In Praise of Compelling TV Relationships; or Why I Love Friday Night Lights and You Should, Too

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I was reading an article recently that quoted Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee. He was discussing the budding relationship between Kurt and Blaine, and stated, “It’s my job as showrunner to keep them apart as long as possible.”Now look, people, I don’t watch Glee (apologies if you do, but I find it to be an insufferably twee show with poor character development and generally bad writing, but I digress). The quote itself, even separated from who it came from, struck me. Plenty of shows rely on creating and maintaining tension with seasons-long “will-they-or-won’t-they” storylines. Two in particular immediately come to mind: Law and Order: SVU and Bones. Both shows have maintained a giant question mark – replete with sexual tension – over their two protagonists. The latter has made it a defining and motivating element of the narrative. And that’s fine. The shows succeed in what they set out to do.

But Ryan Murphy’s quote still rubs me the wrong way. It is not your job as showrunner to keep two people apart. It’s your job as showrunner to tell good stories, with strong characters (Murphy fails at this, too, but once again I digress). Squeezing the life out of a relationship by dragging any potential pay-off out for as long as possible isn’t good storytelling. It’s lazy storytelling. It tells us nothing except that you are not innovative enough, or good enough, to create a compelling, dynamic partership.

Which brings me to Friday Night Lights. First, let us observe a moment of silence, for this past Wednesday, February 9th marked the series finale of this show, once the best on television. Period. I will fight you if you disagree.* You will be hard-pressed to find an article about the show that doesn’t praise its “realness,” and pardon me, but I’m about to hop right on that bandwagon. The show’s strength has always been its sense of authenticity, from its writing to its cinematography. But the heart of the show, and what lent it its true “realness,” was the characters, none more so than Tami and Eric Taylor.

This couple is consistently mentioned as one of the best portrayals of marriage on television. Now, as a single 21-year-old, I cannot speak to this statement’s truth, but I can say that holy fuck are they amazing. Throughout the show’s five seasons, they remained the emotional touchstone of Friday Night Lights, deftly portraying the ups and downs, the love and the heartache, and the sacrifices and concessions required in a relationship. Most importantly, however, they were able to be the most compelling and engaging partnership on television while staying together. No cheating scandals. No dastardly secrets. No illegitimate love-children coming out of the woodwork. The writers of Friday Night Lights, along with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton (who deserve every Golden Globe and Emmy ever, but have somehow not won any), show that you don’t need to rely on cheap tricks and hollow suspense to keep people watching. That’s easy. It’s far harder, but oh-so-much-more rewarding, to create an honest and compelling relationship.

*This is patently untrue. I will likely just mope.

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filmschooledIn Praise of Compelling TV Relationships; or Why I Love Friday Night Lights and You Should, Too

8 Comments on “In Praise of Compelling TV Relationships; or Why I Love Friday Night Lights and You Should, Too”

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  1. Profile photo of Firstmute
    Firstmute

    What I loved so much about this show was its absolute commitment to realism, which I noticed especially after Gracie was born. (I happened to have a very small child at the same time I was watching that season a few months ago, and all I could think about was first, sleeping, and, in a close second, breastfeeding.) Without drawing attention to any of it, the show filled the set with all sorts of nursing baby accessories–a Boppy, a couple of “you and your infant books,” Medela bottles, etc. The show also referred to Tami pumping a few times, but also had Tim running out to get formula at one point. What I thought was so amazing about that was that 1) I can’t think of another show that depicts the day-to-day reality of breastfeeding, which for a lot of women includes pumping*; and 2) the show didn’t make a big deal out of it AT ALL. It wasn’t a plot point; it just was. And the reality is a lot of moms do use formula on occasion; again, the show didn’t dwell on it, just represented a common reality. So well-crafted!

    *Actually, SATC showed Miranda nursing, but as a plot point–baby had trouble latching, and Carrie was annoyed that Miranda wouldn’t focus on her [Carrie's] issues. Why do I remember this? I wish I could scrub my brain.

  2. Profile photo of federov
    federov

    OMG I totally agree about the shallow will-they-or-won’t-they suspense.

    This has always been a major problem with Grey’s Anatomy, which (IMO), declined after they were unable to sustain compelling relationships without that element. Now, everyone has fucked everyone else twice and I still don’t fucking care.

    I’m also a big FNL fan.

  3. Profile photo of Beatrice2000
    Beatrice2000

    “But the heart of the show, and what lent it its true “realness,” was the characters, none more so than Tami and Eric Taylor.”

    So true. I’ve seen various episodes of Friday Night Lights, and they are the reasons I liked the show. I wasn’t interested in the teenage characters, nobody ever felt compelling enough to me, but that couple was the best. They’re not perfect, they get into fights, they’re real with each other, but there’s no exaggerated drama of cheating or distance or lying. They stick it out with each other, and there is this warmth and intimacy and love that Chandler and Britton play so well with each other, like a real couple who have years of marriage behind them.

    Plus, I remember Kyle Chandler from an old show he starred in called Early Edition, where he played a guy who got tomorrow’s newspaper today, and it was his job to change the news for the better. It was a pretty good show, but wasn’t on for very long, just a few years.

    I never liked the forced sexual tension of “will they or won’t they,” it’s boring. I stopped watching Castle because they were going in that direction. I’m glad that Law & Order: SVU never got into that with Stabler and Benson, and that How I Met Your Mother would abandon that and not try to make Robin and Barney hook up, keeping them friends.

    1. Profile photo of fishwithoutabike
      fishwithoutabike

      I always always ALWAYS think of Early Edition when I see that guy! It was epic, truly. I’m glad he’s on FNL–I think he’s a decent actor and deserves to be getting work. I might just start watching this show just for him. Ha, anyway, do you think this show is worth catching up on? I’ve heard differing opinions, but I’m always in the market for a new show.

      1. Profile photo of Sneha
        Sneha

        My family and I used to watch Early Edition together on Sat nights as a kid!! I floved that show, and his cat, and blind friend.

        Everyone must watch FNL!! I just finished the first season on Netflix Instant and is seriously one of the best seasons of TV I have ever seen. I can’t wait to watch the rest.

        Also, what I didn’t notice in Early Edition (probably cause I was a kid) is that Kyle Chandler is crazysexyhot with his Texas accent and gruffness. Seriously you will fall in love with him.

        1. Profile photo of Sneha
          Sneha

          So I can’t speak for all but I think the show might have decreased in quality as the seasons went on (Season 2 is def a little different) but Season 1 is practically perfect.

          1. Profile photo of filmschooled
            filmschooled

            Season two was definitely the worst (the Sophpmore Slump is not exactly rare in TV), but the others are uniformly wonderful. Season 3 balances saying goodbye to some original characters deftly, Season 4 introduced a whole new cohort of teenagers incredibly well, and Season 5 is on par with the 1st, IMHO. Can you tell I loooove this show?

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