52 Shows, 52 Weeks: #29 Friday Night Lights

Since it’s Friday night…

In October, during the Ear Infection Crisis of 2011, I spent a lot of time on the couch.  You would think that not being able to hear very well out of either of my ears would deter me from watching TV but you would be wrong.  That’s what the volume button is for.

At first, I wanted to watch Damages, and I did make it through the first episode, during which a dog gets murdered.  Pet murder is not for me so I went looking for lighter, less intense fare.  Enter Friday Night Lights.  Many of my TV-watching compatriots had recommended the show so I decided to give it a try.

Because I follow television the way other people follow sports and politics, I already knew FNL‘s Cinderella story: how it got dumped by NBC and rescued by DirectTV.  It seemed to be one of those shows everybody loved but nobody watched.

I am not yet finished with the show.  While I was sick, I watched the first two seasons and the first episode of season three.  Although I’ve committed to seeing it through to the end, I remain underwhelmed at this point.  This means that I’m breaking my rules a little by writing about something I’m not sure I like for this project, but the project wasn’t finishing itself so I decided to get it done before 2012 by any means necessary.  I wanted to write about FNL anyway, and if I’m really going to get to 52 shows in the next month, I can’t afford to waste any TV writing on non-52 Shows posts right now.

Even though I was familiar with FNL‘s small town Texas football premise, I was surprised by how much football and Jesus the show contains.  These are not qualities I look for in a TV show.  I thought maybe it would fade after the first few episodes but then in season two, Lyla goes to work at that Christian radio station with Logan Huntzberger Matt Czuchry in a role I just could not buy, and it just got worse.  I did eventually get to a point where I either got used to it or I could just ignore it.  It does seem to fit with the culture the show is portraying, and this is when I first wondered if maybe I just wasn’t part of FNL‘s target demographic.

The thing that really irritates me about the show is how hyper-sexualized the characters are.  Every time a situation can turn into sex, it does.  Matt’s grandmother’s home healthcare worker is attractive?  They’ll have sex.  A hot chick from Melrose Place moves in next door to Tim?  They’ll have sex.  Count on it, especially if Tim is involved.  His over-sexed bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold charm is quite effective, but every time I find myself falling for it, I remember that he is in high school.  Then it’s all frowning and eye-rolling.

Because there is so much sex on FNL, it doesn’t matter that Matt and Tim think they are in love with these women.  They’re in high school!  They’re sixteen-year-olds in relationships with adult women, and these relationships are not presented through a critical lens.  I know feminists can sound like double standard broken records, but it is worth pointing out that when there was even a hint of a high school girl/adult man relationship with Julie and her journalism teacher, Tami put a stop to it before it was anything.  This difference clearly demonstrates that in this universe, girls’ sexuality is more precious than boys’.  Since Tami kind of functions as the moral center of the show, we can use her to determine what kind of a portrayal the show meant to present.

Now I am no prude when it comes to what I’ll watch on TV.  In its time, I watched and enjoyed Melrose Place, though I have since tired of shows that use ubiquitous sex as a stand-in for quality, complicated adult relationships.  I don’t think that FNL is using sex to be edgy; I’m afraid that it doesn’t use sex consciously at all.  It is difficult for a TV show to portray a meaningful romantic relationship that doesn’t revolve around sex because sex has become the standard way relationships play out on TV.  Even the relationships that happen between teenagers on FNL end up being about sex.  These kids enact adult decisions and adult behaviors about sex, but they are not adults so there is a falseness that troubles me, especially because I know teenagers watch this show.  Maybe I’m being too picky about age-appropriate representation.  I mean, don’t even get me started on Tim’s drinking.

I’m complaining a lot, but I don’t hate this show.  I had very high expectations for it, and I do feel let down.  I think my expectations were misplaced.  I didn’t let myself acknowledge that it would be so football-heavy, though I do appreciate the frequency with which the characters remind each other that it’s just a football game.  The truth is that FNL clearly isn’t designed for me.  None of its elements—Texas, high school, football, tons of boy characters, Jesus, teenager sex—appeal to me on their own, let alone together.  Given all the ways the show and I are predestined not to get along, we’re really doing all right.  I even like some of the characters some of the time.

The first character I really liked was Matt.  I am a sucker for earnestness, and he oozes it in the first season.  After awhile, though, that earnestness started to feel like deliberate obtuseness.  Tami is another favorite, of course.  Despite its abruptness, I dig her out-of-nowhere promotion from guidance counselor to principal.  You know how I like a woman in charge.  I also like that Tami isn’t afraid to say what she thinks and that much of what she thinks has nothing to do with sex.

I admire how FNL managed to persevere and keep its fan base throughout all the behind-the-scenes upheaval.  I appreciate it as a model for how dedicated people behind the camera, in front of it, and at home watching can affect a show’s success.  Regardless of ratings and money, FNL made a legacy for itself.  It will never be my show, but I have other shows.  Like I said earlier, I am committed to watching the rest of the series because I have heard that the finale was really well done and it’s rare to find a series finale that doesn’t disappoint fans.  That alone intrigues me as a student of TV.  I’ve also heard that season three is better than season two, which I found lacking to say the least.  The storytelling was uneven and soap-operatic, but part of that could’ve been because of all the network-switching mess so I am willing to cut the show some serious slack.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll become a real fan before this thing is through.  I doubt it, but I’m willing to give it another try.