This and That: Friday Night Lights Edition
I finally got around to watching the series finale of Friday Night Lights, and now I feel like a good friend has moved away. I’ve written about my love—maybe the better word is “obsession”—for the show in the past. But now that series has ended its run, it is time for a brief reflection.
So, yeah, I’m depressed that it’s all over. I know I can always go back and watch all of the seasons on DVD. Plus, I’ve never actually read the book that it’s based on, written by Buzz Bissinger—so I have that to look forward to. Still, I’m a little bummed that we’ve said farewell to Eric and Tami Taylor and all of the other memorable denizens of Dillon, TX. It was a rare, graceful show—sentimental but tough, romantic but realistic, spare but expansive. I feel in love with the characters and worried about their fates as if they were actual friends. And I don’t think any show has made my cry as much on a consistent basis.
The final season was, no surprise, excellent. Even if the replacement teenagers (Luke, Vince, Becky, etc.) never held a candle to the original young stars of the first few seasons, I still grew to love and care about all of them, and about their stories, their lives, their futures. This is a testament to the show’s writers, but also to the young actors themselves. Hell, everyone involved—directors, casting directors, those who chose the music—were clearly top notch.
Since everyone deservedly focuses on the brilliance of Kyle Chandler’s Eric Taylor and Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor (who BETTER win Emmys this year), I’d like to single out one actor who stood out for me this season, and who encapsulates what makes Friday Night Lights so special: Stacey Oristano’s performance as Mindy Collette Riggins. Prior to this season, Mindy was known mainly as Tyra’s somewhat trampy pole-dancing older sister, and then as Billy Riggins’ girlfriend and eventual wife. But this season, Mindy emerged into a full-blooded, wonderful character, caring for her new baby, dealing with her guilt-addled and still-immature husband, and also taking young Becky under her wing, reluctantly and then full-heartedly becoming her de-facto mother/big sister. Mindy was a perfect example of how, on this show, even the minor characters can be deep, fleshed-out people, full of their own hurts and small triumphs. Somehow, this shallow-seeming stripper turned into a compelling young woman, revealing both her vulnerabilities and strong maternal instincts. Watching Oristano as Mindy was one of the chief pleasures of this wonderful, pleasure-filled final season.
And what a finale. (Spoiler alert!) The final minutes, especially, were brilliant. The camera cuts away from the climactic last play of the state championship game—as the ball careens through the air toward the end zone, as the seconds tick down on the game clock—to reveal where the characters lives have gone eight months later. It felt, at first, like we were being denied some big dramatic moment. Did they win the game or not? If so, why can’t we see the explosive celebration? But in the end, it was the perfect way to end the series. Because although football was a huge part of the show, it was never just about football, it was about the characters. And the final minutes left us with indelible images of these characters and the lives they continue to live, both on and off the football field.
Anyway, I could go on and on. But before I shut up about Friday Night Lights, I wanted to share some wonderful links, articles, and other tidbits I’ve come across the past few weeks.
- First up are two awesome video compilations. This one is a montage of all the times Tami Taylor has said “y’all.” Maybe it’s not even exhaustive, but it is pretty awesome. I mean, how can you not love this woman? And here’s a great compilation of Coach Eric Taylor’s moving and oft-tear-jerking speeches on the show, including the famous motto, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
- If you’re a newbie to the show, or a long-time fan, you’ll love this (mostly) complete cast roster from all five seasons, covering everyone from tragic-to-triumphant Jason Street to Devin and Coach Stan Traub, two of the only gay characters ever to make an appearance on the show.
- Perhaps the most amazing read of all is this oral history of the TV series, which appeared on the new sports blog Grantland. True fans of the show will eat this up. I only wish it had been about a hundred pages longer.
- I think I already referenced this article, which compared Friday Night Lights with Glee, and lamented how the latter show grabbed all of the ratings glory. It’s a great read. I love, particularly, what the writer, Heather Havrilesky, writes near the end: “’Friday Night Lights’ embraces the rough edges, the fumbling, the understated beauty and uncertainty of the everyday. It’s rare for a TV show to acknowledge that happiness is a fragile, transient thing.”
- And, finally, it turns out that one of my favorite fiction writers, Lorrie Moore, is also a huge fan of the show. This week, she pens a juicy essay and appreciation for The New York Review of Books.