I am most attracted to shows that make me feel things. Well-thought out plots are good and an interesting premise certainly helps, but I want my TV to make me have some sort of emotional reaction. I want to be connected to the characters and their lives and invested in their present and future.
One of the show runners most known for making his viewers feel things (and cry a lot) is Jason Katims. He builds such believable characters and worlds and draws the viewer into those lives and worlds. Today I’ll be focusing on one of the shows he is best known for – Friday Night Lights.
I never expected to love Friday Night Lights as much as I do. I have never been a big fan of sports and this is a show that is at least partly about a football team and their season. That being said, it was the football game that made me cry during the very first episode and a football team that made me cry during the first season finale. What this show does better than nearly any other that I’ve watched is create a very detailed world and dropped the viewer into it. I went to a small high school and visited many towns much smaller than Dillon during my four years of high school cheerleading. The towns weren’t even big enough to have football teams, so basketball was the sport of choice. On game days, those bleachers were full of people who weren’t so dissimilar from the fans of Dillon. They were passionate and invested in their high school teams and a win meant a lot. So the portrayal of the town’s relationship to the team felt right. It felt real.
The same can be said of the moment in the pilot when Jason Street was injured. Fortunately, no one was ever too seriously injured during any of the games I cheered for. But at the moment when the star of our girl’s basketball team tore her ACL, the gym felt an awful lot like the stadium in Dillon felt. It’s a hard feeling to put into words but it’s a collective sense of worry and sadness that impacts everyone, regardless of what team they are on or are there to support. Once again, the emotion produced by the show felt right.
In addition to the strong sense of place, Friday Night Lights had a lot of well-rounded, fully-developed characters. The writing for them was strong but what has impressed me is the freedom the actors had with their characters. Scene blocking was minimal and so long as the overall plot wasn’t hindered, they were encouraged to change lines to better fit the characters if necessary. It resulted in a group of talented actors who knew and were comfortable in their roles and it showed on screen.
It gave us characters like Coach and Mrs. Taylor, Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins, and Tyra Collette. Characters we could look up to and invest in. Characters who we might like to know in real life. Characters that grew and changed while never losing what made them great. It gave us characters who didn’t always do the right thing. Who weren’t always very good people. Who hurt the people around them. But they were real. It gave us characters like Buddy Garrity, who started out very unlikeable, became more understandable as we learned more about him and as he was forced to grow throughout the series, we were forced to reevaluate our initial impression of him. No one was perfect, everyone made mistakes. But they were never made to be unredeemable by those mistakes. They could still be characters we loved and cheered for. They were always characters we wanted to see happy.
What show(s) make you feel deeply about the characters and their fictional universe? What show will always find a way to make you cry both happy and sad tears?