10 February 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Good Bye

Today when I get home from work, I will sit down to watch the last episode of one of the best dramas of the past decade. I know what you're thinking. 'How can some dumb jock show ACTUALLY be considered a significant contribution to the television landscape? It's about SPORTS!' I know quite a few people who would dismiss Friday Night Lights on the grounds that not only is it a sports show,  it's a show about a sport they have no interest in.

Those people are missing out.

I will admit I started watching it BECAUSE of the football element, but stayed for the compelling storylines, the knockout performances from a cast largely made up of inexperienced actors, and the genuine connection I felt for the characters. Take Matt Saracen for example. He's 16 when we first meet him. A young kid running a household by himself as his Mum's AWOL and his Dad is in Iraq. He's the backup quarterback for the Dillon Panthers and is pretty unlikely to get a game ahead of their superstar starter, but he's ok with that. Caring for his grandmother with Alzheimer's and concentrating on his studies are more important. He doesn't want to play football in college, and even if he did, not being able to get a game kills his chance of a scholarship, so good results are the only way he's going to get out of Dillion and make something of himself.  The Panthers are shattered in the first game of the season when their quarterback, the dynamo who was without question going to lead the school to victory in the State Championship game, makes a poor decision in a tackle and ends up a paraplegic. Saracen has to step up, and not only become the leader of a team that is heavily grieving, but the leader of an entire town relying on him to fulfil the Panthers' destiny of greatness. No pressure, right?

A teen drama it ain't, and a one-dimensional meathead sports romp it ain't either. I wouldn't really call myself a tv-aholic, I'm weeks behind on most of the shows I watch, and there's plenty of shows I just haven't got around to watching even though I want to, but Friday Night Lights has always been the show I couldn't miss. Being from Australia, where up until recently converage of the NFL on free to air tv only extended to the Superbowl, it really felt like the show was my own little secret, and it felt like my own to enjoy and keep sacred.

When I heard that the show wasn't going to continue beyond season 5, I was obviously bummed, but y'know. All good things must come to an end. Now that it's D-Day and I have one hour of tv left with my beloved Coach, and Riggs, and Mrs Coach and the rest, I'm not quite so ready to let it go. While I can only imagine that it's written in stone that the Lions will win the State Championship, there are so many other loose ends that I'm scared won't be tied up. Admittedly I should have faith in a show that hasn't put a foot wrong in five years (excluding the 'storyline that shall not be spoken of' in season 2), but there's some big stuff going down. I'm going to be genuinely nervous hitting the play button tonight.

The outpouring of love for this show on the internet now that we're faced with the end really shows what an impact it's had. Maureen Ryan wrote on TV Squad 'Friday Night Lights' was very good when it started, but it quickly developed into one of the most innovative, moving and thoughtful shows of the modern era. It wasn't perfect, but television as a whole could learn a lot from what FNL did well.

Alan Stepinwall of Hitfix articulates it far better than I:

There's a level of honest, raw humanity in "Friday Night Lights" that few TV dramas have ever achieved. Over and over and over, the show and its characters wore their hearts on their sleeves, in a way that somehow made them more solid than characters on other series of comparable quality.
That rawness made the show great, but it was also likely one of the aspects (along with the high school football setting) that kept the show from being a hit, as most viewers don't turn to TV to be confronted by emotions as powerful as the ones this series brought up. Watching "Friday Night Lights" often felt like being put through a ringer. You felt like part of the town, and the team, and you bled with the characters and cried with them, and on occasion you got to soar with them, too. And a lot of people simply don't want to get that close to the fictional characters they watch - don't feel that experiencing the devastating lows is worth also getting to share in the glorious highs.

One thing's for certain. Tonight I will cry like a little bitch. Be it at the opening credits (99% chance, they make me teary at the best of times), if (when) the Lion win and Vince gets to share the victory with his recovering drug-addict mother (80%), if Luke gets to follow his dreams to college (90%), or if (and this is a BIG IF) Smash comes back and at any point leads the 'Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose' warcry (100%, I'm tearing up now just thinking about it).

Here's to God, and football, and ten years from now Street, good friends livin' large in Texas. 
Street: Texas forever.

Texas Forever. And ever.


  1. I read this and now I want to tear up!

  2. Completely loved this show, and now I am wondering what storyline you are referring to in Season 2.

  3. The one with Landry and Tara and 'the accident' that Landry's Dad had to end up fixing up.