Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Best Learning About My Texas High School Football Roots

My brilliant mother gave me Friday Night Lights the book for Christmas and I read it during my Utah trip.

If you didn't know, Friday Night Lights started as a book, a piece of reportage by this fellow HG Bissinger who lived in the High School football obsessed town of Odessa, TX for a year in the late 80's with the purpose of following the Odessa Panthers and writing this book in mind.

Obviously, reading this book I was thinking about the TV show must of the time, trying to draw parallels between people in the book with characters on the show (and sort of succeeding here and there) and the Football spirit in Odessa vs. Dillon.

The shocking discovery: Dillon is nowhere near as crazy about football as Odessa. In fact, everything in the FNL book is so much more hardcore than the TV show. Bissinger tries to give a fair and impartial portrait of Odessa, good and bad, and the dark side of football madness (and certain Texas attitudes) comes through often. I'm glad that Coach and Tammi are paragons of virtue and good decision making, but I liked the grit of the book. It hands you a lot of "life's not always fair" along with some good news here and there.

I definitely recommend it for people seeking the full FNL experience or curious about some quality high school football writing. There's a fair amount on the oil industry booming then busting in Texas and I found all that information really interesting. I think one of my favorite things to learn about is how rich and careless people were with their dough before things went wrong.

SO, having read the book, it was time for me to watch the Friday Night Lights movie, which is based directly on the book and inspired the TV show.

The similarities between the movie and the TV show are rather striking and I wonder what it was like for fans of the movie to transition to the TV show. It has the same Explosions in the Sky music, the same Football talk radio narration, Tammi and Buddy play essentially the same characters, and the movie and first season start about the same way. (But the realism of the downfall of Boobie Miles and how it affects the ones he loves and just leaves his life, well, ruined absolutely eclipses the misfortune of Jason Street, which was sobering at first but then we all got tired of that dude)

The movie stays very true to the book, adding only a few dramatic flourishes for the sake of storytelling. Like the book it is grittier than the TV show and Billy Bob Thornton makes an excellent coach, he really conveys a lifetime of football work and football knowledge. While Eric Taylor is supposed to have a long history of football behind him, he sometimes comes across as a little wet behind the ears. Sure, he can inspire a team and a town like none other, but he's always walking into situations all like "Just what is going on here?" whereas the Billy Bob Thornton coach radiated a lot more authority.

Let me tell you what the best thing about the movie is, though. The State Championship Game. Easily one of the best made extended battle sequences I've ever seen. It is absolutely thrilling and jarringly brutal at times. And the soundtrack used for the game is perfect, that the players walk through the stadium and take the field to New Noise by Refused? The person that realized that song is the ultimate jock jam deserves an award. Follow that up with some Public Enemy and Iggy and the Stooges and you've got a mood happening.

The only thing I would have added to this movie that would have not fit at all and totally thrown it off would be some reference or dramatization of the criminal careers of those players from Dallas.

Having spoken about the book and the movie, I feel I must address Season Four at least a little here.

Everything was really great up to episode 7 or 8, but these days? From 9 to 11? I have a question for the people that make my Friday Night Lights TV show:

Where's the football?
What is this? An absolute soap opera?

With two episodes left in the season the ground is being set for the direction of the finale. Please, TV show makers, knock it off with the ridiculous and repetitive subplots and get serious. I know this show isn't just about football but really, it should be about football (the game, the teams, the town that loves it) and some other things, not other things and some football.



Tannerama said...

It's so funny you bring that up. I was just thinking the other day how much I liked the movie and how little interest I have in the show. I dunno. I know lots of people are always singing its praises. But, I just can't muster the interest.

Brigham said...

It's weird. Ask around, I was pretty into that show, pretty extremely into it. But the movie and book (as the post above shows) have really made me look at it differently. Should I be grateful or should I be angry?

merebuff said...

I read the book/watched the movie pretty early in my FNL fandom. I thought the book brought a lot perspective to the show, especially the deep football roots in Texas. (Having lived there I already had an idea). I didn't love the movie. Can't remember the reasons. I would have liked the movie to mention how Dallas didn't deserve to be at State. You shouldn't be grateful or angry. To me the film and the series are two different shows. That's all. What is similar is that sense of despair when big football dreams don't work out for the stars--or for regular folk for that matter.

I do agree that the latest episodes haven't been my favorite; the abortion thing was a little unnecessary, but probably because it is a sticky subject that all teen dramas seem to have to cover. Yes, bring back the football.

Sorry for the novel