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VOL. 38 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 12, 2014

Go back and turn on those Friday Night Lights

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A football spirals in slow motion across the Texas sky. The state championship hangs in the balance. Spoiler alert: If you’ve not watched “Friday Night Lights,” go watch it – all 76 episodes – and then return.

Are you back?

It’s the last scene of the last episode. Characters are zoomed in on. Their heads turn slowly as they watch the arcing pigskin make its way downfield. Coach Eric Taylor and a host of players and fans are pulling for the ball to travel 63 yards and be caught by an East Dillon Lion.

In her autobiography, Tina Fey mentions “scientists who were developing a blood-pressure medicine ... accidentally invented Viagra.” She says that, when creating “30 Rock,” she was “trying to make Viagra and ... ended up with blood-pressure medicine.” The creators of “FNL” ended up with Viagra, but it fared no better.

Viewers tuned out the trials and tribulations of Coach Taylor and his wife Tami, portrayed to near-perfection by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. The show could hardly have been more critically acclaimed. And it wasn’t about football! But it didn’t score a touchdown.

I recently re-watched “FNL” – all five seasons – focused on two things:

First, camera angles. I pondered the spots from which someone might watch the interactions of others. Through a ceiling fan’s spinning blades. From outside a window. Through the links, posts and bars of fences. From the next room. Through tree limbs and bushes, across pools and ponds. I should have taken notes. There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Second, similarities between the show’s characters and people I knew in high school in Greenville, Miss., a town not unlike Dillon, Texas.

The beautiful and refined daughter of happily married parents, Lyla, is a cheerleader and top student.

She dates the first-team quarterback, who’s primed to lead his team to a second state title.

The cheerleader’s rival, Tyra, is pretty, earthy and wouldn’t be caught dead leading cheers. She waits tables and cuts school when the mood suits her. Her mom is co-dependent on abusive boyfriends. Her older sister’s a strip-joint dancer.

QB1, Jason, with seemingly normal parents, is debonair, bright, focused on sports and destined for tragedy. His best friend, Tim, is being raised by a cluelessly tragic older brother. When Tim’s not drunk, he’s a hell of a player. Tim will steal Lyla from Jason – but he’ll feel bad about it.

Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) – friendly, funny, philosophical, easy-going – lives with salt-of-the-earth parents; writes songs; plays guitar in his own rock band; and tutors others in math and English. Landry falls for Tyra, who leads him into the Dark Night of the Soul. Emerging there from weeks later, he goes out for football, at which he’s not very good, except as a kicker.

The spiraling last pass reaches its apogee. Then descends into the arms of a player whose name we’ll never know … eight months later, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Coach Taylor calls his new team together: “We’ve got a lot of work to do, gentlemen. And I’m looking forward to it.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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