Safari. She is stimulated by challenge. She is one of those goddess mothers full of
lush strength, red-maned, sexy and very tough.
Connie Britton asTami Taylor
makes a marriage between two such powerful people function so well?
keeps the marriage strong. Tami and
Eric are always honest with one another.
Even when they lie, they're honest about lying. Neither is afraid to admit being wrong about
an issue. They support one another with
unbreakable consistency. If they have a
fight, they cut through the bullshit, find the central issue, and look for
compromise. They don't resort to
yelling and name calling.
are times when an irresistible opportunity appears before Eric or Tami. The problem is, accepting the opportunity
would require changes in the marriage or the family lifestyle. One of them, Eric or Tami, is going to have
to make a sacrifice. Who is willing to
see a lifetime dream fade away? Who is
wise enough to see that opportunity does NOT come only once in a lifetime?
of Dillon, Texas is neither large nor small.
It's like a town with a hundred thousand people that has been absorbed
into the suburban sprawl of Houston or Dallas.
It has an identity. Much of that
identity is drawn from the supremacy of the Dillon Panthers.
power brokers, the mayor, the oil moguls and the owner of the Cadillac
dealership are Panther alumni and sit on the board of the Booster's
They know which strings to pull, how to schedule games to
the advantage of the team, how to acquire players from other teams who might be
Panther-killers if they're not brought into the fold. They're the guys who play dirty, behind the curtain. A little pressure, maybe some mild
blackmail; it gets the job done and the team is none the wiser.
amazing how much of the human condition can be collected into a single file
cabinet with the same labeled situations. There are aimless kids on drugs, there are abandoned old people,
cheating husbands, bankrupt businessmen, pregnant cheerleaders, corrupt
officials, natural disasters, infatuated teenagers going suicidal over a romantic
setback....all these potholes in the road of life are much the same, no matter
where you go.
things that can't be pigeonholed, that can't be stuck in a file, are the
lineaments of character. Which one of
these people can overcome the temptation to shirk? Which one can step up and make an effort to change?
because I think Friday Night Lights is a narrative about that power in human
beings, that ability to see their own trouble and solve the problem, and then
move forward. There will be another
problem, and another. No matter. By the time Season Three begins, even the
people we learned to hate have become different, better. They are tougher, yet softer. They have something that we all wish we had:
a supportive community.
amazed, over and over again, at the way the people of Dillon turn to one
another. Coach Taylor's door is always
open. If the phone rings at three in
the morning, he will answer it. "I'll
be right there," he says, sliding out of bed and looking for his
pants. If some sopping wet weeping
teenager having a crisis knocks on a
door, there will be a soft place to fall.
A motherly hand is extended: "Why, come on in, sugar, you look
awful, and you're just SOPPING wet!
What can I do for you? Let's get
you dried off."
dreams I live in a place like that.
Dillon is special because Southern Hospitality is not only real but it
includes everyone and it understands that shame is the enemy of
communication. As a community, Dillon
expands its definition of humanity and grows like an amoeba to absorb shame so
that being ashamed is not shameful.
Lying about the cause of the shame, THAT'S shameful, so it's better to
unburden the heart, to come clean and let someone help you, someone with a
wiser mind like Eric or Tami Taylor, or a hundred other people. What's sad is that this
town is a television fiction but it gives me hope. If someone can imagine such a place, someone
can create it in the real world.