TV Club

Week 1: Mass Amnesia Strikes Dillon, Texas

Friday Night Lights

As anyone who has talked or e-mailed with me in the last couple of months knows, my obsession with Friday Night Lights has become sort of embarrassing. My husband, David, and I came to the show late, by way of Netflix, but were hooked after Episode 1. We started watching two, three, four in one sitting. It began to seem to me as if these characters were alive and moving around in my world.

David was happy with the football. I was into the drama. I worried about Smash, the sometimes-unstable star running back. I dreamed about Tyra, who was being stalked. When I talked to my own daughter, I flipped my hair back, just as Coach’s wife, Tami Taylor, does and paused before delivering nuggets of wisdom. Once or twice, I even called David “Coach.”

I was all set to watch Season 3 in real time when I heard, to my horror, that it might not get made. But then NBC cut a weird cost-sharing kind of deal with DirecTV, and the Dillon Panthers are back in business. The episodes have already aired on satellite, but I don’t have a dish. So I’m just now settling in for the new season.

But did I miss something? The field lights are on again in Dillon, Texas, but the whole town seems to be suffering from a massive bout of … amnesia. The previous season ended abruptly, after seven episodes got swallowed by the writer’s strike. For Season 3, the writers just wipe the slate clean and start again. Murder? What murder? Landry is back to being the high-school sidekick, and we can just forget that whole unfortunate body-dragged-out-of-the-river detour. Tyra got a perm and is running for school president. Lyla Garrity’s preacher boyfriend, rival to Tim Riggins, has disappeared.

Over the last season, the show was struggling for an identity. It veered from The ABC Afterschool Special to CSI and then finally found its footing in the last couple of episodes, especially the one where Peter Berg—who directed the movie adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s book Friday Night Lights and adapted it for TV—walked on as Tami Taylor’s hyper ex-boyfriend. In Season 3, the show is trying on yet another identity. Mrs. Taylor has suddenly turned into Principal Taylor. With her tight suits and her fabulous hair, she is Dillon’s own Michelle Rhee, holding meetings, discussing education policy, and generally working too hard. Meanwhile, Coach keeps up the domestic front, making breakfast for Julie with one hand while feeding baby Grace with the other.

This strikes me as a little too close to home, and not in a way I appreciate. The beauty of Friday Night Lights is that it managed to make us care about the tiny town of Dillon. It drew us in with football but then sunk us into town life. The show took lots of stock types not usually made for prime time—a car dealer, an arrogant black kid, an ex-star in a wheelchair, a grandma with dementia, a soldier, lots of evangelical Christians—and brought them to life. It was neither sentimental nor mocking, which is a hard thing to pull off.

Now I feel as if I’m looking in a mirror. Tami is a mom juggling work and kids and not doing such a good job. Coach is trying his best at home but screwing up. The only town folk we see in the first episode are Tim’s brother and Tyra’s sister, drunkenly falling all over each other in a bar—the sorriest, white-trashiest bar you can imagine. Our heart is with Tyra, who, just like the children of the show’s upscale fans, is trying to go to college. The final, inspirational scene of the episode takes place in a racquetball court. At least Smash has the good sense to note that it’s the whitest sport in America.

That said, Friday Night Lights would have to do a lot to lose my loyalty. Just the fact that there was a high-drama plotline centered on the Jumbotron is enough to keep me happy. It’s one of the show’s great gifts, humor in unexpected places. Like when Tim’s brother, looking half drunk as always, tells him Lyla will never respect him because he’s a “rebound from Jesus.” I’ll give this season a chance.

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