TV Club

Week 4: Can a Boy Who Doesn’t Eat Chicken-Fried Steak Really Be QB1?

Scene from Friday Night Lights

After reading your entries, Hanna and Emily, I am left with a big, unanswerable question many others have asked before: Why is this show not more popular? It’s smart and sharp. Yet it’s also extremely watchable. (In contrast, say, to The Wire, another critical darling that never quite made it to the big time. That show required a lot more of the viewer than Friday Night Lights does.) Over the past two seasons in particular, FNL has made an effort to reach out to both male and female viewers: It may address male honor and epitomize modern male sentimentality, as you and I have both mentioned, Hanna. But it also offers up a buffet of romantic conflict that ought to sate the appetite of the most stereotypically girly viewer. A good chunk of the show is about teenage amour, bad cafeteria food, and cute boys, for God’s sake! Just see the Tyra-Cash-Landry love triangle this week. Does the mere mention of football turn viewers away? Is the show trying to be all things to all people—and failing in the process? Or has NBC just flubbed it by scheduling it on Friday nights? I have another theory, but there’s absolutely no evidence for it. Sometimes I think FNL hasn’t reached a huge audience because it doesn’t appeal to the ironic hipster sensibility that turns shows like Summer Heights High or Flight of the Conchords into word-of-mouth hits—it’s too earnest to ignite that YouTube viral transmission. Anyway, I’m curious to know what you (and our readers) think, because in general it seems to me that good TV has a way of making itself known and getting watched. Back to our regularly scheduled programming: Yes, Hanna, I find Matt’s mom too good to be true. And the writers seem to know it, because they are hardly even trying to give her interesting lines. She’s like a relentless optimist’s idea of a deadbeat mom. And, Emily, I agree with you about Tami: She flubbed the JumboTron wars by choosing to wage the wrong skirmish in the larger battle. Those were earmarked funds. She’s got to figure out a way to guilt the boosters into giving her money; she can’t just demand it. Meanwhile, I find myself in agreement with Mindy for once: That Cash sure is a fine lookin’ cowboy. In this episode, Tyra’s a kind of parallel to Tami: Both are struggling and making some bad decisions. In Tyra’s case, it’s ditching geeky sweetheart Landry—who clearly adores her—after his dental surgery in order to make out with Cash, a bad boy with big blue eyes and a love-me attitude. Cash doesn’t wear his heart on his Western shirt sleeve as Landry does; he wears his charm, whirling into town with the rodeo and impressing the audience with his staying power in the prestigious bronc event. (Rodeo neophytes: Check out the wonderful chapter about it in Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, a stunning meditation on the West.) Tyra falls hard for Cash’s routine. “Billy never mentioned that Mindy’s little sister turned into a goddess,” he whispers to her at the bar. Cash is an archetype, but the writers sketch him well, refusing to let him seem too obviously dangerous. Even I fell victim to his spell, wondering fruitlessly whether—this time!—the bad boy might be tamed. If we need a warning that he won’t, I think, it comes in the barbecue scene at Tyra’s house. Billy Riggins—an old friend of Cash’s—is recalling what a good baseball player Cash was in high school. Cash laughs it off, turns to Tyra, and, with a devil-may-care drawl, says, “Baseball’s too slow and boring … right now I like to ride broncs in the rodeo. Yee-haw!” Like any good come-on line, the charge is all in the delivery, and it works on Tyra. But (just like Tami) she’s misreading the politics of the situation—in this case, the sexual politics. Right? Meanwhile, Emily, I don’t think I agree that Taylor’s embracing the spread offense is a form of baby-splitting. It seems pragmatic, if perhaps a little softhearted. But how can Eric not be softhearted about Matt? He is so winsome, and he’s worked his ass off. The other thing is that J.D. is such a wuss, still. Part of being a quarterback, on this show, is being a leader—and how can J.D. be a leader when he’s still a follower? He’s not even rebellious enough to eat fried food, for Christ’s sake. (“My dad won’t let me,” he says.) How’s being Daddy’s Little Boy going to inspire his teammates? J.D. may have the skills but is going to have to get some gumption before he takes this team as far as it can go. Though, yeah, it’ll probably go wrong. For the sake of drama, at least. Curious to hear your thoughts … Meghan