The Brilliant Friday Night Lights

I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights again. It’s a tragedy that this TV show never found an audience.  The show revolves around a high-school football team in small-town Texas, but the premise is only a canvas on which to paint the daily struggles of the main characters.

The show works because of the deep characters, exceptional acting, and understated interactions. While most TV hits the audience with a hammer to get its point across, Friday Night Lights uses subtle cues and trusts that the audience will fill in the full picture.

A good example was a conversation in a cafeteria between two characters who dated and broke up, but still found each other attractive.  In most shows, the awkwardness of the interaction would have been played up. Perhaps one of the characters would stutter, spill a drink, and say something embarrassing.

In Friday Night Lights, the awkwardness is conveyed by their banal conversation, the slight hollowness in the voice of one of the characters, and a joke that falls flat though neither character acknowledges it. They don’t stumble, but their eyes dart around and their expressions are slightly wooden.

That subtlety is what makes the show real and makes you identify with the characters. While life occasionally has the mortifying moments that are constantly portrayed by TV, there are far more moments that are only uncomfortable, slightly off. Where you hear your voice echo inside your head, feel disconnected from the experience, and just want to survive the moment. Friday Night Lights gets this. Consequently, the characters in the show come across as more rounded and easier to identify with. It’s more real.

As a result, when a character messes up, you understand how they got there and why there was nothing else they could possibly do. When a player is struggling in an impossible situation, you know why he perseveres, though there is no hope that his life will get any better.

Because of its subtlety, its characters, and its grittiness Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite shows. It was surprising to me that it wasn’t more popular, but I suspect it was done in by its premise. I think the people who would tune in to a show about a high school football team aren’t the ones who would enjoy a show like Friday Night Lights. And, the people who would enjoy a show like Friday Night Lights are the ones that would scoff at watching a show about a high school football team.

Their loss.

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