Friday Night Lights and Democracy in TV Drama

Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights showcases the cold, fall nights of 1988 where a small Texas town, just like any other rural town in America, was brought together in such a raw and emotional way. Although the show is focused on the highly political sport of football, it is not only about football. The central sport here is used as a vehicle that allowed the show to explore ideas like community and competition and diversity and adversity. The plot follows the students and families of the Panthers of Dillon High School in Dillon, Texas, but when diving deeper it reveals all the people in the team’s orbit. It is a serialized celebration of football’s community and ensemble act. Each player, here, whether central or supporting, whether on the team or simply around it matters. Throughout the series, the viewers get to emotionally connect with each character and understand their connection or support to the events that take place. Friday Night Lights was a new form of tv drama introducing soap-opera structure to TV literature. Therefore, the series was a gateway for democracy in TV drama and many TV dramas use the structure still to this day.

Although the discourse surrounding the film barely addressed teen issues, the discourse about the television show did more than its fair share highlighting the issues that teens deal with. In one such article entitled, “Friday Night Lights takes on taboos,” writer Alex Strachan addresses an episode, “I can’t,” of Friday Night Lights that involved the abortion debate. In the episode, a 16-year-old girl, Becky Sproles, ponders what to do when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. The episode was an especially interesting one, because as Strachan explains, “In some mainstream TV dramas, a character faced with an unwanted pregnancy often lets other people, particularly men, decide for her, and chooses against it in the end” (Strachan). However, in this episode, Becky decides to go ahead and choose to abort the fetus. The article compares the blunt honesty of how the situation was dealt with on the show, to that of ABC Family’s hit show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. On the ABC show, producers went out of their way to avoid controversy. However, the “I can’t” episode is described as “raw, plain-spoken honesty.” Not only was the show delving into the deeper challenges that teens face, but it was also addressing social issues – “the debate between an unborn fetus’ right to life and a woman’s right to choose.” The article even quotes a fan’s online posting as saying that the show was “a brilliant episode with the guts to go where no other shows will.” This episode highlights the uniqueness of the show. Not only are the writers willing to address sensitive topics, but they are willing to approach everyday situations in an authentic and genuine manner.

A second article that refers to the challenges of teenagers in the show was published in the Daily News. In an article written by David Hinckley entitled, “’Lights’ an Inspiring Beacon of Teen’s Struggle,” he describes how Jason Street was portrayed as a paraplegic and still had to deal with the struggles many teens face. For example, he compares how Street started off as the star quarterback, had Notre Dame pursuing him, and how he was dating the prettiest girl in town. However, after his accident things are very different. According to Hinckley, “He’s a kid who spends a lot of time alone, getting dressed and watching other people do what he used to do – yet at the same time pushing obsessively to find out how much he still can do” (Hinckley, 66). Then on top of his physical limitations he has problems with his best friend and girlfriend. The two, Tim and Lyla, take Street out for a bonfire at the beach. When they drop him off at the hospital, he glances out the window to watch them leave. He then realizes “since his accident, they’d fallen into each other arms” (66). But according Hinckley, they are not the bad guys, “It’s a bad situation without bad guys, just kids who followed the wrong instinct, like all of us do at some point in high school” (66). Hinckley praises Berg’s portrayal of Street and his handicap. Hinckley explains that Street and physically disabled characters in such shows as “Facts of Life,” Malcolm in the Middle,” and “Birds of Prey” have always been treated with respect. However, Berg not only approaches the subject with respect, but he pokes deeply into Jason’s character. As Hinckley tells it, he “created a character who lingers after the show ends” (66).

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