Friday Night Bites

Dave mentioned in the comments to Mike's television post that he has lost faith in Friday Night Lights. I have hated that show from the beginning and could not understand the accolades it received. Perplexed, I returned home for Thanksgiving to my hometown in Ohio, a ramshackle steel town where football indeed is the only thing (in fact, my alma mater just won its second Division III Ohio State Championship in a row last Saturday against this opponent. Check our our classy fans! Since my brother graduated in 2003, the Steubenville High School Stallions have not lost a regular season game, and are currently on a 30 game win streak. Lots more cheesy Big Red stuff on the intertubes here.) I consulted my brother, a current Steubenville resident, and was delighted and reassured to hear that both he and his girlfriend hated the show also.

What exactly is wrong with it? Here are a few pointers:

The Coach is the Sanest Person in Town. Are you kidding me? College coaching semi-legend Jackie Sherrill castrated a bull in front of his team. And just the other day, www.deadspin.com linked to a story from Houston wherein a high school football coach kicked two players off the team for donating blood before practice!! They were reinstated by the school system, of course. Coaches are crazy, obsessed people. My high school coach punched us in the kidneys during school, just for fun. He once jumped into a play during practice, lining up right over the biggest kid on the team in just shorts and t-shirt. He traveled to Columbus for a Coaches Conference and stayed with two former players, students at Ohio State, and played foam-ball basketball with them in their room and totally trashed it. And won. Billy Bob was able to underplay the coach in the movie for the sole reason that he was Billy Bob and no one expected it.

Are These Kids Having Fun Yet? Yes, there is alot of pressure, unfair pressure, on the kids who play high school football. Yet, it's still fun. Plus, these kids are all wound up from Tuesday...what stupid things are they doing to blow off steam? Picking on each other, locker room antics, pranks, etc. (Our locker room antics involved the mostly light-hearted "Soap Eyes" and the more than kinda creepy "Fake Prison Sexual Assault".) Then there's Tim Riggins, so brooding and passionate, but sincere, just like his long hair. Lighten up, dude. He's banging a cheerleader and all he wants to do is "talk". Hmmmm. Not typical high school football senior behavior if you ask me. And the Matt Saracen character, so doggone sincere he can't even get words out of his mouth, his emotions are so powerful. Have you ever met a QB who wasn't a cocky SOB? Maybe there's a reason for that.

Y'all Come Back Now, Y'Hear? Perhaps the show's biggest weakness is that everyone else in town is a Stetson-sized Texas Ster-ee-o-Type. We're talking Varsity Blues territory here. You have the Corrupt Texan athletic director, the Creepy Texan former player, the Crazy Texan grandma, and the Frustrated Housewife Texans. The show is completely hopeless at illuminating the lives of the minority players (the Hispanic player picks a fight and gets kicked off the team, and apparently the show also because we haven't seen him since. The black player, Smash, is currently the victim of an after school special plot about steroids...apparently they are "bad" for you. Which must be why just about everyone in professional sports does them.) And I haven't even gotten to the hypocritical cheerleader, the sassy slutty girl with a heart of gold, the worldy, liberated-coach's-wife-who-can't-figure-out-why-girl students-are-asking-her-about-threesomes, and the Murderball guy. Well, the Murderball guy is okay. In fact if the show were just about the paralyzed QB, it would be a hell of a lot better.

Better Know Your Football And last but not least, the supposed focus of the show, the high school football games, are another weakness. The premiere was roundly criticized for the game-winning drive at the end, which in real football terms would have only worked on a 140 yard field. But just about every football game is weak. While high school teams are not known for their clock management, you run 4 plays, each going out of bounds to stop the clock, and you run maybe 30 seconds off the clock--at most--not a minute plus. And running a reverse on the game's last play only seems to happen in TV or Movie land, not in real-life land, which is where I live, mostly.

And also, if you have a party for the whole team and it's a tradition, and like 100+ people show up, perhaps someone somewhere down the line came up with the brilliant idea to rent out the local VFW or church basement or something.


Mike said...

You're right about all of this, and yet for some reason I keep watching the damned show, even though it's increasingly irritating.

I kind of like Saracen as a character even as I will acknowledge his very existence is ridiculous -- this is one of the biggest high school football programs in Texas and we're to believe the only guy they could find as a backup QB was this scrawny, reluctant, mumbly kid? As opposed to, say, some sophomore or junior phenom who'd been waiting around for the senior phenom to graduate?

And on last night's show, the football was even more ridiculous than ever. The other team had this monster LB, who apparently made every single tackle on every single play. Because, finally, on the last play, with the clock running out (and don't even get me started on the likelihood of calling an off-tackle run from your own 20 with the clock running out) they managed to block that one guy, and everyone else on the defense apparently just fell down or something, so Smash could run 80 yards for a score.

dave said...

This is an excellent breakdown of why that show doesn't work at all. I think it's a Hollywood idea of what high school football might be like in a place where there's nothing but high school football. Kind of like that movie, The Good Girl, where Jennifer Aniston worked in a Wal-Mart and talked with The Rural Accent that indicates you're poor and work at a Wal-Mart -- so clearly a portrayal of how the Salt of the Earth folks might talk, act, etc, as imagined by people who hadn't actually seen or talked or interacted with those people for decades. Unfortunately, a lot of people thought that was a really brilliant portrayal of how The Rural Folk might be living, too.

Aaron's completely right: the coach is not half as crazy or -- I would argue even more important -- one tenth as big a prick as he would really be in real life. Those guys are Bike (brand, not style) wearing tools, best captured, actually, in Dazed and Confused, where the coaches were portrayed (entirely accurately) as mean, small, manipulative, stupid and controlling little bastards. I think Billy Bob worked in the movie b/c he still had some kind of air of menace leftover from Bad Santa and the whole wearing the vial of Angelina Jolie's blood thing. Kyle Chandler, with his sad eyes and his aw-shucks thing, is no Billy Bob.

Mike said...

Oh, one more thing that bothers me about that show: The whole idea of the book -- and correct me here if I'm just a bad reader who doesn't understand words -- was that putting this much importance on football was a bad thing. Right? I mean, yes, we followed along with the team and kind of rooted for them to win, but we also saw the older folks in town and realized how sad it was that all their hopes and dreams rode on these high school kids, and how even more sad it was that the greatest moments in these people's lives were going to come in high school. And so maybe we rooted, kind of, but we also knew that at the end of the day it was all sort of hollow and depressing.

Fast forward to the movie, in which the football life was portrayed as a little tiny bit sad, for a while, but then, well, let's just forget about the sad for a while and root for the team because OH MY GOD THEY MIGHT JUST PULL IT OFF WOO-HOO!!!

Fast forward again, to week 2 of the TV show, wherein the network announces a contest to reward the high school that can prove it's the most goddamned football crazy in all the land, and oh my God my head just about exploded.

Did any of these people actually read the book? Did I just get a bad translation?

dave said...

In the immortal words of Randall "Pink" Floyd: "if I ever start thinking of these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself."