You Love the Game of Football, You Just Don’t Know it Yet!
You know, when I’m away from FNL I start to wonder if it’s really as good as I remember. It’s perhaps the one show I love absolutely that doesn’t necessarily make me think – I don’t end up pondering what it is to be human, the relationship between technology and modern existence, the supernatural or politics…I just sink into the story for an hour and feel what it feels. So when I’m away from that for a bit, and I try to remember the story, it just doesn’t hit as hard – I don’t feel it like I do when I’m watching. But then when it comes back, Good Lord! This show kicks ass!
Of all the shows we’ve ever covered, I feel like this one is going to force the most personal stories out of us. It’s impossible to watch FNL without your entire history flooding in to its presence with you. I remember leaving my family for school, the responsibilities that come with growing up, the hope that comes with something new, and those first inklings that our parents were human too. The characters grip me and don’t let go for the whole 42 minutes (and clearly, a few minutes afterwards too!). As each familiar face made it on screen I felt a rush of love for them – Buddy in that radio booth; ack, I love Buddy! And Julie’s sullen love for her family…Mrs. Coach’s stick-to-it-iveness when it comes to saving lost kids…Coach getting suckered by a guy who is just looking for a “molder of men”…Matt’s gran seeming “with it” only to refer to her blood pressure apparatus as her “MP Player”…even hardened Tim made my heart yearn. Each moment is so beautiful and human in how tragic it is. The dialogue might be the closest to real life dialogue I have ever seen in entertainment. Damn – by the theme music I was already misty (and I found myself thankful that they kept that clip of Tammy in her coral shirt lifting her arms above her head to walk away from the very first episode of the series – it’s just not the theme music without that!). Seeing as I’ll be moving out the South in a couple of months, I think this season is going to be all the more poignant for me. I mean, seriously – I might never have believed people really do say, “I’m gonna hug yer neck” had I never lived here!
So yeah, the show doesn’t make me philosophically ponder what it is to be human…but Lord have mercy, does it make me feel what it is to be human. Take the closing scene, for example (or, seeing as we’re having tornado warnings or some other annoying weather interruptions by the local stations exploiting a little rain to get some air time, what was for me the closing scene…please let me know if there was more after this). As Julie left at the end I was struck by a couple of things: first, do you remember when all your stuff could fit in a car? Don’t you kind of miss those days! And second, only this show can make a line as clichéd as “Knock ‘em dead, babe” sound true. And third, perhaps what I think is the greatest thing about this show – it consistently lets the ones we love leave us.
Julie will go the way of Smash, Lyla and Tyra and Matt…characters we thought the show would crumble without (I was never that big a fan of Jason Streets – I was kind of relieved when he finally left, but boy do I miss Herc!). Even though we thought the show would crumble, it just keeps going…because, really, that’s how life goes. As Landry and Julie sipped their drinks outside the Alamo, I realized how much I missed Matt with them. And I realized how much I was about to miss them too. But I also I felt myself give them a blessing to go.
Oof, I’ve said little about the storyline, so I should probably get to that – so here’s what I’m wondering about after this season opener: Is Tim going to mess it up, or will he really get out in 3 months? And if he does, who will he be after prison? I’m not trusting Billy and Mindy to take care of him at all. And Becky – poor Becky! Where else does she have to turn but the Riggins family? And as it seems we have a whole set of kids here lacking parents, to what extent are Jess and Vince becoming parents to those boys? Is her dad really out working, or is something else going on here? Also speaking of absent parents – who is this Epic, and will Tammy be able to pull a Tyra on her…or will she just be lost? The teaching staff seems pretty awful, but there’s a glimmer of hope in that principal. I love seeing Tammy find her way – and I’m hoping this season won’t disappoint. And finally – the new kid! Man I always end up loving the new kid! It’s like they keep reincarnating Matt in new forms. But why, oh why does Hastings’ dad not want him to play football? What’s that story?!? I’m dying to know!
Ok, I’ll sign off, before I go for so long that I leave no room for you to respond! Is this the last season? I think it is, but I’m hoping I’m wrong!
Because really – who could cancel a show that has a small-town radio host say he’s “sweating like a whore in church” and which has the incredibly honest scene of a couple of small town, good, sweet kids hitting up a strip club for something to do? In both cases: an amazing testament to the honest of this show!
I am right there with you! I had completely forgotten how intense this show is for me, how emotionally gripping, and how absolutely compelling. I love it and I am so, so glad it is back for this final season. And yes, this is the final season. As you probably know, after season 3, NBC decided it could no longer afford the show. But there was such fan love for it, they signed this wacky agreement with Direct TV to produce and air seasons 4 and 5 about 6 months before NBC was allowed to air them. Which means, technically, we are watching reruns. And the complete season 5 of FNL just came out on DVD/Netflix. So for readers out there who have already watched all of season 5 or who are watching it on DVD marathon, keep your spoilers to yourselves! We are doing this the good old fashioned way, one episode a week, like the good people of Dillon, Texas would want us to.
Because that is one of the things that hit me so hard as I was re-enveloped in the cadences and rhythms of Dillon – the small town, slow pace. It does not feel nostalgic or outdated, and yet it also feels just a tiny bit out of step with the insane pace of modern life. Does Julie even have a Facebook account? Does anyone listen to or watch the news besides high school football radio? I don’t want to set up a “big city, fast pace, real world vs. small town, slow creep, limited focus” dichotomy. In fact, the show explores this tension so beautifully. It allows its characters to leave, some of them for the face paced, big city life – Matt in Chicago, Jason in New York. But it takes you deep into the reality of how one small place and the people and things that mark it can pervade a person so deeply there is no sweating it, working it, running away from it, out of you. I moved to a small southern town when I was 11. I went to high school and college nearby and my parents and many of my siblings still live there. It definitely feels like home. But it is not home to me, not in the deep pervasive Dillon way, like it was for most of my high school friends who were born and raised there. You can be welcomed, accepted, embraced and return the embrace, but you cannot ever make up the life-time existence. There will always be practices, customs, manners, relationships, secrets, and patterns that remain just a bit opaque to the person who comes from outside. In this way, Dillon reminds me very much of religion. I know many people who came to religious practice later in life, chosen as adults. I was born into Christianity much like being born into Dillon. I could very much leave the faith, I could renounce it or ignore it, but I can’t ever really get it out of me. There is no part of my imagination that wasn’t in some way shaped by it. If I purposefully rejected it, a lifetime later I might find that its influence is dim and barely perceptible, but like someone coming home to Dillon after living a lifetime away, I would still find myself saying whatever the Christian equivalent of “let me hug your neck” might be. I know lots of people might argue that Christianity is different in this way – its traces on my language, practice, imagination, and world view don’t “make me a Christian.” We can debate that in another blog post. But it is not so different than the way we all know Matt, no matter how long he stays in Chicago or where he goes next won’t be able to get Dillon out of his blood. I love FNL for showing us in the smallest details how this happens, how places and practices and people make us who we are so deeply that our choices are always already a little bit made for us, without denying just how real that agency feels and how much it matters. We can see how each of these characters is steeped through and through by the world they live in, but what keeps me glued to the screen is the poignancy and drama of still having to choose what life to live in that world. So maybe this show does make me think philosophically about what it means to be human, but it definitely gets me there through the gut.
Which is probably why I’m pretty psyched by the arrival of outsider “hippie” Hastings Ruckle (though really, can you be a proper hippie with a name like that?!). He has no idea the world he is about to enter and that outsider trying to figure it out angle is one we haven’t really seen yet, so that should be awesome. But my heart is still in it most for the characters I feel like I know so well – Tammy, Coach, Becky, and sweet, sweet Julie and Landry who we have to let go. I think I cried three times at least. It is going to be a great season.