BY RELEVANT TV / CULTURE February 21, 2008

Like Tim Riggins, one of the show’s strongest characters, Friday Night Lights just doesn’t seem to get any breaks.

With the last pre-strike written episode of one of the few shows worth watching on network television airing just before a new deal was finally struck, talk has renewed about the show’s poor ratings and the legion of die-hard fans are springing back into action with online petitions (www.savefridaynightlights.com) and passionate e-mail campaigns. There’s even rumor that ESPN could pick the NBC show up.

It really is a shame it has come to this again, but as I watched what could be the swan song of this great television program—online because who wants to watch TV on a Friday night?—I already found myself, unlike the always persistent Tim Riggins, starting to ponder what would happen if I never see Lyla Garrity again.

Usually, I’m the one making fun of people who talk about characters from shows like Heroes or Lost as though they are next-door neighbors or friends from college. But ever since I first clicked on an ad in Yahoo Sports linking to online episodes of Friday Night Lights last year, I have felt a kinship to the characters, the wide-open west Texas landscapes and the familiar soundtrack (Explosions in the Sky, Mojave 3 and Wilco to name a few) that has more than justified another spin-off of a franchise that started in the late ‘80s with a Philadelphia reporter moving to Texas to write a book.

At first, I didn’t see the point for the show. Why make a TV show about a movie about a book? Hasn’t the drama of high school football already been beaten to death in popular culture?

Friday Night Lights has answered both questions with an emphatic “no” by transcending any short-cut marketing simplification that would have you mistakenly believe it’s simply about high school football in Texas. In addition to actually being good, the “show about high school football in Texas” tag has, perhaps, been the show’s biggest downfall—along with the poor time slot competing against American Idol in the first season and the Friday night kiss of death in year two.

Like the lives it so richly portrays, Friday Night Lights is a complicated blend of honest portrayals that, indeed, make it more real and believable than any so-called reality show that is cheap to make, easy to produce and garners way better ratings.

In Coach Taylor, we don’t just see a man struggling to keep a bunch of teenage boys focused, we see a man with his own shortcomings struggling to be a good husband and a good father. In Jason Street, we see a former poster boy quarterback picking up the pieces of a shattered storybook life. In Brian “Smash” Williams we see an ego being deflated as he fights his own anger toward racial stereotypes and prejudice. In Santiago, we see a young man with demons and temptation around every corner being given a second chance at life outside of juvenile detention.

The list could go on and on because the show is full of characters that speak in one way or another to the human condition.

As a Christian, it’s impossible to not look at this show and see the Biblical themes that abound. A message board post after an episode aired late in the first season even called Friday Night Lights the best “Christian” television show ever made. While attaching the term “Christian” to the show should come with a few caveats, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that few other shows on network television have the ability to produce the kind of raw and honest dialogue about the Christian life, or about life in general, than this show.

Garrity, who is introduced in season two as an advantageous born-again posting fliers on cars in the high school parking lot, takes on a lot of the tough questions teenage Christians face on her own call-in radio show, all while she is dealing head-on with the fall-out of her parents’ marriage and the skeletons she has in her own closet from season one. While the Biblical themes were unmistakable in season one, Garrity gives the show an honest portrayal of a Christian, not the kind of self-righteous, do-gooder so appropriately mocked in the movie Saved.

While the examples, many of them more subtle, are numerous enough to develop into a small group study guide—if it hasn’t already been done—the most recent episode boldly tackles abortion when Street learns that his one night stand with a pretty red-haired waitress has resulted in something he thought impossible. She’s pregnant, but at first doesn’t see it the way Street does—as a miracle and a blessing from God.

It ends with Street asking for her to reconsider her decision to abort the baby, to give Street “a chance.”

Now that the show’s future is in serious limbo—again—we may never know the answer to Street’s pleas or whether Riggins’ church attendance and “looks like Jesus” hair will snatch Garrity from the paws of her pious radio show co-host boyfriend.

I hope, the show gets one more chance.

RELEVANT

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