Saturday, August 07, 2010

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose.

This is Burkie, guest blogging about Friday Night Lights. Jenn & Mira have written quite a bit about this show already (as you'll discover if you click on the tag below), and it was because of one of these posts that Jenn convinced me to give the show a try. I watched some of Season 4 (On-Demand) and liked it. Then Jenn--through Mira--loaned me Seasons 1-3 on DVD. Now that I've finished watching, I'd like to post some comments from my perspective.

And what is my perspective, you may ask? Well, I'll tell ya. I'm a Texan, and I went to high school in a Texas town of about 15,000 with a single high school. We had a huge (compared to HS football fields around here), rock-front stadium built by the WPA. I was on the field for every single varsity football practice and game of my sophomore, junior, and senior years. Actually, I was on the sideline, not the field. I was the student trainer. The (adult) athletic trainer & I taped ankles and knees, provided first aid & physical therapy to players during practices and games, etc. I was there during all the pre-game, post-game, and half-time speeches. I spent more time with the coaching staff than I did the players. So...I know a little about what FNL is supposed to be about.

In case you were wondering, I can confirm the following:

1. Yes, high school football really is that big and that important. Our football team was not that great; we never made the playoffs. Our baseball team my junior year made it to the state finals (and lost), but the baseball games were never the event that football games were, nor garnered the attention that our football games and teams and players got. Fair? No. Reality? Yes. In fact, I was only required to be the student trainer for the football team, not for any of the other teams.

2. Yes, boosters like Buddy Garrity and Joe McCoy really do exist, and they really do have more influence than they should, to include securing starting jobs for kids that don't deserve it. The football team had a customized, Greyhound-type bus that we traveled on; no other team in the school got to use it.

3. Yes, despite the separation between church and state that should exist, team prayers are not only led in the locker room and on the football field, but there is always an invocation read over the PA at the beginning of the game. It happens at graduation ceremonies, National Honor Society induction ceremonies, team banquets, etc.

4. Yes, women wear cowboy boots with skirts and guys wear cowboy hats at weddings. And everywhere else, for that matter.

I'm just as confused as anybody else about the following:

1. Where the hell in Texas the made-up town of Dillon is supposed to be and how big it's supposed to be. At times, they make it seem like a really small town. Everybody goes to the same church. Everybody in town, it seems, went to Billy & Mindy's wedding (even though they are minor characters who happen to be siblings of more central characters). Yet, it is (beginning in season 3), large enough to have to have 2 high schools and it apparently has a Marriott. They seem to run to Austin quite a bit as if it's not too far away, but in one episode when Buddy wanted to meed Coach Taylor halfway between Austin & Dillon, they picked a spot about 2 hours away from each, making Dillon 4 hours from Austin. It's also close enough for Coach Taylor & Smash to make a day trip to College Station (Texas A&M) 2 hours east of Austin, though he admitted they drove a long way. Yet, in another episode, they were apparently close enough to the oil wells in West Texas for Tyra to run off on a field trip with a guy who was investing in them or something. Yet, they're also close enough to Dallas for Coach & Mrs. Coach (as Matt calls her) to run up there to rescue Tyra one night. I'm stumped.

2. How is a kid like Tim Riggins able to buy so much beer, even in his sophomore year? He drank more beer in high school than I did, and that's saying a lot! Not that I was a teenage drunk or anything, but the drinking age was 18 when i was in high school; it's 21 for Riggins. Also, where does he get the money for the beer? Or the truck he drives? Or the house he lives in? He has no job, and his brother Billy, with whom he lives, is constantly losing one low-paying job after another.

3. How do Tim Riggins & Tyra manage to skip school seemingly every other day and never get expelled? Also, Riggins made several multi-day trips out of town, missing days of football practice even during the playoffs, and only once did Coach Taylor enforce some kind of punishment.

4. Where is the student trainer?!?! Those ankles don't tape themselves!

5. Rally girls. We didn't have them. That I know of.

There are other questions, but those keep coming to mind. They don't matter, though. This show is consistently entertaining despite those things. The characters are genuine. Does that mean I like all of them? No, just like I don't particularly like every genuine person I know. They make the show compelling though. Mostly. Most of them. My take on some of the characters:

Coach (Eric) & Mrs. Coach (Tami) Taylor. As wonderful as some of the other characters are, this pair makes the show what it is. Quite possibly the best married couple in the history of television, which is a saying an awful lot as there is probably at least one married couple in over 90% of every television series ever produced. I stand by it, though. It's hard for me to say whether it's because the characters are so well developed or because Kyle Chandler & Connie Britton do such a great job portraying them. I guess it's both. If I'm a football player, I want to play for him; if I'm a student, I want her as my guidance counselor or principal. If I'm a parent, I want him to be my kid's coach, and I want my kid to go to her school. If I'm married, I want a relationship like they have.

Julie Taylor & Matt Saracen. The coach's daughter & his quarterback are sweethearts during Seasons 1 and 3; not so much in Season 2. They are much more likable and interesting when they are a couple, especially Julie. Matt is someone you root for no matter what: hardworking, humble, respectful, never quite sure of himself, underdog--all the attributes you could want in a good kid. Julie is also a good kid, except when she's being a brat. And she was a brat throughout Season 2 and, at times, in Season 3. Every teenage girl is entitled to be a brat at times, but her character was bratty more often than required, I thought.

Smash & his mom. Smash is the great high school running back who knows how great he is, embraces it, and is his own biggest fan, yet still comes out as incredibly likable. You just shake your head at his excesses and accept him. As much as I like Smash, though, I like his mama even more. I wish they could've found a reason for her to remain on the show after he left for college. The phrase "keeping it real" has become trite, but she embodies that sentiment.

Tim Riggins. After seeing Riggins in a few episodes in Season 4 and the first several episodes of Season 1, I told Mira that he was unlikable in every episode I'd seen him in and, in my opinion, not even that good-looking. She disagreed with me a bit about the latter part, and said that he has his moments. I can finally agree with her on that. Despite the problems I mentioned with him above, most of the time he's either playing football, drunk/getting drunk, or just being broody & sullen. Riggins is the guy who never catches a break. His best moments are not when he's with a girl or trying to accomplish something, but when he's interacting with other people. As Jenn mentioned in one of her posts, he was funny when he's forced to be involved with girl's volleyball or the powderpuff football game. Some of my favorite scenes in the series have been when Riggins and some of the other guys are on the football field in the middle of the night, drinking & talking & playing.

Landry Clark and Tyra Collette. Landry is my favorite character after Coach, Mrs. Coach, and Smash's mama. I liked him most when he was just Matt's best friend and not on the team or even interested in football. His being on the team has added nothing to either his character or the show, in my opinion. I like how the coach always thinks his name is Lance, though. He is the character I most identify with; they should've made him the student trainer! He's the funniest character on the show. He's self-deprecating and can say funny things that are critical but not disparaging to other people. I like how his thoughts are always so convoluted that he's always talking or explaining things even after the person he's talking to has walked away. He wears funny shirts; he's kinda funny looking. He's smart and dorky. He has a rock band. Yeah, I can relate :) Guys like him never get the girl, though. I love him & Tyra together, I really do, but that just doesn't happen. Tyra is a good character, in that I've known a Tyra or two. She's genuine. However, I really only like her when she's interacting with Landry either as a friend or a girlfriend.

Jason Street & Lyla Garrity. I've never warmed to either of these characters. I can sympathize with what happened to Street. I remember playing Weatherford the first game of my junior year and the coaches called a play for our best player--running back Cleo White, one of the fastest sprinters in the state at that time. They were waiting for the perfect time to call the play; I remember it distinctly. We were probably on our own 40 and the coaches started calling "Run it!" down the sideline. The play went in, they got the ball to Cleo on the outside with open space in front of him and he took off. No way was anybody going to stop him. Somehow, impossibly, Weatherford had a player--Number 11--run Cleo down from behind and tackle him. And break his leg. I helped carry him off the field, and he was out for the season. Not as tragic as what happened to Jason Street, I know, but I know what it's like to suffer a serious injury to your star player in the first game of the year. That was a good way to start this series off, but I think they kept his character around a couple of seasons too long. And Lyla Garrity...I felt bad for the circumstances she found herself in over the years, but never really cared enough for her to root for her.

I've now watched all of Seasons 1-3 and part of season 4. I will definitely watch all of Season 5, which NBC has already announced is going to be the last. The developments of Season 4--namely that Coach Taylor was forced to leave Dillon High School and become the head football coach at East Dillon High School, presented some fresh directions for the series to explore, but I think it will become way too contrived if they continue to find ways for characters to linger around when they should be gone. Thanks for recommendation and the loan, Jenn! And thanks again to you & Mira for letting me play in your sandbox here :)


Jennifer said...

Yay, thanks for blogging, Burkie! I'm glad to hear they got so many things right about high school football in Texas.

Kevin said...

I think Tim Riggins kinda grows up in season 4, he's definitely grown on me through the seasons. I def agree that Coach and Tami r the best married couple on TV ever.