Saturday, February 12, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts...

...Can’t Lose.

Unfortunately, too many people did lose, because they weren’t part of the relatively small portion of the public that tuned in regularly to watch the television series “Friday Night Lights.”

For those of us who were loyal viewers, we may have lost our TV companion from the past five years, but we definitely went away winners.

The series concluded its final season this week on DirecTV’s 101 Network (but the final season will air on NBC beginning in April). Friday Night Lights may have been the best television drama I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t watched, or were only a part-time viewer, take the time to rent the DVDs on Netflix and watch the full seasons. All of them (the final season will be available on DVD in April, too). The TV show picked up where the novel and film of the same name left off, and it brought you in and out of the lives of the people in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, as they struggled to get by. There was nothing forced about this program. It was as real as I can possibly imagine life in the heart of Texas could be. Football is a sacred religion, but the show wasn’t just about the football. It was about life the way they know it. The Dillon Panthers, and later the East Dillon Lions, simply provided the backdrop for the rest of life in the slow, country pace of the rural south. Even for those characters who managed to move on, their lives were entrenched in “Texas forever,” by choice or by circumstance.

If you’ve ever read the critics, Friday Night Lights really may go down as one of the greatest television dramas of all time. But it was never successful in the ratings (it even failed in a brief syndication run on the ABC Family network). It has been critically acclaimed and has won its share of awards). Like films such as the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it may take years before it finally catches on.

No other show left me shaking my head every week for the past five years saying, “wow, that is a quality program.” Every episode. It was heavy and humorous at the same time. It broke our hearts and lifted our spirits. The characters were seemingly real people living real lives with real problems and real happiness. It was about good people in small-town Middle America trying to do the right thing.

Over the years, the writers did a brilliant job of moving characters out as they graduated from high school and moved on with their lives. As Friday Night Lights came to its final weeks, some of the characters who were stars in the early years found their way back into the storyline. Not as cameo performers, but in primary roles. They were all part of the Dillon family, even if their characters had moved on. They came back gracefully and found their place among the current season’s new personalities.

When the curtain came down on the final episode, the series ended the way it was supposed to end. In its own unique way, the ribbons were tied perfectly and there were no loose ends. It left me smiling, but sad that it was over. But I wasn’t longing for more. The game ended.

The pinnacle moment of the final football game in the closing episode couldn’t have been done more appropriately, even though you never see it. The closing segment that followed was a captivating look forward to the next chapters in the lives of the people of Dillon. It was nothing short of what you would expect from Friday Night Lights.

In the end, it was just a TV show, but a great one that stood above most. Coach Eric Taylor’s frequent inspirational call to his players summed up what the show was all about: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”

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