I initially got into the NBC show Friday Night Lights when it first came out in 2006. I had moved to St. Louis within the last year to start grad school, and started catching episodes whenever I was around on a Friday (an unfortunate airing for a primetime show). But like a lot of tangential interests, I eventually faded from the show as other things came up. As a result, I had never seen a season in full, knowing only bits and pieces of the over-arching story.
So, when my roommate and I decided not to renew our cable this spring, and I started thinking about what would be good summer entertainment through Netflix streaming, I immediately thought of FNL. It helped that I had also just stumbled upon Heather Haverleky’s comparison of the show with the run-away hit Glee in the NYT, so I took it as serendipity and decided to hop back in. Haverleky’s review sealed the deal:
What “Friday Night Lights” does… better than any other show, is capture the natural narcissism of teenagers. It tenderly demonstrates the rewards of connection and shows how collaboration toward a common cause ultimately holds more promise than the shallow pursuit of individual greatness. “Friday Night Lights” pulls this off largely thanks to the low-key appeal of the show’s hero, Coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler, i.e. the only man on the face of this earth who could gruffly half-whisper the words “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” to a room full of adolescents in football pads and still manage to cue the waterworks every time.
And she’s right. Despite it’s difficulty in winning a mass audience over the last five years, the show really is fantastic. I know I had always felt a certain kind of emotional connection to the show, feeling almost as if I had some secret history of playing football in west texas that had been hidden from me growing up (a lifetime donning pads instead of speedos).
Logistically, however, I was presented with a dilemma. Knowing that I had already watched (small) pieces of several earlier seasons (an episode here or there) and that I don’t like re-watching episodes, should I start with only season I had not watched at all (season 4, and now season 5) knowing that I would be skipping over a bunch of content from earlier parts of the show, or should I start from the beginning and have some repeats.
I chose the former.
I started watching season 4 a few weeks ago, and plowed through the 12 episodes within a few weeks. It pulled me in, I loved it, and I wanted more. I knew however that I couldn’t start with Season 5 because it wasn’t yet on Netflix. Add to that the fact that I was starting to get intrigued by the stories of the characters I had caught mid-show, I decided to move backwards to Season 3. I finished that season a few nights ago. It also pulled me in, I loved it, and I wanted more… I started Season 2 last night.
Out of nowhere, I created for myself a TV show in reverse. It was in many ways (outside of plot) a bit like the film Memento, a movie which tells the story from the end by way of a protagonist with anterograde amnesia, and thus no ability to store new memory. In Memento, the first scene we see is the last scene of the movie, if it were to have been told chronologically (think: James Franco escapes the cave in 127 hrs). But after seeing this scene, the film flashes back to a previous time, and runs until it passes the start of the previous scene, and repeats. It’s a fascinating approach to filmmaking, and has been (in a similar sort of way) a fascinating approach to watching a TV show.
More than anything, watching the show in reverse has fundamentally transformed my experience of the characters themselves, and keeps reminding me of how much our interpretation of events (sometimes rightfully so) is shaped by memory.
The other day, I called my friend Emma (another FNL fanatic) to talk through the show. She quickly asked which characters I was most drawn to. I responding with some of the favorites with whom it is hard to disagree– Eric and Tami Taylor, Matt Saracen, Landry, etc.– but then proceeded to mention that I was also a fan of Lyla Garrity. Lyla is the head cheerleader of Dillon High, very well put together (from the outside), was dating one of the star football players, the daughter of the team’s biggest booster, and was studying at Vanderbilt by Season 4. Emma responded with a bit of disgust, saying something to the effect of “You would like Lyla Garrity” (assuming that meant I liked her because she’s cute). She then described Lyla as a girl who was all over the map with interests, fundamentally a heart-breaker, and one who could not be trusted because she didn’t yet fully know herself.
I was a bit taken aback, but maybe I shouldn’t have been, especially had I seen the show from the start. After all, from Emma’s perspective, throughout the four seasons we Lyla date the star quarterback who was later paralyzed in a football accident, proceed to sleep with his best friend while the QB was still in the hospital, convert to (and fade from) a devout evangelical christian church, and eventually goes back and forth in her relationship with the best friend before eventually moving to Vanderbilt for college.
But i didn’t see it that way at all. After all, while I had seen the first episode of season 1 back in 2006 and thus knew of her relationship with Jason (the QB), I knew nothing about the cheating incident with his best friend, only knew that somehow Tim and Lyla had had ended up together. I also hadn’t seen her less mature moments with her family, especially the way she responded to certain issues with her father (trying to keep from as many spoilers as possible). When I saw Lila in season 4, all I knew was that Tim Riggins missed Lyla deeply with her off in Nashville, that their relationship had a certain kind of depth which made him hesitant around new women despite their pursuits, and that in general she had a good reputation around town– a success story off to the races in life. In a lot of ways, I felt like I understood Lyla taken from that snap shot, a somewhat misunderstood person who was genuinely kind, a girl who was still figuring herself out and needed some time away from Dillon make that happen. From my perspective, Lyla was cute, fun, kind, caring, and intelligent.
So here is the irony: Emma and I both experienced and responding to the exact same scenes from season 4, even in terms of subtle details of context– the same framing of the camera, the same dialogue of the characters, the same music, lighting, and storyline– a completely controlled environment. And yet, because we had different memories of Lyla (and also different associations with Lyla-like people from our lives) Emma had a certain perception of her, and saw this world in a color which I could not see.
So who was right?
* * *
I was talking about forgiveness the other day with a friend, when we started hashing into the fundamental differences between ‘stated forgiveness’ and ‘lived forgiveness’… In other words, why is it can be so easy to say “i forgive you” (and genuinely mean it), all the while struggling to live as if the offense had not occurred. Think of love. The complexity of living with a normal human being with normal human characteristics means living in the mindset of miscommunication, hurt, and misunderstanding (alongside a bunch of positive things as well). And this is tough because moving from forgiveness (for a past offense) to reconciliation (which fundamentally means being able to live the normal, everyday, mundane with this person again) requires moving from a place of heightened emotions (positive or negative) toward a space of committed neutrality. Sometimes I think it’s easier to forgive if certain kinds of memory did not exist, as if forgetting were a switch that we could turn on when appropriate.
Moving back to Friday Night Lights, I wonder if it is possible to see Lyla in the light that I saw her if I were to have watched the show straight through. I think it’s possible, but incredibly difficult given the way memory works, the emotional baggage it carries, and the way it cannot be discarded so easily. That’s sad, especially if fresh eyes, used wisely, can be a good thing. I don’t think its impossible, but the purity of memory requires a theory of time’s redemption. I always liked the definition of redeem as “To recover ownership by paying a specified sum.” I guess I just wonder what sum must be paid for such recovery– what it takes to rebuilt a posture that doesn’t need to forget, but still retains a freedom to see.