Deep in the Heart of Texas

mingling sentiment and sophistication on friday night lights.


Principal Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) on Friday Night Lights.

In Slate’s TV Club, Hanna Rosin made the off-hand comment that the television show Friday Night Lights is “a strange hybrid of sentimental and sophisticated.” This stuck me as one of the best explanations of the show’s ability to find new emotional authenticity among melodramatic plot lines.

The sentimentality comes in the stories, but the sophistication comes almost entirely in the modes of presentation. As Rosin notes:

The themes are not so different from middlebrow dreck like, say, Touched by an Angel — honor, heart, the power of inspiration, staying optimistic in the face of bad odds. The show is hardly ever knowing. Hannah Montana is also a TV teenager, but she would be an alien dropped into this version of America. And when the show goes dark, it’s on Oprah’s themes — missing fathers, serious illness, divorce. Yet, there is something about the show that transmits “art” and makes it inaccessible. It’s not tidy, for example, either in its camerawork or the way it closes its themes. It insists on complicating its heroes and villains, as we’ve discussed, which is why we like it.

As Rosin begins to explain, FNL explores melodramatic content without offering the standard cues of melodramatic form. This is how it breaks new ground as a television show. The approach dignifies the characters, even when they are at their worst. It honors their struggles, even when we are witnessing are the same, sad, old stories of the heartland.

Image: Courtesy NBC.

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