Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Friday Night Lights': First Impressions


I was only vaguely aware of Friday Night Lights (FNL) when it was still on the air. There was this one episode (season 1, episode 22: "State") that I intended to watch because I had read somewhere that Bright Eyes's cover of Devil Town was featured on its soundtrack. I never did get to watch it, though, and as it turns out Bright Eyes was incorrectly credited. It was Tony Lucca's version that was featured in that episode and also in the second episode, "Eyes Wide Open", which I saw yesterday.

FNL has been on my to-watch list for quite a while, mostly thanks to Linda Holmes of NPR's Monkey See blog. I have lost track of how many times she's recommended it on the Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) podcast. And since I started watching the wonderfully fantastic Parks and Recreation thanks to Linda Holmes's recommendation on PCHH, I trust her taste in pop culture. However, there is one minor detail worth adding to the equation. She likes football. I... loathe it. From the bottom of my tiny little black heart.

I started watching FNL carrying a heavy baggage of preconceptions. I see football American football as the glorification of violence. This sport is all about aggressiveness. About not being a pussy. This is about being a Man. Roar. And I'll dare to go even further: this goes hand in hand with sexism and homophobia. I'll refrain from linking to a number of articles about sexual abuses perpetrated by members of football teams because I do not want to depress myself right now. What is most depressing and irritating about this type of acts of violence is the victim blaming and the protection these guys get not only from their team but also, with very few exceptions, from their community.

"Community" is the key-word here. While I think American football is part of a bigger machinery that perpetuates violence as a cultural value, I am also aware that football, or any type of sport for that matter, has the potential of lowering the rates of criminal activity in communities at risk. Simply put: it keeps the kids off streets and away from drugs. As a non-American (or maybe just as a Romanian) I do not have a sense of community. What I have learned from American movies and tv series, though, is that a football team can be the glue that keeps a community together. And this is made more than clear in FNL, right from the beginning, in the pilot.

The entire (fictional) town of Dillon is preoccupied with the fate of the Panthers, a high school team. The best in the state of Texas. Which is another difficult thing for me to digest. I don't know, blame it on Bush for giving this state a bad reputation. No. Actually, what I find difficult is to relate to characters that are clearly on the Republican side. But I do like Big Love, which is somewhat in the same neighborhood when it comes to the political views of its characters, so I do not expect this to be an issue in the long run.

The very pilot of FNL supports my aggressiveness argument. At the opening of a car dealership, the mayor corners the star of the team, quarterback Jason Street, and after complimenting him on his manners, she orders him to "Knock it off. You can't go in the game tomorrow night like that." and then goes on barking: "Chew 'em up! Spit 'em out!". At the same event, the new coach, Eric Taylor, is told (by... sponsors? dispensers of unsolicited advice?): "We don't want you to go out there and be soft and scared. We want you to be aggressive." And then they go and make my job real' easy. Towards the end of the first game, the quarterback is so violently injured that he is paralyzed, as it is confirmed in the second episode. But don't worry, all this (talk of) aggression evens out in the end because oh wow, do they pray a lot on this show.

One other thing that is challenging about watching FNL is the hand-held camera technique. Some of the films I love use this type of shots. The problem here is that if I want to marathon FNL, I'm going to get very dizzy. It works for one hour, it works for two hours, but more than that it's just too demanding.

On the brighter side: I'm interested in Connie Britton's performance, whom I only discovered thanks to one wacky tv series known as American Horror Story. Another actress I'm interested in is Adrianne Palicki, who was rather compelling as Wonder Woman. Too bad that show didn't get picked up. But then again, I doubt I would have watched it. Also: I couldn't remember where I had heard the team's motto, "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't Lose.". It was on Parks & Rec, just last week, uttered by Leslie Knope herself. And if Leslie likes FNL, then it must be good.

Finally, let's talk expectations. Wink. What I expect from FNL is for it to make me swallow my words, if not at the end of the first season, then at the end of the series. I do not expect it to magically erase my preconceptions about American football. No. But I want to believe FNL is about more than just the glorification of a violent sport.

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