Saturday, July 16, 2011

A ‘Friday Night Lights’ Farewell

There are few series I can think of whose conclusions occasion feelings of sorrow. “The Sopranos” ended amid confusion and awe. We may miss the narrative and the ingeniously black comedy of it, all if not the actual characters, none of whom you really want tucking you into bed at night. The same can be said of “Big Love,” another of the greatest family dramas ever on television. Though we may miss its intelligent social commentary, we do not necessarily pine for the people in it to re-enter our lives. HBO renders characters ambiguously; we are not supposed to fall in love with each and every one of them.

As a network series, "Friday Night Lights" operated under certain constraints and the result was not only an exquisite bit of anthropology — life in a small, working-class Texas town – but a show in which beloved characters became intimates in our own lives. The series is over now, and I can genuinely say, I’m sorry that I won’t be able to see how these lives further unfold — how Tami and Eric make out in the Northeast, how Tim and Tyra do as a married couple, how Becky and Luke manage his time in the military, how Billy and Mindy will manage with twins.
The world of “Friday Night Lights,” was, for the most part, a world of exceedingly good people. The closest our hero –Coach Eric Taylor — ever comes to being morally unpalatable is resisting marital compromise. The final episodes have Tami anguished over the prospect that Eric might want to stay in Texas forever, depriving her of the best career opportunity of her life. The scene in the final hour, when she and Eric take Matt and Julie out for dinner to explain the challenges of marriage, was heartbreaking for Eric’s blindness to his own hypocrisy. But, of course, he comes around, giving up the chance to coach the East Dillion-Panthers super team and hitching his wagon to Tami’s new academic career. One of the hallmarks of this series has been the extreme close-up, as faces forlorn or contemplative consumed the whole frame. I liked the way the camera was so often pulled back in the finale, putting some distance between us and our adored Dillon-ites, readying us for goodbyes. The device seemed especially noteworthy in the shot of Eric and Tami outside the restaurant. This is among the most intense and difficult moments we’ve ever witnessed between them — “It’s my turn, babe,” she tells him — and the direction, in a sense, gives the characters their privacy to experience this.

Eric and Tami do abandon the Lone Star life and move to Philadelphia. In that last montage, some months after East Dillon has done the inconceivable and won the State championship, they are shown as the East Coast peopl, Eric thought they could never be. Tami is the dean of admissions of a pseudo-Haverford and Eric is coaching football somewhere nearby. Julie and Matt are in Chicago; whether they have married I’m not sure, but we know that they are together and happy. I’d like to believe that they are not married, that they’re saving that for the time when they are at least both 25. And I’d like to know that Julie has transferred to Northwestern.
It’s clear that Tim and Tyra will be together. We know that Tim will be in the hands of a woman who really loves him and also one who will accept his deficiencies and challenge him where she knows he can grow. Tyra wants to do something useful in the world. Tyra tells him she has plans (to which he affectionately replies, “Don’t.”) I wish I could see the extended Riggins family Christmas, 10 years down the road, with Billy and Mindy’s brood and Tim and Tyra and their kids in Tim’s house with, by then, its newest addition.
Vince, we imagine doing fantastically on the super team, and heading to a top-notch SEC program. And Landry, of whom we saw not nearly enough, will surely do something wonky. Do we worry about Luke? Sending him to the military was realistic but I wish we’d be guaranteed a happy future for him. And I wish, in some small way, that “Friday Night Lights” were a cheesy enough enterprise to promise us a reunion show.


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