I just finished the 76th and final episode of “Friday Night Lights.”
I was late to the FNL game, even though I’d heard people rave about the soundtrack, because I assumed it would be about as forgettable as “Friday Night Lights,” the movie (and “Varsity Blues” and others that all seemed to come out at the same time). But one too too many endorsements from unexpected people (like a friend from Mizzou who is now fashion photographer in New York) and I’ve been hooked since July.
To immerse yourself in five seasons of such an emotional show takes a toll on a viewer, but now I find myself at the end with so much to say.
First, I must address the context from which I am viewing/writing: When I was a junior in high school, our football team went to state. In fact, we won. I was in my first year as a reporter for my hometown newspaper, so I got to work the sidelines of all the games that year, including the championship at the football dome in St. Louis., with a Canon A-1 camera in hand. (I couldn’t see the images I took until I got back to the office to develop the black and white negatives by hand. This was, quite literally, one of the last years newsroom darkrooms were in use for something other than storage.)
I was there as a student, a fan, a hometown girl and a budding journalist, but I was also an ambitious athlete myself, chasing the adrenaline rush of competition while also keeping an eye on the prize: Somewhere else.
College would get me to where I wanted to go, but I knew how to play the high school game, and quite frankly, I enjoyed it. Wearing the quarterback’s jersey to the pep rally, fighting for his attention but pretending I wasn’t, being nominated homecoming queen and biting the inside of my cheek when I lost. Getting into shenanigans with my buddies on the weekend and learning how to twist off bottle caps and snap them between my fingers like one of the guys.
At the time, my mom was pursuing her own dream of becoming a guidance counselor. As I graduated from high school, she graduated with a master’s degree, which allowed her to get out of the regular classroom and adopt exactly the same tone that Coach Tami Taylor took with every one of her trouble teens.
Did I mention that my grandfather was a high school football coach?
Ed Cook was, in many ways, the opposite of Coach Taylor. I’ve heard relationship advice experts recommend watching “Friday Night Lights” as a kind of at-home therapy for couples struggling to figure out how to communicate and balance each other’s wants and needs. From what I understand, my grandfather didn’t exactly do that.
On the good days, my grandmother enjoyed being the coach’s wife, but most of the time, especially those years when he coached football and basketball back to back, or was also the district’s athletic director, she felt more like the coach’s widow.
Him working so many long nights away from home while she raised their three kids was a sacrifice they all coped with in different ways. The number of state championships he brought home didn’t matter; coaching was his calling, and my mom and her brothers simply got used to sharing him.
My grandpa died in 1989, “the week the wall came down,” my mom will always recall, but even now, my grandmother will occasionally hear from his former players, who always have something honorable to say about Papa.
But Gaga is not a “Friday Night Lights” fan, and I don’t think she has plans to be.
I asked her about it this fall, and she said she watched the first episode, but just wasn’t very interested in it. She didn’t use the words, “Too close to home,” but those were the first that came to my mind.
What’s this have to do with feminism?
I’ll try not to give too many spoilers here, but the show deals with premarital sex and abortion in a positive and realistic light. Women young and old deny their handsome (oh my god, so handsome) suitors to chase their own dreams, and they wield great power in their families, schools and community. The male and female characters are complex and interesting and realistically flawed (who knew I’d be rooting for the stripper by the end of the series?), and even though it does feel like you’re on a roller coaster to soap opera land during a few of the seasons, I felt like I could relate to almost every relationship and story arc.
Some of those storylines took me back to the very first days I was trying to figure out what I wanted and needed and deserved out of romantic relationships and friendships and school. Some of them made me think about the small town life that would have been if I’d stayed. Some of them made me ache for fairytale endings that I could never will into reality.
But every episode made me feel something more powerful than just about any television show I can remember (even ‘Downton Abbey,’ which is saying a lot). There’s so much chatter about Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Walking Dead, all excellent, transportive shows, I’m sure, but I’ve never been one to get much enjoyment out of drug violence or chauvinistic assholes or zombies.
I didn’t think I’d get much out of a show about football, either.
But here I am, trying to make the case for you to watch this show and see where it takes you. (Every episode is on Netflix streaming, and a warning, if you feel like quitting once you get into season 2, just skip ahead to season 3, but for god’s sake, please watch the last two seasons.)
If you don’t hear this song and feel something in your stomach shift, you skipped too much.