There is a point in the life of some TV shows that holds great risk. It’s that point where they have to shake things up and change their initial set-up. This may be because the central premise can’t continue forever or because the core idea is one that exists in time as well as space and time moves on. All High School dramas with a core of High School characters face this problem as characters age and they graduate.
Friday Night Lights has a number of advantages in this area. It’s about the town and the team, not just a small group of teenagers. It’s two central characters are adults. Still, the heart of the show is driven by the dramas of the members of the team and their friends and they do graduate. This has meant that characters have rotated off the show, to stay if they remain living in Dillon, or leave if they don’t. Season three saw many of the established characters age out of the show.
The splitting of the school districts and the re-opening of East Dillon High School, on the wrong side of the tracks, and the power play for The Panthers seeing the not perfect, but good natured ‘past heroes’, who funded the team being replaced by selfish ‘outsiders’ was a stroke of genius. It instantly created a new crucible for the show, the much more socially deprived High School, it allowed The Panthers to become the enemy, and also allowed the show to play with what happens when a the positives of Dillon become negatives (often the more stereotypically expected narratives of such a show in such a location, but more acceptable due the fact it didn’t used to be like that).
I accept that the ‘school split’ is a bit odd if you analyse it too closely, as you’re suddenly introduced to this whole community of people, largely black, on the Ease Side of town that you’d never saw before. Surely they’d have had to be going to the original Dillon High School? But it’s a conceit that was by far worth it for the reward.
I really liked season four and five. You could really get behind the team and their journey from being incompetent to ever increasing success over two seasons was brilliantly done. The marriage of the Taylor’s is put under stress, in the usual, brilliant way. It continues to be the single, best portrayal of marriage on TV as far as I am concerned. The poisoning of Dillan is enthralling in a car crash, unfortunate way as the football team turns ugly, and some of the, so far benign and positive religious elements, start to take a more extreme turn causing further changes in the circumstances of key characters. I watched these two seasons in almost as many days, that’s how much I was enjoying them.
The final season also handles things well and it obviously knew it was its final season going into it. This isn’t to say it’s one long ending, far from it. The story is very much focused on the ever increasing dominance of The Lions and the adversity they face in being accepted by the wider state high school football fraternity, but it also weaves in endings for all the characters. In a way some didn’t need endings, but it was good to see them again and get an epilogue or update especially in terms of some unresolved relationships. It felt like a meaningful, and worthwhile conclusion which many a TV series has found hard to pull off.
Season four and five also brings something else into focus, which I’ve not reached a conclusion on, it’s just something that becomes really apparent because it’s all happened in the same show. It was quite stark how crime was depicted from the perspective of the ‘white trash’ (for want of a better word) characters and the black characters once we moved to East Dillon. While both become embroiled in crime due to social pressures and difficult circumstances, the white crime was always lacking in oppressive violence. You know it’s wrong, but it doesn’t overly tarnish the characters, and has the framing of almost being victimless. As soon as you move over to the East side, and the wrong side of the tracks, we’re looking at hard crimes like aggravated assaults, drugs and by association, murder. Hard crimes. Crimes associated with real social consequences. The interactions over these crimes also become less ‘well meaning’ and enter the realm of almost violent posturing and machismo.
I don’t actually have anything to say about this. I have no idea if it’s representing any sense of reality? I have no idea if it counts as stereotypically racist? I just know this often depicted dichotomy between white and black crime in dramas was more stark and clear than ever before due to the fact both ‘realities’ having been depicted in the same show so ‘close together’.
Ultimately, there are only a couple of TV shows that have risen above shows I just really like, to hold some sort of special place which is hard to define. Those two shows are The Wire and True Detective (season one at least, who knows about the rest at this point).
I have added Friday Night Lights to that list.