Last week, Friday Night Lights returned to NBC after running season four on DirecTV. I was unable to watch its original run, so I’m catching up now. I’m trying not to read too far ahead, as I’m fond of spoilers. However, I did see some very interesting Tweets regarding one episode’s frank depiction of teenagers and abortion. I’ve also read raves for Zach Gilford’s performance as Matt Saracen, Dillon High’s former quarterback with the weight of his dysfunctional family on his shoulders. Undoubtedly, #7 is going to face more heartbreak and will move me to hug my television.
At first, I was a Friday Night Lights skeptic. Though I liked Peter Berg’s movie, I was resistant toward the show’s hype during the first season. I watched parts of season two when a former roommate had a recurring role and was intrigued, but had no idea what was going on in the show’s narrative. However, as much of the show is filmed in my neighborhood, I figured I should know what’s going on. So I plowed through the first three seasons late last year and am hooked.
Much like Mike Judge’s King of the Hill, I appreciate Friday Night Lights’ commitment to place and the specification of character in a rural Texas suburb. As someone who shares a hometown with Nolan Ryan, I often feel that television and film can condescend toward, misrepresent, or vilify these inhabitants’ values and traditions without providing nuance or context. Friday Night Lights occasionally falters at times or puts too fine a point on things. It can also place disproportionate emphasis on the development and interpersonal relations of its male characters over the women and girls, at times prompting me to refer to the show as “Men Crying Proud, Masculine Tears.” Yet I always get the sense that most of these people are complicated, surprising, and working toward humanity even when living through at once mundane events but often simultaneously heroic odds.
Furthermore, as an Austin transplant who can spot much of the Friday Night Lights’ setting, I appreciate how location is woven into the show. While I was a fan of Death Proof and Whip It!, I felt like I was watching the work of out-of-towners who overemphasized landmarks for effect (i.e., “let’s go eat at Guero’s!” and “look, we’re watching The Jerk at the Drafthouse!”). The characters on Friday Night Lights tend not to comment on their town. While this is in part because they believe their town is decidedly unremarkable apart from high school football, it’s also an assumed part of who they are. Of course, the show would be more “authentic” if it was filmed in an actual West Texas town instead of the liberal-friendly state capital, the show’s efforts are noteworthy.
I also appreciate the importance of music in the show, as well as its multiple functions. It’s the soundtrack, a marketing tool, and a source of identification for several teenage characters. I can empathize with the music nerds on the show. As a teenager in Alvin, I began listening to Rice University’s 91.7 KTRU as a respite from commercial radio saturation’s of bubble gum and nu metal during the late 90s. Some may question whether a town like Dillon, Texas would have hip nerds like Julie Taylor (Aimee Teagarden), Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), Jean Binnell (Brea Grant), and Devin Boland (Stephanie Hunt). However, it’s been my experience that the folks most indebted to indie music, punk, and DIY culture grew up in rural areas, particularly in the South, who had to forge their own scenes as an alternative to their surroundings. Some of these friends and acquaintances were also looking for a safe space, usually to come out as queer. Though I have yet to read Mary L. Gray’s Out In the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America, her focus on the lives of LGBTQ youth coming of age in rural areas resonates with me.
This brings us to Boland, who was introduced last season. She becomes the new bassist in Clarke’s Crucifictorious, Dillon’s premier Christian metal band (note: the prevalence of high school Christian rock bands in Texas is something else the show gets right). Despite Clarke’s romantic interest in Boland, she makes it clear shortly after joining the band that she’s a lesbian. She also reveals that she hasn’t come out to many people and hopes that she has his confidence. I appreciate that Boland remains in the band and forges a believable friendship with Clarke, as we need more representations of gay-straight allies across sex categories on television. We also need alliances between gay and straight girls. Thus, I’m glad that a few episodes into the current season (spoiler alert), Taylor and Boland frequent a gay bar.
It’s also interesting that accelerated track seniors Boland, Clarke, and Taylor are now going to East Dillon High School, the impoverished high school that reopened following a nasty redistricting battle that ousted Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), Dillon’s much-celebrated head football coach. Boland and Clarke had no choice in enrollment, but Taylor decides to attend East Dillon to the consternation of her coach father and mother Tami (the formidable Connie Britton), Dillon High’s principal. This potentially means Crucifictorious can continue to play and broaden their fan base. I’ll be tuning in tonight in anticipation of what’s to come.