We are undoubtedly living through the golden age of television, especially the golden age of television drama. One thing that many of the truly great television dramas have in common is the destruction of dichotomies, especially moral dichotomies. Ours is the age of television anti-heroes whose complicated moral decisions and sensibilities call into question the nature of right and wrong, and often force us to see that human beings might make decisions that can be considered either moral or immoral, but its rare that we can confidently apply those distinctions to a person. People don’t fall into binary categories.
That’s why Friday Night Lights might be my favorite TV show ever. If I want moral complexity, I’ll go to books. On TV, I want to like at least some of the characters. I know in terms of quality FNL is nowhere near the pantheon of great television dramas, which is populated by The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, all of which have either have ambiguous or challenging moral compasses, or, let’s be honest, none at all. Friday Night Lights had moments where my suspension of disbelief was really stretched to its breaking point, which is why it can’t be considered a member of the highly venerated top tier.
(Isn’t this show taking place now? Why do none of these teenagers have cell phones? What happened to Buddy’s Hispanic charge? Wait, Riggins was a Sophomore in season 1 yet he’s best friends with senior Jason Street? Does no one in this town keep their thoughts to themselves instead of confronting people at night on their doorsteps to deliver honest confessions or accusations? We aren’t worried that Landry MURDERED a dude in season 2?)
But what Friday Night Lights did have is fantastic characters who often struggled with right and wrong in a (mostly) believable way, and always seemed to find a way to get to right. What Friday Night Lights did was to say that it is possible in the modern world, with its intense pressures and crumbling civic spirit, to figure out the right thing and to do it. That might seem simplistic or even preachy, but it’s not, and it’s actually a harder act to pull of successfully than it is to create a world where people just sort of do things and there may or may not be consequences (I love you Mad Men, but I’m looking at you).
In FNL there is right and wrong. Dichotomies are part of the FNL universe. People are given choices, and they have to do one thing or the other. Does Coach take the job or not? Does he start Saracen or J.D. McCoy? Does Riggins take the fall for Billy or not? Does Jason Street go the Mexican surgeon to get his back fixed or not? (I forgot that one in the list of ridiculous FNL plotlines, along with Jason becoming a professional sports agent with only a high school degree). Does Becky get the abortion? Does Vince listen to his Dad or Coach?
FNL’s binary decisions might be tough, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t types of calls, but they still ultimately result in some sort of breakdown of right and wrong. Likewise, FNL offers its female viewers a similarly difficult binary decision. I do not think this was necessarily on purpose. I’m not sure whether the impossibility of escaping this choice is due to the addictive nature of the show combined with its imperative that everyone has a choice to make. Or whether the male leads are just that good. But I’ve never seen another show create two completely different camps. FNL dichotomizes female viewers like the school board’s redistricting bifurcated Dillon.
Here’s my theory, which I’m calling the Friday Night Lights Grand Unified Theory of Female Desire (FNLGUToFD). I’ve developed it after watching FNL with women, speaking about FNL with women, and eventually testing this theory by proposing it to women. It is based on a few simple axioms.
1) All women LOVE either Tim Riggins or Matt Saracen.
2) No women love both Tim Riggins and Matt Saracen, at least not equally.
3) No women love neither Tim Riggins or Matt Saracen.
4) You can learn a lot about a woman by which she chooses.
This is not so much an opinion as it is a verifiable mathematical certainty. I would write out the equation, where Riggins=R and Saracen=S and all women= W, but I am really not sure how math works. But I know Landry could do it.
Let’s examine our two choices, what they represent, and what they say about the women who choose either.
Tim Riggins, Fullback, #33, Played by Taylor Kitsch
Tim Riggins, or Riggs as he is affectionately known, is the hard-drinking, promiscuous, never-say-die, puppy dog eyed, smoldering piece of brooding meat with a heart of gold that is the quiet leader of the Dillon Panthers. He exudes sexuality, which wafts away from him in fumes that are created by beer being held at a low boil using the energy produced when teenage angst mixes with any and all feelings being buried deep, deep down.
What He Represents:
The bad boy with a good heart.
The difficult and ornery stallion who can’t be broken and who throws off all riders, except the right woman who pets his nose and feeds him sugar cubes in just the right way.
Unbound testosterone production.
The cowboy at the dawn of the automobile. The closing of the frontier.
Pure talent given to somebody who doesn’t know what to do with it.
The early peak.
The carnal gaze.
Unlimited confidence in limited contexts.
The potential energy of stored, buried emotions.
The wisecracking hero.
Indifference in the face of great pressures.
Living in the moment.
The mix of sexual danger and safety that drives women crazy. A roller coaster that looks terrifying but has passed inspection.
Types of Women Who Love Him:
Women that would rather fuck than make love.
Women who use men for their bodies.
Women with daddy issues.
Confident women who know their bodies and what they like.
Women who bungy jump. Women who bike down mountains. Women who surf in shark infested waters.
Women who have done cocaine more than twice.
Girls who loved Jonathan Taylor Thomas and then grew up and became women.
Women who are the exact opposite of all of these things, but sort of wish they could be all of these things. Riggins is their gateway drug.
The Reasons Women Who Don’t Love Him Cite as the Reasons They Don’t Love Him:
He is rudderless, directionless.
He would be a terrible boyfriend.
He doesn’t have his shit together.
He insists on never leaving Texas.
He got through one week of college, and then gave up. C’mon.
He would have trouble being faithful.
He isn’t in touch with his emotions.
He is a bad communicator.
He’s drunk, like, most of the time.
What You Can Tell About a Woman If She Falls on the Riggins Side of the FNLGUToFD:
She values excitement over comfort.
She is in touch with her sexuality.
She would absolutely cheat on you with Taylor Kitsch given the opportunity (and really, who would blame her?).
Matt Saracen, QB, #7, Played by Zach Gilford
Matt Saracen is the nervous, adorably awkward, artistic, and responsible Quarterback of the Dillon Panthers, a role, like most of the roles he finds himself in, that was thrust upon him before he was ready. He is nervous, unsure of himself, but gosh darn it does he know how to dig deep and find a way to get the job done, even if he’s not sure he can. He goes to school, takes care of his demented grandmother, works at the Alamo Freeze, Quarterbacks a state championship level-team and still manages to find time for his needy girlfriend. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he makes it work. Is he overwhelmed? Yes. Does that stop him? No.
Women love Saracen because he speaks truth, even if his voice shakes. Which it always, ALWAYS does.
What He Represents:
The boy blossoming into a man before our eyes.
An honest man doing the best he can with some shitty cards.
Responsibility, loyalty, freckles.
The devoted boyfriend.
The tender lover.
The adorableness of chivalry performed with self-aware awkwardness.
The scrappy underdog.
Rising to the challenge.
The achievability of the American dream through hard work.
Types of Women Who Love Him:
Women who do not sleep with men until the eighth date.
Women who have been with their boyfriend for six years and are only 24 years old.
Women who value comfort and safety.
Women who also think Michael Cera is super cute.
Women who only use “cute” to describe attractive men, and not “hot.”
Daughters of coaches.
Women who stick to the plan.
Hipsters who use ironic distance to protect themselves from the scary, scary world.
Women who have never had a one-night stand.
Women who have normal and healthy relationships with their boring and responsible fathers.
Women who planned their weddings when they were little girls.
Women who value family over everything.
Women who loved boy bands when they were girls.
Guatemalan home health professionals.
The Reasons Women Who Don’t Love Him Cite as the Reasons they Don’t Love Him:
He is not hot.
He’s so whiny.
He would last thirty seconds in bed.
He can’t finish a sentence without using at least three “ums.”
He’s sort of annoying.
He loves his grandma. I get it.
He’s a ginger.
What You Can Tell About a Woman if She Falls on the Saracen Side of the FNLGUToFD:
She values comfort over excitement .
She doesn’t care all that much about looks.
She demands to be treated with kindness and respect at all times.
She doesn’t like sexual positions that make eye contact impossible.
What the Synthesis of Saracen and Riggins Would Look Like (i.e. The Perfect Man):
I choose Coach Taylor. Um…no homo?