Friday Night Lights.
I did not want to check it out. I would have rather had awake brain surgery while being forced to watch five hours of just Tyra Banks making faces. But, my t.v. expert friend kept on me until I relented and started, with the first episode, a downward spiral into nostalgia-land. Hey, it was streaming.
I'm from West Texas, land of high school football. Your social status and who you are as a person is defined by football as early as Elementary School. If you're a boy, you better have been tossing the old pigskin around since PeeWee. If you're a girl, you should have been in gymnastics since birth and dance classes since age three so you have a chance of making the Junior High cheerleading team. By the fall of your 7th grade year, your position in town is set. God forbid you don't make the team or the squad. God forbid you want to do art or theatre.
I surrounded myself with artists and actors and musicians. I hid in the community theatre building until I got to leave for college. I sat in the back at the pep rallies wearing all black and glaring at my maroon and grey-clad classmates. They were excited. They worshiped these sporty girls and boys. They had spirit! Yes they did! I had disdain.
The show is based on a film, which is based on a book, which was written about the Permian Panthers, my school's arch rivals. Going into it, I knew I would probably love or hate it, depending on the authenticity of the settings and the accents. I ended up loving it and hating it for it's genuine depiction of West Texas. It was like being dunked in a tank at a carnival. It's kind of a thrill but it also makes you cringe.
There's just too much! It was way too on the nose! A town obsessed with football. Whataburger cups on the tables. The accents. The houses. Despite the fact that it's filmed seven hours away in Austin, I really think they captured the feel of the area. The fervor. I've been gone from West Texas for 18 years but I still slip into my accent when I'm tired or drunk. Deep down, I there's a part of me that (gasp) misses it. Plus, on a personal level, my ex-boyfriend's band did the soundtrack to the film version and another Texas ex is a dead ringer for the onscreen QB1, Matt Seracen. So, it was a little painful. I watched the first few episodes through my fingers, my hands covering my face like they could shield me from the unrelenting REALITY of it.
I found myself wanting to punch most of the characters and hug a couple of them. I liked the outsider dude with his garage band. I liked the girl who hates the cheerleaders. I liked the grandma because she sounded like my Meemaw. I hated everyone else. The coach. The players. The boosters. I wasn't able to watch and enjoy the show like my friend was. It wasn't like watching Dexter or The Sopranos or Deadwood. I've never been married to a serial killer or a mob boss. I've never been a gun-toting brothel owner who says "fuck" every other word. But, I have been a creative non-jock stuck in a town so obsessed with football that it can't think of anything else ever. It sucks.
Something happened to me half-way through the first season. I felt sad when the coach had For Sale signs put on his lawn. (That really happens!) I actually gave a shit when the perfect little cheerleader fell for a grunting football guy whose face is always set in a smoldering stare and who happens to be her paralyzed boyfriend's best homeboy. I felt sorry for the loud mouthed booster who is still reliving the glory days of his own football team. I cared about them all.
Can a television show help you to make peace with where you come from? Can it replace your disgust with nostalgia and even love?
In my case, it can. With a little perspective and five seasons of Friday Night Lights under my belt, I can see that I may have had a bit of a theatre girl-shaped chip on my shoulder. Do I think the community and the school system should throw a little attention to programs other than football? Of course. Would I attend a high school football game in my hometown? Hell no. But, I find myself shrugging off the attitude a little bit. I find myself looking back almost fondly.
Hey, it's where I'm from.
"Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose." "Texas forever." Blah, blah, blah. And stuff.
*photo by ErnestBludger.