11.29.2006

clear eyes, full heart, can't lose

for those of you who are uninitiated, the title of this post refers to the tagline of the new television show friday night lights. i know that i haven't been blogging about anything other than football picks, but this show is so freakin' good, that i felt compelled to put down in writing why i think the show works on so many levels. who knows, maybe, i'll start blogging on a normal basis again after this.

anyways, the show is about a fictional small town texas high school team, the dillon panthers. when i first heard that they were making a television show about this i was super skeptical. as mentioned on this blog before, i am a gigantic fan of the book, and i thought the movie was pretty good too. however, i could not just wrap my head around how NBC was going to be able to turn this into a regular television show. i had bad visions of varsity blues, the television series going through my head (not that i didn't love the movie, cuz i did). but you know what i mean, over the top sports scenes, ridiculous dialog from adults who were supposed to be teenagers and dumb stuff like that. but it turns out that i was wrong on a lot of levels.

first of all, it's well written. and in television, that is really the key to any good show, that the dialog be compelling. i feel like the teenagers talk and look like teenagers (with a couple of exceptions, but i'm not going to quibble over the fact that two of the three female leads look at least 23). but more importantly, i feel like the writers make it a point to not be predictable in terms of shows like this. for example, almost all of the main characters are flawed in some way, but they all also have moments we're we empathize with them and more importantly, we root for them because they decide to do the right thing.

in terms of subject matter, another thing i was afraid of is that they were going to try and cram every single topic pertaining to high school sports into one season. granted there have only been seven or so episodes, but i feel like the show is taking its time with a lot of the story lines. for example, in the first few shows, the stage is set for two of the players, the black star running back, and the hick drunk fullback, to hate each other. since then, they really haven't done much with it other than to show a few reaction shots to remind us that these guys don't like each other much. i could be wrong, and they end up doing a whole show on just that, but there are enough subplots to make sure that no one plot takes complete center stage for one episode. and i think that makes it more realistic. don't get me wrong, i understand that the medium of television is limited in the way it able to tell stories, so there needs to be some tidiness to story arcs, but like i said, i feel like the producers are taking their time. it definitely takes some commitment on the viewers part, but i personally like shows that are a bit challenging like that. it might have something to do with the fact that the show is produced by peter berg, whose background is in movies.

the second thing that i'm surprised i like is that the do deal with some typical teen angst show topics. i.e. cheating on your boyfriend, the vagaries of learning how to date in high school, jocks vs. nerds, etc. however, unlike it's predecessors like 90210 or even dawson's creek, instead of wrapping up the problem in a single show, the characters often make the wrong decisions, and then have to live with the consequences for several episodes. like i said, it is a show about teenagers, so of course some of these things are going to show up. i just feel that it's not done in the saved by the bell kind of way.

the biggest thing for me however, is that i find the overall tone of the show to be just plain sad. which is something you don't often find on television. and that is what i think makes it realistic. these are not people who are rising above what society has given them to achieve great things. they are people who make do with what society gives them and the only time that they really find solace in each other or their community is through the success of high school football. and that is how it really is in those small texas towns. perhaps it is my urban cosmopolitan background, but in high school whenever we went to one of these small towns to play an away game (no, i didn't play football, i was a band nerd), i always sensed this sadness among the people. that they are born, grow up, live, and then die in the same town. and it's not that they don't want to live in the big city and become all cultured or whatever, it is just that there are so many things that prevent them from leaving and that makes them sad. anyways, the sadness is done just so real, it's heartbreaking at times. and at the risk of sounding really lame, the sadness can be beautiful.

the sports scenes are done well, especially in light of the fact that there only seems to be a game every other episode. there's enough sports footage to give us an idea of how the game went, but most of the show focuses on life outside the actual game.

i also like that the show devotes a good portion of time to the lives of the adults. the coach, his wife, the parents, and things like that. again, this adds to the realism, since shows like 90210 or saved by the bell which revolved exclusively around the teens always came off as whiny and stupid to me. raising kids in small town texas ain't easy, and you can see it in this show.

it's by no means a perfect show. the first couple of episodes had a little bit of hokiness in how the dillon panthers won their games. and much like the movie, i'm not completely satisfied with the
treatment of race. there have been some real subtle things about the black/white dynamic, but there's been nothing about latinos, and in texas, believe me, they're everywhere, so it seems a little bit unrealistic in that respect. but overall, this is easily one of the best television shows that i've seen in a while.

anyways, NBC is doing a real interesting thing in making all of the episodes in their entirety available for viewing on their website. so for those of you who need to catch up, i highly recommend devoting a couple of hours this weekend in catching up.

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