Friday, November 2, 2012

Please, Friday Night Lights

I hate to write a negative entry about the show Friday Night Lights. There are so many great things about this show. The first season in particular is stunning, an intoxicating mixture of realism, music, and cinematography. A friend of mine remarked that FNL is the only show she's ever seen where she feels like she's watching real life. That's very true. Nick and I probably care the least about football out of anyone in America, but we were deeply enamored with this beautiful ensemble drama.

Until...

The end of the first season.

*SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this entry includes a small spoiler about one aspect of the show. If you don't want any aspect of the show to be revealed to you in advance, then please do not continue reading.

Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami are the main characters of the show. Their marriage is strong, inspiring, and realistic. They have one child, a teenage daughter named Julie. Because they are so focused on family, throughout the first season there is a small elephant in the room--you wonder why they don't have more kids. It is certainly fine to choose to have only one child, but the question is there. At the end of the first season, you find out that Tami is pregnant. She relates how much she and Eric had yearned for more children and had tried and hoped for years, but it just didn't happen. She is overjoyed to be pregnant.

That scene made me cry, and because I had grown to love Eric and Tami and Julie so much throughout the first season, I felt nearly as excited for them as I would for a real-life acquaintance.

Tami has the baby right at the beginning of the second season, and that is where the mountain top of the show's realism is blown away. We're still watching the show. There's still a mountain of realism. But it no longer rises to a majestic, awe-inspiring peak. Now, there is an ugly, unnatural flatness to the show, all because of the bizarre exclusion of little baby Grace Taylor.

Little Grace is hardly ever in the show. By "in," I mean screen time, plot line importance, and dialogue mentions. She does not have a high or even middling ranking in any of those three categories. The writers went to the trouble to put a baby in the Taylor family, but can't be bothered to change the way they write about the Taylors in a way that reflects how real families change when a baby comes along.

Now, I will say that right when Grace is first born, she gets a little bit more attention. But it is vastly negative attention. Tami is sleep-deprived, stressed, Julie is angry and displaced. Baby Grace cries, she's sick. In one episode, Tami has to take Grace to the ER after long, hot summer day. A comment about this episode on an About.com forum caught my eye: "So far, I’m not pleased by the portrayal of breastfeeding in Season 2 of Friday Night Lights. A dehydrated newborn shouldn’t be given formula. Instead, the mother should breastfeed more often. If the baby is dehydrated, admit her! Give her an IV! [sarcasm intended] In addition, this is the first mention of breastfeeding at all, and it’s almost the end of the episode. We’ve seen “colic”, but no nursing. We’ve seen fussing after a hot walk, but no nursing. The first mention of nursing is to suggest that breastfeeding, itself, is insufficient."

But beyond those first early days, Grace hardly figures in. When we watch the show nowadays, I constantly ask, "Where is the baby?" It's not like her absence is explained by a babysitter or something. She's just not there, not even when the Taylors are comfortable at home. She's certainly never with the Taylors in public.

In fact, I brainstormed a short list of things that figure more prominently in the show than baby Grace (again in terms of screen time, plot line importance, and dialogue mentions):

--Beer
--Barbecue
--Tyra's boobs, butt, and legs
--Tim's truck
--Tyra's truck
--Jason's wheelchair
--Jason's tattoo
--Landry's car
--The potential Jumbotron for the stadium
--Grandma Saracen's pills
--Smash Williams' steroids
--Buddy Gerrity's car dealership
--Baked goods made by rally girls
--The dopey paper hats Matt and Smash have to wear while working at the Alamo Freeze (a fast food place)
--And last but not least, football (as in the object, not like...the concept or even the game).

When you have a baby, that is your world. It is a form of being in love; it's born of the romantic type of being in love. Your baby is there in your every waking thought (and especially for moms, in your sleeping thoughts as well. There is definitely such a thing as "the mommy alarm."). Your baby is there in every conversation with your spouse. In every plan you make for every hour of every day, you account for your baby. Your baby is a gorgeous, decadent obsession. You can't kiss her enough, you can't hold him enough, can't take enough pictures, can't smell her enough, can't feel his soft skin or her tight grip on your fingers enough. Having a baby is like getting to eat a huge, luscious chocolate cake with a glass of ice-cold 2% milk every single day without gaining a single pound.

Sure, I'll make the obligatory qualitative statement and say being a parent has challenges, blah blah blah. Duh. I'm in the middle of potty-training so I definitely know that. But if my life were an American TV show, all it would include about today would be scenes of Luke having accidents everywhere. It wouldn't include the scene of him running back and forth down the hall in his big boy underwear, throwing his arms around Nick and I, screaming with joy and saying "I love you, Mom! I love you, Dad!"

Friday Night Lights could have bucked that trend. They could have been the one show on television that portrayed having a child in an accurate way. But they had to play into this idea that babies=stress and that babies/children have no part in active adult lives except to disrupt them. Maybe in some way this is realistic. I think a lot about the fact that for some people, you could go years--even a couple decades--without having a close relationship to a baby or a small child. Certainly, I bet a lot of twenty-somethings (and even thirty-somethings) go weeks and even months without simply interacting with a baby or small child. For a lot of people, their world consists only of adults, and the closest they get to kids is Youtube videos. That's a sad state, but in our modern lives, that's just the way things are.

Well, at least in Youtube videos kids are happy and funny. Can't say the same for Friday Night Lights, where I'm not sure if they've ever once shown Baby Grace's smile.

4 comments:

  1. Linda--thank you. It was so great to spend time with you guys last month!
    I think one of the reasons that I so enjoyed it was that I was reminded of how joyfully you and Nick interact with your kids. You guys are such good examples of truly cherishing the time spent with your kids. It was so refreshing to see that you still don't buy into the idea that kids are an inconvenience.

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  2. I LOVE Friday Night Lights. I do agree with you to a degree, but I also think they did a great job of showing some of the aspects of being a mom of a baby, especially a working mother. Babies on other tv shows are even less prominent. Recently I started a full time job out of financial necessity. James passed the bar exam in July but we are STILL waiting for his background check to clear - a process that is taking much longer than we anticipated, and in the meantime, bills have to be paid. James has a great job at a law firm and his boss is very understanding of the waiting process, but his salary isn't currently enough to cover our expenses. Once he is sworn in (hopefully soon!), I should be able to retire. :) Making the decision to go to work full time and put my kids in daycare was a heartbreaking decision. It's something I swore I would never do, but we were out of options. The boys' daycare is a wonderful facility, but a little piece of my soul dies every day when I drop them off. That sounds hyperbolic, but it's not. Those kids are my life and my heart, and all I ever want to do is be a mommy. In some ways this has been a good change for our family, but in others it has been challenging.
    Anyway, my point in all of this is that Friday Night Lights' portrayal of Tami Taylor as a working mother has actually been comforting to me in the past month. I know she's a fictional character, but Tami inspires me. It's been quite a while since I watched the show, but it left an impression on me of a mom who deeply loves her kids and her husband, and who also enjoys a fulfilling career, and manages to balance them well. It would have been great if Gracie had more screen time, but I think the show wanted to focus more on the high school drama/relationships.

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  3. A big piece of chocolate with cold milk every day, you hit the nail on the head! Babies are SO, SO scrumptious... and yeah, it can be tiring but it is oh so worth it, I can not get enough of sniffing Lu's sweet hair when we are nursing. My fellow students are constantly saying "I don't know how you do it, it must be soooooo hard" and I'm like "well, actually, not really..." not because I'm super woman or anything but because you just change your lifestyle and it is like whatever.

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  4. Im more concerned on how ugly that baby was..she looked like a balding meth addict or the crypt keeper...seriously two good looking people have such a bizarre looking kid..i would hide that from the show too. it prolly was the writers or someone on the shows kid but damn it was ugly..

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