I’m just going to say it outright: I’ve come to determine that Friday Night Lights is indeed the best show on television. At first hesitant to watch a show about high school football I finally gave in only to pleasantly discover that what parades as a show about the machismo sport of football is in fact a show about community, family and integrity in middle-America. Lacking in the wealth and gloss of shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C. the filming, acting and storylines are all gritty and real. While all of the characters are extremely well-written and multi-dimensional, I’m continually struck by how amazingly bitchin’ the women of Friday Night Lights are. Just like that other seemingly male-centric show Mad Men, what lies beneath is indeed a multi-layered feminist portrayal of strong women.
Having just aired the series finale after five seasons, the show has unfortunately come to a end. (See the finale promo here, non-spoilery and fantastic.) But I hope the show lives on, if only to show how women on television can be portrayed–smart and sassy with no need to be slutty. If you haven’t seen the finale, slight spoilers ahead.
Praise for the Women of Friday Night Lights
Much has been written about Becky who during the fourth season chose to have an abortion. While abortion has been discussed on television before, the characters either back out–Miranda on Sex and the City, Andrea on Beverly Hills 90210–or conveniently lose the child–Julia on Party of Five, Cristina on Grey’s Anatomy. But Becky indeed went through with the abortion after carefully weighing her options, and the honest storyline was featured in articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The show soldiers on and Becky’s abortion isn’t touched upon again until the next season when she expresses hesitance to have sex again. Neither slut-shaming nor preachy or overly politically correct, the entire story line was very realistic and I’m glad it got the sensitive honest treatment that it did.
Lyla Garrity and Tyra Collette
At the start of the show Lyla, the popular cheerleader girlfriend of star player Jason Street, and Tyra, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks ex-girlfriend of boozer Tim Riggins, were very much opposites and did not get along. But the one thing they did indeed have in common is how they viewed themselves–through their relationships with men. Lyla made no plans for herself as far as college, she expected to go wherever boyfriend Jason went. And Tyra, whose sister was a stripper and mother endured abusive relationships, used her sexuality and power with men as her validation. Tyra could have easily been the one-trick-pony slutty character of the show, but she evolved into something so much more.
But by the end of the third seasons we see both of them in a very different light–each has found their way as independent women. Lyla goes off to her dream college, leaving her boyfriend behind. As for Tyra we watched as she gained scholastic motivation and worked her ass off to get into college to escape the same life as her sister.
In the finale we see Tyra return to Dillon for Christmas and, in her words, is “kickin’ ass” in college. As she begins to rekindle affection with old flame Tim Riggins she lets it clearly be known that she has dreams, that she intends to go places and won’t let a relationship get in the way of what she wants. She has an independent spirit and agency and is, in a word, inspiring. (Although, let it be clear, I’m rooting that their characters eventually get together in some hypothetical non-written television world.)
By the end of season five I was so incredibly in love with Jess’s storyline that during the finale I teared up. Seriously. Jess begins as girlfriend to QB Vince Howard, helping coach him through summer practice which ignites her love for football, eventually arguing her way into becoming the equipment manager. When she tells Coach Taylor that she wants to become a coach herself he laughs in her face–football is a male-dominated sport, there’s no place for a female coach. And yet her perseverance persuades him to take her under his wing and shadow him. When Jess transfers schools Eric makes sure to tell the football coach at her new school how great Jess is; in the finale we see her coaching on the sidelines of the new team, still reaching for her dream of being a football coach herself.
Tami & Eric Taylor
Tami Taylor is kind of my hero, and not just because she likes her wine. She’s sassy, supportive and loving and holds high standards for the people in her life. As the moral touchstone of the show, she remains neither preachy or judgmental and always lends an ear and encourages every character to reach for their potential.
I cannot think of another marriage on television that is as strong as Eric & Tami’s. No cheating, no melodrama, just support and love, and seeing that on television is amazingly refreshing. Their example of a committed supportive relationship is indeed feminist. Eric in the finale says, “Marriage requires maturity. Marriage requires two people who for the rest of their lives are willing to listen, to really listen to each other. And that marriage requires, the greatest of all things, which is compromise.” Uh-freaking-mazing. In the finale we see Eric step down from his position as football coach in Dillon and, for the first time, puts Tami’s career as top priority as they leave for her new job in Philadelphia. Marriage is compromise, as Eric said, and it’s amazing to see.
If you’re a fan, weigh in…isn’t it refreshing to see strong women portrayed this way on television? I’ll take one Tyra over ten Ally McBeals any day…
(Seasons 1-4 of Friday Night Lights can be streamed on Netflix; some episodes are available on Hulu. Season 5 just aired on Direct-TV and will begin airing on NBC on April 15th.)