High School Series


7 Responses to “High School Series”

  1. cpreingold Says:

    A main question our working group wants to explore is: what is it about Friday Night Lights (FNL) that makes us like it so much?

    In the pilot episode of Friday Night Lights a kid asks Dillon’s heroic and godly Jason Street, “Mr. Street, do you think God loves football?” Jason replies, “I think that everybody loves football.” I am far from a football fan — I have only watched part of one football game in my life (which I watched televised, not in person) and do not understand any of the rules of the game. Found in every episode are large segments dedicated to the game of football with long scenes or multiple scenes of football practices, strategy meetings, and games. So, why is it that I cannot get enough of this show when football is not only at the show’s core? Although there are likely many fans of this show who actually enjoy and know a lot about football, part of what interests me is how this show is really about football, but simultaneously so, so much more. All of the additional meat of the show sticks to the pretty standard high school drama genre. Yet, despite many of FNL’s predictable lines, moments, or outcomes, this show feels incredibly deep, believable, and, in fact, real.

    FNL has all of the same major, stereotypical, and anticipated elements, themes, and tropes found in other shows of its kind. In our first meeting we discussed the show’s predictable nature, but in a rewarding and emotional way because the audience still feels what the characters feel. Unlike many other high school drama shows, FNL’s emotional power, safe and not ground breaking writing, and common character tropes works in a non-cheesy, non-guilty pleasure way. Thus, we want to examine how it is possible that even though FNL has all of these elements that can be looked down upon in other shows manages to feel fresh and compelling. To discover how FNL is successful in this way we plan to explore the levels of authenticity, visual elements (such as the camera work, colors, angles, etc.), audio elements (soundtrack, emotions of music, timing, etc.), and characterization (especially with how each trope transcends expectations).

    All of the main specimens are present:
    -The Jock
    -The Cheerleader
    -The Nerdy Best Friend/ Sidekick
    -The Bad Boy
    -The Big Mouth
    -The Bad Girl
    -The “Good Girl Gone Bad”
    -All American Dad
    -Absent Fathers and Absent Mother
    -The Hero
    -The Overprotective Father

    Recap of our first meeting:
    • Safe storytelling, nothing too special in terms of dialogue/ writing — yet within the Pilot there is a big “aha” moment when Jason Street comes paralyzed
    • Revolves around the one form of life of this small Texas town, Dillon, which is football. The culture of this small town through the lens of the Dillon Panthers high school football team. Really is all about football.
    • The camera work emphasizes the mood of the show as well as the plot. Most of the scenes are quite muted, dark, and discolored, while every football game is shot with lots of light, vibrant colors, and visually comes to life. The heightened color only comes out when football is involved, which is symbolic of the role of football in this town.
    • Jason Street is an “alternative hero” because of his journey — once his original identity as the town’s hero as the star quarterback we see his character develop and come to accept his new fate, which is a fate that no longer will continue with everything in life being given to him.
    • Difficult to actually define FNL’s true genre? According to Netflix, FNL’s genres are as follows, “TV Shows, TV Dramas, Teen TV Shows, and TV Teen Dramas.”
    • How is small town life represented? What is it about? How is the town almost like a character in itself?
    • How are the stereotypes found in other sitcoms or high school dramas similar and different? Compare Tami Taylor to Claire Dunphy from Modern Family?
    • Examine the audio elements of the show — especially the radio personality voice-over that is present in each episode

  2. yvonne Says:

    Thanks for typing all that up, Celia!

    As far as my personal FNL viewing history goes, I raced the first three seasons during winter break of last year and caught up with the show schedule for the last two seasons. So that initial question our working group came up with was helpful for me as a longtime fan not to think of FNL in terms of why it may be so good, but why I (and so many others) like it so much. After all, as Celia mentioned, it is a high school show with all the character types, sports, relationships, insecurities, and hormones that we always see when those four golden years are portrayed on TV. From a narrative complexity standpoint, the storytelling is relatively straightforward. FNL approaches ‘high school’ in a way that isn’t at all ironic, campy, or in Mittell’s terms ‘self-conscious’ as we see in such shows as Glee, One Tree Hill, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, etc. Rather, FNL seems to do its best to honestly portray small-town Texas life as it is.

    What struck me initially about the show is its stunning visual and sound elements. FNL was shot on-location in the “three-camera style” with small and mobile cameras, which allows for a scene to be shot from multiple directions, many times. The camerawork in FNL can take you right up to the front of the action in a football game, or capture subtle interactions between characters, emotional moments scored by the Austin-based instrumental rock band Explosions in the Sky. I’m not a huge TV buff so I don’t know how innovative these formal decisions are, but seeing even that first shot of Coach Taylor walking through the football field, the shiny brightness of his blue Dillon Panthers jacket against the big, gloomy Texas sky–I have to conclude that visually, the show is just as satisfying to watch as a film. FNL becomes, then, a helpful platform on which to consider the question that’s been plaguing the class for the past weeks: what about television is intrinsic to the medium? If not the formal elements, then it must be the storytelling and character development, aspects of FNL I can’t wait to get into!

  3. dsstilts Says:


    If the show is as satisfying for you to watch as a film, do you think that aesthetic was influenced by the film itself? I’ve yet to see either, so that’s a genuine question — I’m not trying to lead the conversation in a particular direction. Beyond the visual style, what makes FNL a successful television show, building on but also existing apart from the film?

  4. yvonne Says:

    It’s been a while since I have seen the original FNL movie, so it’s a little difficult for me to answer that question fully. I’m not sure if the TV series draws specifically upon the film for inspiration, but I definitely do think that the aesthetic of this TV show aspires to match the visual sophistication of movies in general. There was just something so refreshing and authentic about a show that didn’t build any sound stages or use wall to wall pop songs. I don’t have anything against these things, but for a show that’s so specifically about a small town in Texas, these formal decisions were very effective.

    But really, I would say that the success of FNL comes from its cast of well-written characters. The serial nature of TV allows for developments in character that are just not possible in a movie. We have mentioned before the presence of all the high school “types” in this series, but what FNL does so well is basing all of these familiar types in some sort of reality that is true to this town. Tim Riggins characterization as the “bad boy” has much to do with his extremely troubled upbringing and home situation. Matt Saracen’s shyness and insecurity stems also from his home situation; his father is constantly deployed to Iraq, leaving him to care for his ailing grandmother alone.

    Perhaps who best highlights the difference between the “plot-driven” movie and “character-driven” TV show is the coach’s wife Tami Taylor, played by Connie Britton in both the film and the show. In the movie, she is really what we’ve come to expect from the “girlfriend” in many sports dramas: a constant support for her husband, and the pretty girl cheering from the bleachers. In the television show, her role has much more nuance and room to grow. She becomes a substantial presence over the course of the next five seasons and ultimately decides the family’s fate at the end of the series.

  5. yvonne Says:

    For the group and fans of Dillon. Here is a lovely article about the history of the show. There are a few spoilers, so I don’t advise reading it until you are done with the series.

    “An Oral History of Friday Night Lights”

  6. malorymcdonald Says:

    Landry Clark’s life begins to take a surprising, dramatic turn at the dawn of the second season of Friday Night Lights. A mysterious murder, a corpse found at the bottom of the river, and a sexual encounter with Tyra seem to be the most unlikely outcomes for the geeky sidekick to Matt Saracen’s starting quarterback. As FNL delves deeper into Landry’s story, the stereotype of the geeky best friend/ sidekick is diminished. He truly has a character of his own, even upstaging Matt both in romantic endeavors and football. In Episode 5 of Season 2 “Let’s Get It On”, Landry leads the Panthers to victory and becomes the team’s hero, while Saracen is benched for almost the entire game. This unpredictable turn of events is what makes FNL such a deeply unique series. The characters are anything but predictable, and I’m looking forward to watching more Landry Clark!

  7. yvonne Says:

    Here’s a link to our project, about heros and heroism in ‘Friday Night Lights.

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