Tag Archives: friday night lights

Happily Ever After

Watching so much Joss Whedon-created tv recently, I have, naturally, been thinking about the nature of happy endings.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Joss doesn’t exactly believe in things ending well. Actually, the earth gets saved from a couple of apocalypses a year, so I should qualify that by saying that he doesn’t believe in relationships ending well.

“The Thin Red Line” was probably the most controversial Buffy episode in this sense, and the A.V. Club’s review has some interesting discussion in the comments. One comment that made me start thinking was along these lines: Every relationship eventually ends in either misery or death.

How depressing. But, I guess, true.

And considering that Buffy is largely metaphorical, I think this aspect of love fits effortlessly into the larger picture of the show. The war against evil is never going to be won or lost. It simply is. And you simply keep striving. When you enter into relationship you are going up against impossible odds – misery or death. And you simply keep striving.

Of course, exploring this doesn’t necessarily have to be soul-crushingly depressing.

Happily Ever After is key to the romance genre. Obviously. But it’s no longer an ideal moment at which all of life is suspended, forever. It’s more commonly a moment at which the lovers have strength and faith and trust in each other to head into an unknown future together.  The journey of the book is each character becoming a person who can support and stick with the other through anything.

We acknowledge that life is not going to end at Happily Ever After – but we have faith that they’ll make it. To death, that is. (Never forget this is war.)

Probably the best exploration of a strong relationship on tv is Mr and Mrs Coach in Friday Night Lights. We’re never asked to worry that their marriage will end – but they are endlessly fascinating to watch. And not a little inspiring. Theirs is the daily battle against the odds, and though it can get tough, by god are they winning.

I’ve been thinking about how it’s possible to keep a couple so interesting without threatening their relationship, and this’s what I’ve come up with: Most of the drama we see them deal with is external to their relationship. This means that they’re not static, but instead of battling each other they’re supporting each other against external drama. And if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know that’s not as easy as it sounds. But it sure is interesting to watch.

You know that one point on which you and your partner simply do not see eye-to-eye? We also watch them navigating those fundamental disagreements – attempting to balance being true to themselves and supporting the person they’ve vowed to support. It’s a paradox that’s only really possible because a human being is so complex. Again, interesting to watch.

But even with the changing emphasis of a happy ending – when that moment of perfect understanding is reached in a romance novel, there’s completion. It’s the moment that finishes the book inside you, and allows you to let it go. It’s the thing we continue to imagine will happen when we fall in love in real life, and never does.

Joss Whedon’s romances simply will not let me go. And I think it’s because they refuse to resolve themselves. They are not finished, and never will be. It’s the thing that happens when we fall in love in real life, despite all our expectations. There are moments of perfect contentment, and it can be unutterably exhausting, but it will never stop. Until misery or death.

(Okay, that’s an entirely depressing place to finish! So let me take a highlighter to my subtext: it’s not the ending that’s happy – it’s the being brave enough to go to war.)

contradictions of character: the good kind

Tim Riggins. Ah, Tim Riggins. It’s like someone reached inside my subconscious and constructed the perfect teenage boy to break my teenage heart.

But enough about me.

Friday Night Lights is (mostly) masterful when it comes to character. The show is built around the marriage of Coach and Mrs Coach, which aims somewhere between a very realistic portrayal of actual marriage, and a kind of über-marriage that we can all aspire to. There are so many moments between these two that are so pitch-perfect it gives you tingles (or a goofy smile) to watch them.

I think part of what makes their characters so brilliant is that they are full of contradictions. My teacher recently spoke about this idea – that you don’t only want to know your character’s attributes and backstory and personality and motivation, you also want to know in what small ways they are contradictory. It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about before, but it works like a crazy thing.

Take Tim Riggins, for example. He’s bad enough, hot enough, oblivious enough, boyish enough to be the stuff of fantasies. But the moment that made my infatuation official was this:

He’s been punished for something-or-other by having to help out at the girls gymnastics competition. It’s a local thing, very low-budget, very much outwith his usual spectrum. The guidance councillor walks in to check on him, and we see his frustration – with having to be there, we think.

“How’s it going?” she asks him.

“It’s terrible,” he replies. Okay, we think, of course he find this terrible. This is Tim Riggins, for god’s sake. Then he adds, “We’re only getting an 8.6 – they’re kicking our ass.”

You do not expect him to invest anything in amateur girls gymnastics. The fact that he does makes him utterly irresistible.

And, as I think is probably true of most contradictions of character, at a deeper level it’s not contradictory at all. It’s very true of his competitive spirit, but mostly that drive is obscured by his bad behaviour. So in a way it’s a moment where we get to see him clearly – we get to see a sign of the life below the exterior. Which is what good writing’s all about.

Friday Night Lights: what I learnt about writing a sex scene from watching football

I just finished watching all five seasons of this little show called Friday Night Lights. It took me one week. It’s probably just because I’m still all mixed up in the joy of it, but right now it’s my favourite damn tv show ever.

I’ll probably have a bit to say about it, if you’ll bear with me.

But today I just wanted to focus on a specific thing: The Football. I know nothing about American football. I’m not a hugely sporty person. But the matches in this show are one hundred percent riveting.

I realised why, half way through season three (I know, it took me a while). Our beloved quarterback, Matt, who was never meant to be a superstar but has grown beyond what he thought he could be since the limelight was forced onto him, is being edged out by a much younger kid with a killer arm. The team he’s given everything to, the coach who means everything to him, are under pressure to replace him.

It doesn’t help that the new kid’s dad makes you want to hit him every time he opens his mouth.

So they’re playing an important game, and alternating between quarterbacks. Then the new kid starts winning the game, and he gets Matt’s plays. It is devastating, nail-biting stuff. I was leaping up and down willing Matt over the touchdown line.

It’s obvious, but it took that game for me to really get it: the personal drama of the characters develops throughout the game. For the best dramatic effect – and maybe it’s no coincidence that game brought it home to me – something intensely personal is at stake, and depends entirely on the outcome of the game. But no matter how obvious or subtle, life-changing or thematic the stake is, every player goes in there to win or lose something.

Jenny Crusie says a sex scene is like an argument; someone wins, and someone loses. I’ve always loved that approach, and we all know that unless the sex moves the story forward, you have no business putting it in your book.

The football matches of Friday Night Lights have given me much clearer ideas about how this is done. There should be big, personal stakes. Each player should go in with a clear idea of what they intend to achieve, knowing they are going to battle with someone who has a contradictory set of objectives. It should take something, to win.