Friday Night Lights: Bingeworthy TV

By Arthur Rosch

 

 Art's Visual Media Review

 

            FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS isn’t about Texas high school football.

            It’s about Texas high school football.

            I admit to writing this stupid/cutesy opening and I don’t even have a good reason for it. I suppose it expresses my surprise. I expected a sports drama. I anticipated a series about a scrappy low-ranked team overcoming its difficulties and moving on to the semi-finals and then the finals and then…..you know the story.It’s been done to death. Underdog Triumphs Despite Impossible Odds.

            Peter Berg’s masterwork about Americans at their best and their worst is way beyond football scoreboards. The game dramas we’re given, the playoffs and championships, are almost footnotes. Do they win or lose the nationals? Yay! Boohoo! Oh well…the story moves on.

            In case you haven’t heard, Texans have a local football culture like no other. Its passions fill in the great empty spaces of the land. It entertains, it distracts, it involves, it sucks people into its politics, it’s a tornado and it leaves nothing untouched.

            It’s serious. The aristocracy of star players have perks beyond belief. They are scouted by major college teams and the NFL looms in the background for a few talented athletes. The perks have to be within the bounds, so to speak. There’s no buying and selling of games and players (or, at least, there’d better not be). This adherence to the strictures of amateurism doesn’t preclude assigning a virtual harem to the stars, the quarterback, the tight end, the wide receiver and so forth. These guys stride the halls of school like gods.

            FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS isn’t about Texas high school football because it’s really about character, relationships and community.

            The true star of this drama is a relationship. The marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor is the spine of this narrative’s skeleton. It’s the beating heart at the center of the town of Dillon, Texas. Without the marriage of Eric and Tami, there is no story. Actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play their parts with such natural grace that their marriage should receive an Emmy. It is one of the great marriages in television history.

            Eric is the new Head Coach of the Dillon Panthers. Tammy is the high school counselor. Their marriage is subject to pressures that would crush most commitments. If Eric and Tammy can survive this alchemist’s crucible, they will be peerless. They will be jewels.

            If they can’t, they’ll be another sad divorce that leaves behind a shattered family. Their daughter Julie is at that age just before she starts to rebel and roll her eyes. We need to wait until Season Three for the foot-stomping, eye rolling and the whole alphabet of gestures of teenage contempt for adult restrictions. Meanwhile, she’s a nice cute kid with a training bra.

            Eric and Tammy have tough jobs. If you think coaching high school football is small time stuff, think again. This is Texas. Eric needs all the qualities of a drill sergeant, a general, a shrink, a priest and a politician. He has to raise his voice and deliver a fifteen minute harangue to a team of wall-sized athletes until they are reduced to terrified little lumps of jelly, quivering on the locker room floor. Or he can put his arm around a confused, demoralized quarterback, pull the boy’s head onto his shoulder and choose the right words to unleash a deluge of tears. He must puncture the macho armor of these arrogant teen prima donnas and make them, FORCE them, to live in the real world where they are not God’s gift to women and football. Creating better athletes is secondary to creating better people.

            All across the country, the name of Eric Taylor is being discussed. He’s a young, new coach, he’s just emerging and he’s the man to watch. He may be next year’s High School Coach Of The Year. He’s at the beginning of a career that may some day take him to the Super Bowl.

            Eric is, by nature, a man of few words. At home, he’s a firm but gentle presence who doesn’t make a lot of noise. He’s busy. He’s working, watching playback of games, evaluating his own calls and his players’ moves. He works ALL the time. He lives football. His wife understands this, she has grasped it from the very beginning of their marriage and rather than pout and grow disillusioned, she creates her own life. She uses her own strengths and interests to engage the world. She’s a high school guidance counselor. This makes her the equivalent of a prison warden and The Great White Hunter on an African Safari. She is stimulated by challenge. She is one of those goddess mothers full of lush strength, red-maned, sexy and very tough.

            What makes a marriage between two such powerful people function so well?

            Honesty keeps the marriage strong. Tami and Eric are always honest with one another. Even when they lie, they’re honest about lying. Neither is afraid to admit being wrong about an issue. They support one another with unbreakable consistency. If they have a fight, they cut through the bullshit, find the central issue, and look for compromise. They don’t resort to yelling and name calling.

            There are times when an irresistible opportunity appears before Eric or Tami. The problem is, accepting the opportunity would require changes in the marriage or the family lifestyle.   One of them, Eric or Tami, is going to have to make a sacrifice. Who is willing to see a lifetime dream fade away? Who is wise enough to see that opportunity does NOT come only once in a lifetime?

            The town of Dillon, Texas is neither large nor small. It’s like a town with a hundred thousand people that has been absorbed into the suburban sprawl of Houston or Dallas. It has an identity. Much of that identity is drawn from the supremacy of the Dillon Panthers.

            The power brokers, the mayor, the oil moguls and the owner of the Cadillac dealership are Panther alumni and sit on the board of the Booster’s Association.They know which strings to pull, how to schedule games to the advantage of the team, how to acquire players from other teams who might be Panther-killers if they’re not brought into the fold. They’re the guys who play dirty, behind the curtain. A little pressure, maybe some mild blackmail; it gets the job done and the team is none the wiser.

            It’s amazing how much of the human condition can be collected into a single file cabinet with the same labeled situations. There are aimless kids on drugs, there are abandoned old people, cheating husbands, bankrupt businessmen, pregnant cheerleaders, corrupt officials, natural disasters, infatuated teenagers going suicidal over a romantic setback….all these potholes in the road of life are much the same, no matter where you go.

            The things that can’t be pigeonholed, that can’t be stuck in a file, are the lineaments of character. Which one of these people can overcome the temptation to shirk? Which one can step up and make an effort to change?

            I ask, because I think Friday Night Lights is a narrative about that power in human beings, that ability to see their own trouble and solve the problem, and then move forward. There will be another problem, and another. No matter. By the time Season Three begins, even the people we learned to hate have become different, better. They are tougher, yet softer. They have something that we all wish we had: a supportive community.

            I was amazed, over and over again, at the way the people of Dillon turn to one another. Coach Taylor’s door is always open. If the phone rings at three in the morning, he will answer it. “I’ll be right there,” he says, sliding out of bed and looking for his pants. If some sopping wet weeping teenager having a crisis knocks on someone’s door, there will be a soft place to fall. A motherly hand is extended: “Why come on in, sugar, you look awful, and you’re just SOPPING wet! What can I do for you?”

            In my dreams I live in a place like that. Dillon is special because Southern Hospitality is not only real but it includes everyone and it understands that shame is the enemy of communication. As a community, Dillon expands its definition of humanity and grows like an amoeba to absorb shame so that being ashamed is not shameful. Lying about the cause of the shame, THAT’S shameful, so it’s better to unburden the heart, to come clean and let someone help you, someone with a wiser mind like Eric or Tami Taylor, or a hundred other people. What’s sad is that this town is a television fiction but it gives me hope. If someone can imagine such a place, someone can create it in the real world.

 

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Game Of Thrones: IS It Toxic?

Art's Visual Media Review

My wife and I watched this series, all five available seasons (at the time), in one big gory splurge.  Maybe that was our mistake.  It is addictive viewing, it has memorable characters and every episode ends with a cliff-hanger.

I’ll be candid and admit that we have been in an emotional slump.  My wife and I have had a difficult year.  That being said, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to expose ourselves to such villainy and gore.  I can imagine that viewing this series one episode at a time might be less harrowing.  But who does that?  Are you kidding?  In this age of Streaming?

Nah!  Binge viewing is the thing we do.  Doesn’t everybody grab a series and watch every episode, one after another?  Don’t deny it.  TV isn’t a guilty pleasure any more. TV is survival, an alternate reality in which to hide from our terrifying world.

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Game of Thrones is High Fantasy.  It has the medieval world-set, the armor, weapons, horses, castles, all that stuff that goes into High Fantasy.  It has dragons, magical creatures and a looming menace that evokes our own present-day world with its apocalyptic terrors.  As we watched we found that our depression began taking on a more vicious edge.  Our dreams were disturbed.  My wife muttered curses in the night and I went on a sleepwalking excursion, standing at the window completely unaware that my junk was exposed beneath the wrinkled edge of my t-shirt.  I think I was waiting for some demon to creep into our home to steal our souls.

As a writer I must always ask a question of the story I’m writing: Is this story worth being told?  If I apply that yardstick to Game of Thrones, I’m not sure it passes muster.  Without the genius of Peter Dinklage playing “the imp” I wouldn’t have gotten sucked into the plot.  Acting is an interesting process to watch.  Great actors take good roles and define them for all history.  Dinklage will hereafter always be known for his Tyrion Lannister role.  Before Tyrion he was a famous dwarf and an actor.  Now he is far more famous and completely identified with his character.  No one cares that he has short legs.  He has earned RESPECT. He carried Game of Thrones on his talent.  The series is unimaginable without the work of Peter Dinklage. 

There were so many beheadings, throat slittings, impalings, knives to the gut, arrows through the throat, squished eyeballs, spear thrusts through-and-through that it became like a creeping poison, leaking from the TV screen and crawling along the margins of the room, heading straight for our vulnerable psyches.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  No one forced us to watch this wretched excess of medieval mayhem.  We watched.  We were sick with flu, flattened with fibro, fucked up with gastric distress, hamstrung with hernia….and we watched ten thousand extras get squashed by rocks and broiled with flaming oil.  Oh, what a violent series!  Add a healthy dollop of perfect naked titties and asses, muscular adolescent boys all frolicking with one another and whaddayaknow?  It’s really all sex and violence, tits and ass.  I can imagine the producer shouting on the set:  “Did we book enough tits today?”   He points to a Production Assistant. “We’re running out of tits!  You, boy! Go find some tits, get out there on Sunset and round up a few dozen nice tits.  Get some handsome boys while you’re at it. We need some asses, too….make sure they’re eighteen and have them sign their releases.”

Game Of Thrones.  It was a relief when Season Five ended.  We’d had enough.  It was like eating a whole bag of miniature Reeses Pieces.  It made us sick.

It was delicious when we started.  Then it got a little cloying but we couldn’t stop.  Then we wanted to puke and still we couldn’t stop.  It was crazy!  Get us to some Hallmark Entertainment, or….some Disney.  No, wait.  When you look deeply enough into Disney you find shit that’s even more creepy than Game Of Thrones

Now, the temptation to watch Season Six looms ever more seductively.  


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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