And so the well finally runs dry.
Tonight was the last script for Friday Night Lights completed before the writer’s strike, and even if the writers get back to work soon (as several reports have indicated), there’s very little chance that any new FNL episodes will be produced to close out the season. And judging from NBC head Ben Silverman’s rather dim (and bloodlessly callous) assessment of the show’s future, I think odds are good that we’ve just seen the last episode of what I feel was a very special show.
I was praying that we’d be carrying tonight’s episode out on our shoulders like a champion, rather than helping it off the field as it pulled up with another hammie in an uneven, injury-plagued season. So I was relieved—nay, overjoyed to the point of tears—to see Friday Night Lights go out as the show I know and love. The bread-and-circuses crowd will get its My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad (premiering February 18th, if you’re counting the days), but tonight, we FNL devotees/apologists got the style, texture, performances, and heart that have made the show like nothing else on network television.
Right away, we’ve given the sort of scene you see every Sunday in small towns across America, but very rarely in network drama: People going to Sunday services. Save for Lyla’s transformation into a Bible-thumper, there’s no real point made about it; Smash goes to church, too, and so do the Taylors, because that’s what people in a town like Dillon would do. And that’s what people who dismiss FNL as teen melodrama of the Dawson’s Creek or 90210 variety don’t get: If you look past what’s happening in the foreground, you notice how much effort goes into creating an authentic, beautifully textured, and highly cinematic backdrop that couldn’t be further from the synthetic soundstage quality of a primetime soap opera. FNL was a world to get lost in, with a particular topography and feel that I always found enveloping, even on a bum week. Dillon is a place—a place with churches and ma-and-pa ice-cream shacks, modest ranch houses and an Applebee’s franchise, car lots and football fields—that was resonant like few others, and compelling even at its worst.
There I go, talking in the past tense. So let’s pretend for a second that we’ll see new episodes of FNL one day and look at what’s going on in this one:
With the Smash losing his TMU scholarship as a result of the movie-theater brawl and subsequent suspension, he has to examine a diminishing set of options, including crawling back to the major schools he brushed off in the recruitment process. For some reason, they won’t take him for character reasons, which is odd given how frequently colleges overlook such things. (Why doesn’t he try Virginia Tech for a start? Before it was recently revealed that VT alum Michael Vick was part of a dogfighting ring, VT was asking its even more screwy QB Marcus Vick to look to his older brother for moral guidance.) In any case, it was a nice to see Smash end his recruitment drama by embracing—tentatively, not whole-heartedly—a more modest school that wasn’t anywhere near his shortlist. I don’t want to know what the “West Coast Offense” of a 2-8 small college looks like, but Smash will at least get his share of touches.
Series creator Peter Berg pops in for an amusing little hat tip as Tami’s high-school sweetheart Moe, a real-estate big shot who’s still hung up on the ravishing Homecoming queen 15 years later. (And really, who can blame him?) I appreciated the lightness of this little subplot, which is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but revealing the macho-adolescent tendencies Eric can show at his weaker moments. It doesn’t take but a few shots of whiskey to transform a mature family man into cock-waving kid willing to trade some punches in order to defend his mortified lady’s honor. Eric and Tami’s frisky, sexy, touching marriage—and Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton’s wonderfully naturalistic performances in the roles—has always been the one consistent element in FNL, completely convincing at all times, which always helped when other beloved characters were mired in, say, a fling with the MILF next door or an in-house Guatemalan nurse. If this is indeed the last episode, I’ll happily leave with memories of Britton’s Tami encouraging her daughter to “Yell ‘bye’ louder” to annoy her hungover man-child of a husband.
When Friday Night Lights aired a week ago, my infant daughter Isabel was only eight hours old, so you’ll forgive me if Street’s plea for fatherhood had a greater impact on me than many of you. Between Knocked Up, Juno, and the scores of films recently on unplanned and sometimes unwanted pregnancy, the ground may seem a bit saturated, but Street’s surprisingly fruitful one-night-stand with a waitress tackled the issue with impressive and impassioned emotional directness. Street’s plea with Erin to have their baby might have seemed officious under different circumstances, like a man trying to bully away a woman’s control over her body. But his sheer earnestness sells it: Here’s a guy who’s been struggling to find a purpose since his injury—languishing in self-pity, pursuing quad rugby, taking stop-gap jobs as an assistant coach and a car salesman—and this freak miracle of nature hits him like a bolt of lightning. He’s not going to be the typical single male who flees the scene or goes into fatherhood kicking and screaming. He actually wants it and makes such an impassioned plea to her that we believe that she’s disarmed by his conviction.
How wonderful that Street seeks counsel from Coach Taylor, who has always seen him as the closest thing he has to a son. So much of their personal history bears down on that scene where Street expresses his desire to be a father; any other kid would have gotten a scolding come-to-Jesus speech, but Coach immediately recognizes Street’s feelings as legit and perhaps the right thing for him.
His words of wisdom: “Your children and the mother of your children are the two most important things in your life.”
• For me, the only demerits for this episode go to the scenes involving Lyla and her squeaky-clean Christian boyfriend. While I appreciated the role reversal of the girl pushing for sex and the guy retreating, I don’t find her love triangle with Ned Flanders, Jr. and Riggins to be all that interesting. (Mitigating factor: Riggins as a radio host. “Your long hair kind of reminds me of Jesus.”)
• Eric: “Everything I know about women you can stick in this coffee cup right here.”
• Good to see some funny interaction between Landry and Seracen, which is the one element of the show from Season One that mysteriously never carried over to Season Two. I guess Landry probably doesn’t want to go into much detail about how the VBM set the table with Tyra, but it was fun to hear them jab at each other about Tyra’s sexual history and Matt’s “Mexican maid.”
• Satisfying as it was to see Landry get set up for a big, leggy-girlfriend-impressing play during garbage time in a blowout, it was even better to watch Coach Taylor basically concede the middle of the field in order to give a struggling opponent a taste of the endzone. That’s class.
• Readers, do you have any favorite FNL moments you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments…