Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday Night Slights

Friday Night Lights, an NBC drama that airs, cutely, on Friday nights, has been a favorite of mine since my wife and I discovered it on Hulu a few years ago. In fact, FNL is the only TV show I watch regularly. I am not sure FNL merits this singular honor, but perhaps in some mysterious way the show and I are about made for each other.

FNL depicts a small, hard-livin', football-lovin' fictional Texas town called Dillon. The central characters are high school football coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, high school principal. A small set of appealing characters surround the mostly loving and sensible couple. Many of the student characters from the show's first seasons are now gone. They graduated and left Dillon. Few shows have dispatched central characters with such aplomb.

FNL insists on that kind of realism. For unlike so much else on TV, FNL actually believes in realism as a mode of artistic expression. The outlandish plots of the crime and doctor shows, the far-out intrigues of the superpower dramas, the absurd scenarios and extreme characters of the situation comedies--you will find no attempt at such things here. Scenes are filmed documentary style, and the actors are permitted to ad lib lines as they see fit. Cast and crew work on location in the Austin area. Even the football team at fictional Dillon High, the Panthers, suit up in imitation of the real-life Pflugerville Panthers nearby.

Of course, such techniques are no guarantee of realism. The producers of FNL seem to believe that small town life in Texas consists of a thin, tepid religious conservatism laced with heavy dosages of moral transgression. I cannot pronounce them to be definitely wrong, but realism would seem to favor the depiction of at least one reasonable, thoughtful Christian on the show, at some point.

The Taylors are churchgoing, and want their daughter to be, too. But neither they nor any of the other characters has ever indicated a more than passing acquaintance with the Christian faith and its possible implications for the travails of daily life. In a previous season, the lovely and talented Lyla Garrity briefly got religion but then collapsed into the arms of a new beau, football star Tim Riggins. She kissed Tim hello and God goodbye. In truth, FNL associates intense Christian commitment most often with emotional pathologies. The sensible people are either not religious at all or discreetly leave their faith on the Church steps after Sunday service.

Dillon is big enough to include a state champion high school football team, cutting-edge educators, a brilliant artist, homosexuals, rich people, and an Applebee's. But for some reason the place cannot quite accommodate even one thinking, committed Christian.

I can't say the omission hurts my feelings, exactly. There is a quaintness and naivete to FNL's secularism that I almost want to leave untouched. But this Texas Christian does claim the right to feel slighted.

1 comment:

  1. The TV show is based on the book of the same name, a chronicle of the Permian program of football legend in Texas. But I'm sure you already knew that. The book, I think portrayed what happend in a year in the life of the school, students and team, but by portraying what honestly happened, the author subtly laid bare the overemphasis on sports, winning at all costs, boosterism and the concurrent lack of attention to classroom academics and it's impact on the kids used up by the football machine. At the time the book was written to give some context, it was a down period in the oil business and the Odessa region was suffering in every other way except for the emotional investment in their football team.