It’s the swan song season for NBC’s underrated yet poignant series Friday Night Lights, the show about which I’m always telling my friends that while it’s ostensibly focused on high school football, most of its stories are about a heck of a lot more, namely, raising teens. Think of it as Parenthood only on a different socio-economic level and it takes place in Texas instead of California.
Featuring one of the most realistic married couples on television – football coach Eric Taylor and his high school guidance counselor wife Tami – Friday Night Lights realistically dramatizes a whole host of challenges facing parents of teens, in a distinctly down-to-earth fashion.
The lovable yet flawed Eric and Tami Taylor, both public high school employees, don’t make much money, and neither do most of the families depicted in the show. And Eric and Tami don’t always agree on how to proceed with issues related to their eldest daughter Julie, who’s now in college. (The Taylors also have a toddler.)
Vanilla, suburban, upper-middle class – say what you see in the marvelously entertaining comedy Modern Family – this is not. (One of Eric’s assistant coaches, for example, has a toilet in his backyard.) The lead character, Eric, lives in a very modest ranch style house, is widely respected in the community and is the focal point of the voracious sports media, a local celebrity.
But aside from the difficulties Eric and Tami have had with Julie- new problems arise this season with Julie at school – they also draw into their hearts the problems of the teenage students whom they coach or to whom they provide guidance, trying to lend help or offer advice to their parents as well. They carry huge loads on their shoulders that often weigh them down.
In this, Friday Night Lights’ fifth season, Tami Taylor expends time and emotional energy trying to teach the girls at her high school not to debase themselves for the boys, not to get drunk and let people take advantage of them and not to throw their bodies around willy-nilly in a school supply closet just to get the boys to like you. She takes a difficult student, whom the rest of the faculty despise, under her wing.
Eric Taylor this season tries to guide his troubled quarterback – who’s cleaned up his act and helped his mother get off drugs – after the teen’s life became upended by the fact that his previously violent, formerly bad dude of a father is released from prison and wants to become part of his life.
One of Eric’s pals, Buddy Garrity — whose marriage broke up because of his infidelity and who lost his daughter’s college money in an ill-advised business deal — has to deal with his teen son whose backtalking, lying, drinking and pot smoking proves to be too much for his ex-wife to handle so Buddy decides he can put his son back on the right track.
Another high school girl, Becky, whose mother is away working on a casino boat and whose largely absentee father has a wife who hates Becky, fled her father’s home after being emotionally abused. She took refuge with the family of a guy on whom she has a mammoth crush. (That guy, by the way, is serving time in prison for helping his brother, the one with the toilet seat in the backyard, running an illegal chop shop.)
Whenever I watch Friday Night Lights, as a mom of three who’s living in the Boston area where professional teams sucks up most of the oxygen in the sports pages, I can’t help but feel Friday Night Lights’ authenticity in all of the drama’s details, in the look of the living rooms, in the characters’ clothes, in the raw dialogue, in the imperfect Taylor marital relationship and in the fierce love some of the parents feel for their kids coupled by the painful realization of the powerlessness they feel when their teenage children suffer.
Sure, there are football scenes in every episode, but Friday Night Lights is also about life, parenting, dreams for one’s children, coping with adversity, character and what happens when there’s a lack of character, especially in your own offspring. As Eric quips at one point during the season, “They’re teenagers and they can be exhausting.”
It’s not too late to get up to speed on the season. Catch the season five episodes on the show’s web site.