Friday Night Lights, Season 5

Done. Finally done. Texas Pennsylvania Football forever.

Watching this show after such a long break inbetween seasons really made me question the depths of my cynicism. Why do these people care so much about football? Why do decisions take so long to make in this town? Why do people even come back here? Oh, right. It’s television. And Texas!

Honestly, watching Amy Schumer parody the shit out of this heartfelt show almost ruined its sincerity for me. As beautiful as FNL is and was, it took itself so seriously. Each emotion was felt by each character in an almost too-profound way, and I had a hard time jumping back into that world. Especially when I had just been immersing myself in the aforementioned World of Schumer.

But I can’t deny the power of the actors. Seeing Connie Britton kill it as Tami Taylor, and then seeing her kill it harder as Rayna James on Nashville, makes me think that her best work is yet to come. She’s not a movie actress — nor is someone like Julia Louis-Dreyfus — because her strength is in her subtlety. Pretty soon she’ll nab a role on an HBO show and cuss and brood and shock us again. Anyway, I think her storyline this season is the most superior, between dealing with an overly-stubborn Coach (Kyle Chandler) and an overly-problematic Epyck (Emily Rios) and an overly whiny Julie (Aimee Teegarden), because that subtlety I mentioned before is manifested in powerful patience. She’s the backbone of the show, as obvious a statement as that is, because without her, none of the characters would be able to stand up. She picks up their slack. She keeps them functioning because no one else will.

Let’s go back to Coach for a second. In this final season, Coach was a real toolbag. The internet is full of praise about their marriage, about how realistically it’s portrayed and how fair and balanced it is. But Coach spent basically an entire season being unrealistically resistant to Tami’s desire to develop her career. Now, maybe I’m used to seeing big life decisions being made in the span of a single episode on most other TV shows, so the fact that this one was a season-long arc seems painfully drawn-out. But as each episode wore on, and as his ego grew, I wondered where all the Coach Praise could possibly be coming from. Tami’s patience was next to godliness for 13 long episodes.

Then again, a lot of plot points came out of nowhere in this final season. It’s not out of the ordinary. Shows that are wrapping up also need to step it up, drama-wise. Buddy Jr. (Jeff Rosick), for example. Great casting, as he looked a lot more like Brad Leland’s son than Minka Kelly did his daughter. But where the hell did he come from? Same with Vince’s father. Ornette (Cress Williams). He appeared out of thin air, took over Vince’s life, almost fucked it up again, and faded away into the abyss. I wish we had met him in the previous season, even in just the last episode of Season 4. He clearly had had an influence despite his absence. Somehow adding a father figure makes strong characters like Vince (Michael B. Jordan, the most likable person ever) and Jess (Jurnee Smollett, wise beyond her years) completely helpless.

And Tyra (Adrianne Palicki)? As nice as it was to see her, I can’t really imagine Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) being worth coming back to Dillon for. Riggins himself had quite the brooding storyline, too, with his passive-aggressiveness explained only by “spent time in jail.” I wish we could have known more about his time in the slammer. And then, the whole budget cuts thing. Budget cuts, I’ve decided, are to FNL as regionals were to Glee. An intangible, insurmountable enemy that keeps the story going somehow. By the time we reached the last episode, we were drowning in hopeless rumors.

Yet the instant I see Matt Saracen’s (Zach Gilford) face, I am comforted. Julie probably was, too. Despite the fact that she “acted out” (read: experienced college), and we saw this bratty, uncomposed side of her, we also got to see the completely mature, accepting, post-Dillon side of Matt. His chemistry with her — and with Landry — remains, but his confidence is inching out. When he and Julie embrace each other in the alleyway after she visits him in Chicago, blocking traffic, I felt like the show reached a mini turning point. That moment stood for what seemed to be happening throughout the season, and maybe even the series — that love between A and B can inconvenience C, D, E and beyond. It’s not perfect, and it can’t be. But A and B have to make it work because it’s best for them. I’m glad they ended up together.

So, I’ll end this review on a happy note, because the show itself is happy and beautiful. It’s about enjoying the simple things, like barbecue and football and people you’ve spent your whole life with, and my cynicism ran pretty deep into this season. Of course I enjoyed watching it. Frankly, I just got jealous of the small-towniness, and let my big city smog brain cloud some of my judgement. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

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