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No spoilers, but there are only two episodes remaining in the third–and likely final–season of Friday Night Lights (which will be re-aired on NBC starting in January), and as the season has progressed I feel safe in saying that something magical has happened: it has become less sui generis than it was in season 1, less far-fetched than season 2, and rather has resembled a sort of ethnography of life in small town America, 2008.

There is no show better equipped to portray some of the rampant social crises in contemporary America better than FNL, because its emotional and situational verisimilitude has always been its strongest calling card–part of the reason why season 2 failed was the introduction of salacious storylines that rang dissonantly against the delicate timbres scored elsewhere in the episodes (though I will say that even a lot of the melodrama, especially Landry’s dad turning into Lady Macbeth, was remarkably well-done and entertaining, if entirely ludicrous). FNL has managed to take the problems regarding economy, affordable higher education (not to mention the failing public school system), the job search, real estate, and the politics of change and effectively portray the effects they have in the lives of Americans, the strain our contemporary society has on individuals, how they influence the dynamics within families. There is no other show on television engaging with societal problems–not Mad Men, not Dexter, not Pushing Daisies, not fucking Boston Legal. The only other show that ever attempted to honestly critique and dramatize our actual world was The Wire, and even on that show it was only the final two seasons that felt actually concerned with contemporaneity (the first three seasons, to me, felt couched in early-90sisms). And FNL does it without the polemics and sporadic didacticism of The Wire. FNL has always been, first and foremost, about the arcs of its characters versus The Wire‘s arc of narrative.

This season of FNL has also approached Wire-levels regarding the push-pull dynamics of its storylines–one person’s actions sets off a chain of events whose negative effects will soon be irrevocable (think back to season 4 of The Wire, and how Herc’s various bumbling enabled the decline of Randy’s situations at home and in the street); one character will experience a great gift of fortune while another character will pay in kind by losing their previous privileges; characters will step into paths that other characters have already worn, as if there aren’t any options in treading a new road (and in small towns, there almost never are). All the various narrative strands in season 3 of FNL are woven together tightly but seamlessly–much like The Wire, but FNL seems much looser (you can breathe in their threads) because of the lack of overt politicking and the focus of its characters, as well as its homier mise-en-scène. Although far less brilliant (the writing can go through creaky spots, some of the acting not up to par), FNL has taken up the mantle of Most Important Show (if not Greatest Show Ever) from The Wire because of these elements, and I dare say it’s far warmer and more human than The Wire ever was.

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  1. […] influenced by, what, Austin indie- and post-rock?). I would like to say that I saw this happening last year, though. But it’s easier to point out when there are black people on the tv, eh […]

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