F-Rated: Why Friday Night Lights is Epic

I’ve never been able to put my finger on just why this year’s freshman drama Friday Night Lights always moves me so much. Watching TV these days, it’d be a lot easier to get lost in something ‘bigger.’ Lost or Heroes perhaps with their gigantic budgets, apocalyptic tensions, overarching, yet twisty connected storylines and of course, millions of viewers, to start. But no, none of that really grabs me. I’d rather lay back on a Wednesday night with the gang from Friday. I’d rather ease into small-town Dillon where football reigns, and life lessons flourish. I’d rather be friends with this anti-epic.

It’s a simple premise, and almost defiant if you’re calculating what makes a big hit on primetime these days. Friday isn’t big, not in the way that networks like. Its stories are simple, its sporty backbone a high-school staple. But it is so honestly portrayed, and so heartfelt in its writing, it’s impossible to not get sucked in. Its epic moments aren’t the big reveals, or flashy action scenes; they’re seconds, literally moments of dialogue that hint at brilliance, and if you’re smart enough to catch them, you get hooked.

This week’s big moment belonged to football-star-turned-quadriplegic Jason Street. He was the star of the Dillon Panthers, ‘QB1’ in fact until a spine-smashing accident left him in a wheelchair. The character, portrayed with hunky grace by actor Scott Porter, is just learning to return to his teenaged ways. In an innocent moment of some carefree football fun with his team pals, Jason reassures the new, less confident quarterback Matt Saracen how he can lead the team to success. Wheelchair a thing of little obstacle to him, Jason orders Saracen, quite forcefully to run a play that is almost impossible to pull off. As he barks orders at Saracen, the guy who’s taken his spot on the team, who stands a foot taller than him and on both feet, you see the true Jason Street come out. He’s not in this chair because some cursing God had a vendetta against him – he’s in it because he can be. Even in his disadvantaged state he stands taller than the rest of his teammates, able to lead them in all of his turmoil.

Saracen tosses to the line, his teammates catch the ball and the impossible is done – he’s made the play. And in a momentary flash, we see Jason quite magically on his feet, staring down the field. The stadium lights flash above him as he acknowledges the success – ‘There it is,’ he says. And then we see Saracen slot back where Jason was just standing. As if the camera had a momentary lapse and cut to him by accident. It was a dream, a vision, a glimpse of what Jason was or will be again some day.

That’s the kind of epic that makes this show more touching than any island impossibility on Lost or any super-wows on Heroes. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s Friday.

An F-Rate.

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