April 16, 2011

Season 5: Friday Night Lights

Emily, Hanna, and special guest David Hudgins (more about you in a minute): Welcome to the TV Club for the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights. Club regulars will notice that we've changed our schedule. Last season, we discussed FNL during its NBC run. But this season, we'll be following the show during its initial airing on DirecTV. We switched the schedule because we suspect that many of FNL's most fervent fans the kind who mutter, "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" to themselves before every meeting with the boss watch the first run on DirecTV. But those of you who don't have DirecTV: Do not panic! We'll rerun the TV Club when NBC broadcasts the show in 2011, and in the meantime, we'll be very careful not to slip any spoilers into our cover headlines and images.

To whet our appetites (and yours, I hope) before the season premiere on Wednesday, Oct. 27, let's talk about our expectations for the final season. We wrapped up the Season 4 TV Club with our predictions about what would happen in Season 5. (My guesses: Riggins paroled, redeemed; East Dillon winning state; Julie back in town.) Instead of prognosticating more about the plot, I want to ask about what emotional and social themes the show should emphasize this year. In Season 4, adults often failed children, whether it was Vince's mom falling back into drugs, or Coach Taylor missing Luke's drug problem, or Becky's mom going crazy jealous at her daughter. I hope the show swings back in the other direction this season. As a father, one of the things I love most about FNL is that it insists that children need adults to guide them. In most pop culture, kids live in their own feral communities, unmonitored or regulated by parents and teachers. Adults appear as feckless comic figures or as selfish, childlike ones. But FNL gives us a world much like the actual world, in which adults can provide rules, wisdom, and guidance to the young. I'm expecting that FNL hits this theme hard in its final season and gives plenty of teachable moments to Coach Taylor, Tami, Ray Merriweather, and even Buddy Garrity.

Second, I'm counting on lots and lots of scenes from the Taylor bedroom. The Taylor marriage is, I would argue, the defining achievement of FNL, quite possibly the greatest marriage in television history. It is a realistic combination of love, humor, frustration, sarcasm, and fatigue. It needs to be a hub of the final season. If I were the producer, I would test the marriage, either with a health scare or a misplaced flirtation. (FNL being FNL, this will only make their marriage stronger.) Now that Matt and Julie are gone, the show also needs to ogle a young couple or two. Vince and Jess will certainly do some heavy petting, and I am glad, for Tim Riggins' sake, to hear that Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive 2010 Minka Kelly (Lyla Garrity) is returning for the final two episodes of the season.

Finally, I don't think FNL can let the series end without grappling with the issue that is breaking the hearts of football fans everywhere: head injuries. The growing awareness that football causes long-term brain damage is changing how American parents and kids relate to the game. So far, FNL has limited itself to body trauma—Smash blew out a knee, Street was paralyzed, Luke hid his hip injury. Brain damage—concussions, memory loss, depression—is an altogether more grim subject, but I'd be surprised if FNL ducked it.

And now to our special guest, David Hudgins, one of FNL's writers and executive producers. We've invited David to drop by this preview TV Club to answer some of our questions, and yours, about how they make the show and who does Tim Riggins' hair. (David won't give away any Season 5 secrets, though.) A few questions from me:

  1. 1. Why does FNL have to end? Could you keep it going and going and going? Or does its internal coherence require that it stop now?
  2. 2. How did you create such a compelling marriage, and why are there so few other television marriages to match it?
  3. 3. What other TV shows and movies inspire the creators of FNL? Do you model FNL on anything else?
  4. 4. A lot of FNL fans, including me, think Season 2 went awry. Do you agree? What happened? How did you manage to fix the show?
  5. 5. What's your favorite FNL episode?
  6. 6. Your favorite character?

If you have questions for David Hudgins, please post them in the comments section below, and David will try to answer some of them.

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