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Lights out on a stellar show

August 28, 2011
A Highschool American Football game

Image via Wikipedia

Friday Night Lights, a superb TV drama that ended recently, achieved something that no rabid NFL fan could ever do: it made me appreciate the game of football. But the series was about much more than football. It was about family, relationships, resilience, ambition, pride, economic discrimination, teen angst, growing up, moving on.

I was quickly hooked on the show and looked forward to its return twice a year. I was pleased when DirecTV licensed the rights to air the show several months ahead of NBC, then disappointed when I had to wait nearly a year to see the final season because I had switched to a different service provider.

But it was worth the wait. Each of the main characters was an interesting, fully rounded human being with relationships, achievements, problems, conflicts, desires, hopes – and yup, dreams – that were entirely believable. The series finale – unlike others mentioned in one of my previous posts – was equally believable and satisfying.

At the heart of the story line were two relationships – that between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, and that between Coach and his players, especially those for whom he served as mentor and father figure.

Eric and Tami’s marriage was portrayed in a touching and realistic way. I consider it one of the most authentic portrayals of a middle-class American couple ever shown on the small  — or big — screen. They had an enviable relationship, with lots of mutual support, caring and humor. At times, it seemed a bit too perfect. But the couple also had their share of problems and disagreements, especially at the end of the series.

Tami was offered a dream job in Pennsylvania, as director of admissions for a college. Soon afterward Eric was offered his version of a dream gig: head coach at the high school in affluent West Dillon, where he would oversee a “super team” composed of players from that school and East Dillon High, the financially struggling school that lost its football program to its wealthy counterpart.

Tami reminds Eric that her career has taken a back seat to his for 18 years, as she followed him from one community to another so he could pursue better and better coaching jobs. In the end, Eric does the right thing: he turns down his job offer so that Tami can accept hers. (Not to worry: Eric is shown coaching a football team in Pennsylvania eight months later.)

The series also was spot-on when it came to portraying Coach’s relationship with his players, several of whom had absentee dads and difficult home lives. He became mentor, morale-builder and confidante to those boys, but in a way that was not the least bit syrupy or clichéd.

FNL featured other fully realized characters — including a paralyzed football player, a woman suffering from early dementia and the grandson who cared for and protected her — plus intelligent plots and naturalistic dialogue, all of which made it a pleasure to watch every week.

In a radio interview aired the day after the series finale on NBC, executive producer Peter Berg said he originally wanted country music star Dwight Yoakam to play the pivotal role of Coach Taylor. Fortunately, the role instead went to Kyle Chandler, a low-key, nice-guy-next-door actor whom I’ve admired since being introduced to him in another well-made TV series, Homefront, in the 1990s.

Other members of the talented cast included Connie Britton (as Tami Taylor), Taylor Kitsch, Adrianne Palicki, Michael B. Jordan, Zach Gilford and Jurnee Smollett.

To the Rescue

I miss these small-town Texas characters and their lives. But this is television land, so when one favorite series ends, there’s always another to take its place. These days I’m glued once again to the provocative, gallows-humor-filled Rescue Me, featuring Denis Leary as Tommy, a New York City firefighter and alcoholic whose extended family puts the dis in dysfunctional.

Because of that multigenerational dysfunction, as well as Tommy’s frequently self-destructive behavior, the series can be difficult to watch at times. But like FNL, this FX program is well written and the acting is first-rate.

I’ve set my DVR to record every episode of the final season, which is timed to wind up as the nation marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the event that is a dark undercurrent to the show’s story lines and Tommy’s many nightmares and hallucinations. My guess is that the finale of Rescue Me will treat the occasion with passion and clear-eyed reverence, but without the sentimentality and pandering that many TV specials are sure to employ when commemorating that day.

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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