Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday Night Lights S1E1-11: Dimming Quickly

Because I'm a huge football fan, over the years numerous people have told me to watch Friday Night Lights. I've procrastinated due to being equal parts afraid I'd love the show and hate the show. My reaction has been squarely in between. Initially, I fell in love. The show's inciting action is a perfect bit of plotting that appealed to my intellect and emotion. I wanted to know what happened next and really cared if the characters overcame. By the end of episode two "Eyes Wide Open" when backup-turned-starting-QB Matt told Coach Taylor his eyes were wide open when he threw up the game winning pass in the first game, I was hooked. It was a literal ending. It was a metaphoric ending. It was the perfect balance.

Then some more stuff happened...and more stuff happened...and more stuff happened. The show become obsessed with progressing the plot without telling me why it was progressing. What began as a heavily serialized drama about a high school football team's season transitioned into loosely linked stand alone episodes about people who happen to be involved in football. In the middle of episode seven I was confused if I had skipped an episode. Outside of one line, the plot and tensions from episode six were largely dropped. And then some more stuff happened, implanting one pulsating question in my brain: Why?

What frustrates me most is that I don't know why the characters do anything. Despite all the talking that goes on, I don't understand what motivates them, psychologically or philosophically. What do they want? The best example might be the return of Matt's father in episode 11 "Nevermind." Through the first ten episodes, Matt juggled a job, taking care of his senile grandmother while his father was in Iraq, becoming the new starting QB, and successfully wooing the girl he has a crush on--and all the seems like it will be taken away when his father comes home from the conflict on a two week leave. Apparently grandma is so bad she needs to be put in a home, except committing her would leave Matt without a legal guardian upon his dad's return to Iraq which means Matt would have to move to Oklahoma to live with some relatives which means he couldn't play for the Dillon Panthers anymore. Matt points this out to his father who retorts with the completely reasonable, "You can play football anywhere."

Look, I understand why Matt doesn't want to leave Texas. I know what it's like to have friends and play on a team. I get that his girlfriend is smoking hot. And, as with anyone who's been to college or moved to a new town, I know what it's like to have to start all over and build anew. All of those statements however start with me, not the character of Matt. I have no idea why Matt wants to stay. What exactly is it about this town, this school, this girl (besides her being smoking hot), this coach, and this team that is valuable? What are Matt's thoughts? We never find out. Instead, he has a conversation with his coach about how he doesn't want to leave and his girlfriend tells her mother that she doesn't want to lose him. Yeah, I got that, I'd just like to break through the barrier and understand the source of these desires.

Ultimately, the town of Dillon and its residents are sealed in a hermetic bubble. I can observe everything but understand nothing. Sure, in the gaps where there is meant to be emotion (and this show is marvelous at using visual and auditory spacing to its advantage) I can substitute in my own experiences to conjure the requisite smiles and tears. However, when I do, I'm really retelling my own story to myself, not experiencing the story of the Panthers football team and their friends and family. And if that's the case, who's the storyteller here? It'd be like if your father told you a bedtime story while you kept interrupting with "So it's like that time I..." Before long you'd lose interest in his daily narratives and dim the lights yourself.

Friday Night Lights is like watching a talented team execute a bad game plan to perfection. The acting, directing, music, and other technical aspects are all top notch. The issue is that they're in service of a blueprint that just isn't detailed enough to bring home the W(ant).

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