TV Club

Week 6: This Series Is So Good at Handling Teen Love

Friday Night Lights

Meghan, I don’t know that truism about making our hardest decisions twice. But this show definitely lets its characters scratch at the same wounds over and over. Off the field, everything unfolds with aching slowness and never quite gets resolved. This is why I, too, found the sudden Lion cohesion jarring—a couple of meaningful looks, a touchdown, and a game tape, and suddenly Luke and Vince are best buddies. The only good that can come of this sudden dying of team drama is that they can finally get down to playing more football.

For me, the slow dance between Tami and Julie was moving to watch. I loved how Tami started out high-pitched and hysterical about Julie’s secret trip to Austin. And she was, of course, right from a parent’s point of view, but not exactly right, or at least not honest with herself about what was troubling her. Like many parents, she professed to be worried about Julie’s safety: “I have no idea if she’s OK! I can’t think of a single other thing!” And of course Eric says he supports her (crazy) decision to go down to Austin “100 percent.”

But he knows—and we know—that it’s not entirely about safety, that this is more about the looming reality that she will soon lose Julie. I found this dawning realization so poignant. Often when I’m around other parents—even parents of toddlers, who won’t leave home for 15 years—I feel that when the parents are fretting about safety—put on that helmet! Drop the scissors!—they are fretting about something entirely different and more profound: the idea that the child will leave them in some way, even the idea that the child will one day die.

This episode was also very refreshing in how it approached teen love. Often that phenomenon is handled with a combination of envy and condescension—oh, look how they make out in a car! Such passion, such juvenile, overwrought passion! Remember what that was like? But this episode show draws a thread between everyone’s longing—Julie’s for Matt, Tim’s for Lyla, Tami’s for her daughter—and the pain that’s left behind when each knows that his or her love is about to leave. Patsy Cline’s Crazy even stretched across a couple of different scenes, linking them. The result is to both dignify teenage love and heighten everyone else’s emotions. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier or less intense when you’re 20 or 40.

As for Tim: I do think he believes in his own vision of a “simple” and “kind of great” life. But only for those few hours when Lyla is lying on that bed, and he (and we) are looking at her close up. She’s “so pretty,” as Becky says, that she makes it easy to forget that Tim lives in a trailer with few possessions outside his duffel bag and whatever little cash he earns from Riggins Rigs. Without her, Riggins doesn’t have enough bully optimist in him to see beyond his immediate surroundings for very long. Maybe Lyla can loan him a copy of the latest Zig Ziglar, or whatever motivational speaker is smiling up from Buddy’s bedside table.

For Matt, what it took to rise above was some help from Bob Dylan. That is a harsh line, about wasting precious time. But I don’t think we were meant to be thinking about Julie—or only about Julie. The “you” in the lyrics doing the wasting could be Julie, his grandma, his father, his mother, even Matt himself, or the whole of Dillon.

I’d like to end on the minor characters, and praise whomever is writing their lines. Becky’s dialogue is priceless in its grating innocence—”Do you have a broken heart?” she asks Tim. So sweet. So annoying. And then assistant coach Stan, who goes from an overeager idiot in front of the TV cameras to an east-side thug at Sears. Anyone else have a favorite sidekick or sidekick moment?

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