1/17/09

How Friday Night Lights wrung me out like a rag

My dream girl, the girl of my dreams, is a plot device on the NBC series Friday Night Lights.

Let me explain.

My dream girl is not Adrianne Palicki, which would have surprised me two days ago. Adrianne Palicki plays Tyra, a character who is apparently supposed to be the mutant offspring of some Apollonian Greek God who never appears onscreen because he's pure concentrated attractiveness so undeniable that if he's captured on film it mysteriously melts (I assume this is the implication), and a trailer trash train-wreck whose other daughter is a stripper, played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, seen below in a towel.

Now, when I used to watch Fletch a lot, I had a serious crush on Dana Wheeler-Nicholson -- there's something about her utter lack of personality in that movie, her abject tabula rasa-ness, that almost lets you think she's just really cool under pressure, and not just overmatched by the prospect of being the female lead in a major motion picture opposite Chevy Chase at his most bombastic. I really love her in that movie. Then, she was the tumultuous, bitchy, and laudinum-addicted love interest of, like, Kirk Russell or somebody in Tombstone. Then she disappeared, and popped up again, playing these horrific and de-glammed people. I saw her in an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and her role was to play somebody who used to be beautiful, but then got all this plastic surgery and it all came out wrong and she was ugly and tragic. But the thing was, it just looked like Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, who I had a huge crush on as a teenager, so I'm like WTF! Come on, tv, there ain't nothing wrong with an aging Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. Then she popped up again on Friday Night Lights, as the absolutely hopeless Tyra's mom, the girl who gets dumped by the men who beat her and pops pills to stay homeostatic, until she falls through a plate-glass table and has to be rushed to the hospital by a bunch of drunk 15-year olds.

If you google image search "Dana Wheeler-Nicholson" with safesearch turned off, the first result is a vidcap of her doing what the website describes as a "drunken strip tease!" from, apparently, the first season of Sex & the City. It's pretty worth it.

Adrianne Palicki is one of those people who I find so attractive that it actually makes me recoil -- every time I see her -- with some emotionally confusing mixture of terror, rage, and, well, confusion.

I feel this heightened sense of danger, but I am totally stupefied. I know something very wrong is happening, but there's nothing I can do. Like a cow getting cattle-prodded down the conveyor belt to where the illegal immigrant is standing, knee-deep in the blood of my brethren and fallen comrades, with a rusty old knife to cut my throat. My friends, Adrianne Palicki is that illegal immigrant, and I am that cow. Her boobs might be the knife, or maybe it's the little mole between her eyes, I dunno... this trope needs some work.

So, Landry Clarke, played by Jesse Plemons -- who looks like Matt Damon if Matt Damon looked like a pancake with Matt Damon's facial features carved into it like a two-dimension Mount Rushmore --

is this geek. Actually, to call him a geek is to miss the point, because he's not a geek -- he's the culmination and fulfillment of the secret desires and fantasies of every geek, and he's masquerading as a real geek. He is the secret geek in every geek, the psychotic geek who follows his instincts even though that's exactly what geeks never do. He does all the things geeks don't do, while maintaining the appearance of something uncannily like geekery, like those aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers that look like people but are something else. Here's an abridged rundown: Landry beats a man to death to protect Tyra's honor. Then, he punches a starting quarterback in the face, inciting a lunchroom brawl that turns into a happy-go-lucky food fight, and then back into a brawl, in defense of Tyra's honor and also just because he's pissed. He joins the football team in order to win Tyra over, and then turns out to be unaccountably good at football -- so good it doesn't really make any sense at all, in terms of the fictional logic the show has been working with for, oh, I dunno, twenty episodes. Like, the coach repeatedly calls him "Lance" because he's so ignorable and forgettable and bad at football, and then suddenly he's going into games and making saving plays and scoring touchdowns and doing these implausibly athletic things in practice that have the coach saying "who's that guy?" and giving speeches about how he's "not the most talented athlete on the team" even though he just joined the team after what seems like a lifetime of absolutely sedimentary inactivity only to miraculously see playing time as the tight end (the tight end! the dude's like 130 pounds!) in a must-win game for a Division 1A state champion Texas high school football team. It gets to the point that, in the penultimate episode of the second season, the coach is running through the list of the devastating losses to the team's personnel, the players who aren't practicing that day, and he says, anxiously, "Landry, Saracen, and Smash." So the list goes: the geek who got, like, a two-minute montage of getting run over by people during his first practice because he was supposed to be so inept and is injured because he tripped over a curb... followed by the team's two stars and offensive juggernauts. It makes very little sense, except as ubergeek wish fulfillment. As ubergeek wish fulfillment, though, it makes every sense ever.

So anyway, the matter at hand is, my dream girl -- the girl of my dreams -- she's a plot device on this show. She appears, arbitrarily and out of nowhere, as Landry's "physics partner." She exists because Tyra is, in the logic of the show, the kind of person who Only Wants What She Can't Have, or, to be more precise, the kind of person who Has Something She Doesn't Want, Then Realizes She Might Lose It, And, In A State Of Panic, Goes Through Every Means Available To Possess It Even More Stringently And Exclusively And It Works Because She Can Have Whatever She Wants Which Is Why She Only Wants What She Might Lose, Until Eventually She Loses Interest And Doesn't Want It Anymore.

So the writers, they're thinking, "there is, at this point, nobody who believes that Tyra would be with Landry, and it's such an elephant in the room that we've actually written it into the show. Shit, we had Landry's Father accost Tyra and say 'you could have any man you wanted, so what do you want with my son.'"

(The sine qua non of ubergeek wish fulfillment.)

"So," the writers say, "we better do something -- anything! -- to make this make sense. Time for a plot device!" And thus is introduced my dream girl, the girl of my dreams.

When we first see her, she's just sitting there, across from Landry at the lunch table, being interesting. Knowing stuff. Being smart. Having a ton of pluck and just a zest of sass. Talking about cult movies and independent music. She is, in other words, carefully, meticulously calculated to be the girl of my dreams. She is manipulating me, owning me, conning me, and the bitch of it is, it's not even her that's doing it. It's the writers, the producers, the motherfucking Wizard of Oz. I'm being conned by the whore and her pimp. They cast her, knowing they could cast somebody as beautiful as they wanted, then give her glasses and a silly haircut and, instantly, she would suffer from the "I'm Rachel Leigh Cook and I'm in high school and I have glasses and a haircut carefully calculated to make me look slightly frumpy but also totally quirky and the kind of outfits middle aged women who don't yet know they're middle aged call 'funky'" effect. And they also knew that, in the last analysis, it wouldn't matter if the girl they cast was the prettiest girl in her high school, which she probably was, because she's very short, and Adrianne Palicki is very tall, and Adrianne Palicki is a motherfucking goddess. So, when the girl of my dreams, Jean, my dream girl, is placed side by side in the same frame with the impossibly awesomely named Adrianne Palicki, this six-foot firebrand with the upturned nose and the surprisingly black roots, who doubtless gave any number of junior high teachers incredibly guilty consciences about the content of their fantasy lives, the producers know Jean, the girl of my dreams, will fade into the margins. She'll bleed off the screen. She'll walk in like Buster Douglas, owning the joint, and then be carried out after 60 seconds in the ring with Tyson. The writers know this. They know that the difference between a 9.4 and a 9.8 is the difference between a yellow banana and a banana with a tiny bit of green just right at the top that can't possibly hurt, but when both of those bananas are crowding up your visual field, you can only really see one of them. Adrianne Palicki is that yellow banana. The writers know this. In the immortal words of Mitch Hedberg, "Yellow means go. Green means stop. And red means, where the fuck did you get that banana at."

The writers also know that, when Jean, the girl of my dreams, is allowed on-screen by herself to shine, she will be incomparable (as long as you're not being forced to compare her). Even if she's marginalized by the indominable presence of Adrianne Palicki, her presence is enough to dominate the memory Adrianne Palicki's presence. The writers, the casting directors know this. They know that in a show that has Adrianne Palicki in it, this one -- this person here -- is allowed to be "the ugly one."

"Hi, I'm the ugly one. I'm so ugly and gross and geeky! Want me to make you a mixtape?!" It's sort of like how, in an Ethiopian prison camp, Kate Moss is the fat one. Or like how, in the commercials for The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe, Corey Feldman was the one who wasn't that annoying. It's all relative.

People like me, watching this show because we absolutely love football but also have (unrelated) tiny brain-orgasms every time we meet a pretty girl who has opinions about sub-genres of heavy metal, will keel over and have a wistful aneurism when this startlingly gorgeous, four-foot-nothing creature with the blonde semi-dredlocks says, "My vinyl basically has two sections. Metal and non-metal," even though, in the last episode, she was talking about, like, Elvis Costello or something, because she has to be all things to all geeks, and goddamnit, she is everything to me. She mentions, probably for the first time in the history of network telvision, Carcass, Napalm Death, and, like, Agoraphobic Nosebleed or somebdoy, in a single sentence, while interrogating Landry about the influences of his grindcore / extreme-thrash band Crucifictorius. It's one of those moments that is calculated to be cherished by nerdlingers like me, and simultaneously digestable as a code for everyone else, signifying clearly enough that she is "in the know" about something Landry is "in the know" about, and that nobody else could possibly care about, and that they are probably the only two people who are attractive enough to put on television, and "and in the know" about this particular subject, in a 500 mile radius. It's sorta like that scene in the David Cronenberg Crash where James Spader and Holly Hunter both come to understand that they'll both really get their rocks off if they do it during a car wreck.

(Incidentally, FNL is the only long-form fictional motion picture I've ever seen that does a credible job of representing what it's like to be at a shitty rock and roll show. This, to me, is an accomplishment on par with setting water on fire.)

You know what she, Jean, the girl of my dreams does to flirt with Landry? Ok, he's like, ragging on power metal, so she makes him a power metal mix cd. Imagine you're this loser, right? And you're hanging out with this girl who is way out of your league. With me? Then, she prostrates herself and gives you a mix cd that has this on it.

You know what happens? You instantly melt into a puddle of goo that spreads out on the pavement and spells out "I love you." I'm so in love with this girl, it's embarrassing. I mean, every guy who watches this show probably finds himself seeing her and uttering, in the cramped quarters of his inner monologue, my single favorite sentence in the history of the world -- "I could love her." But more than that, it's because, from the moment she appeared, I knew I was destined to lose her.

She -- Jean -- the girl of my dreams -- my dream girl -- shows up spontaneously enough, and with so little exposition, that it is at no point in question that she is only present so that she can be accepted by Landry to spurn Tyra into a mortifying seizure of jealousy, and then renounced by Landry, in some kind of pathetically ersatz-Christ cartwheel of martyrdom, in order to win Tyra back. There is no question. And it happens, all in all, in a 3-episode arc that takes a total of maybe 12 minutes of screen time. And in this screen-time, she, Jean, the girl who is inevitably to be spurned and thrown into the metaphorical toilet like so much metaphorically used metaphorical tampon, becomes my dream girl. The girl of my dreams. She appears in the season finale of season 2, only to look crushed, disheartened, ashamed and alone when she sees Landry and Tyra walking along, holding hands blissfully and aloofly. Then, she disappears.

According to imdb, the character, Jean, the girl of my dreams, appears in 3 episodes of the series Friday Night Lights. So she's never coming back. This one selfish gesture of Landry Clark's managed not only to crush her and discourage her, to wound her and traumatize her; it also stole her away from me.

This means she's gone forever. In the immortal words of Jacques Lacan -- who I'm pretty sure was talking about something much different -- "the Woman does not exist."

This is only the most extreme example, though. Friday Night Lights has this remarkable way of casting remarkable people who, for one reason or another, haven't been snatched up to let their unfathomable gifts shine on another stage already, and then presenting them, in a way that is only barely believable, as, like, people with normal problems. Like, "Oh, no, the guy who looks like he could be cast in a TV show as the star quarterback, who is, on this TV show, the star quarterback, gets paralyzed... in a game of football!" Or, "the girl who looks like she could make Hugh Hefner's leg crank like Thumper Rabbit's is, get this, deeply religious and sleeping with her paralyzed boyfriend's best friend!" It is a show that is almost entirely made up of conventional commonplace tropes that somehow just manage to avoid being cliches and become, by some ineffable act of movie magic grace, absolutely fucking breathtaking. I don't get it.

I love this show, even as every fiber of my being is screaming at me, "this show is trying to make you love it!" It doesn't matter. I love it through my shame of loving it, the shame of my own tedious predictability, and I even love my tedious predictability.

Watching Friday Night Lights has done things to me like make me lie in bed and think about how much I think I secretly would have been good at football if I'd gone out for football in high school. I rationalize: in 5th grade, I came in 2nd in the 40 yard dash. In 6th grade, the soccer coach told me I was the quickest player on the team. Surely, then, I could have played high school football, been unspectacular but solid enough. I could have walked on at a Division 1 FBS college, proven my mettle and given a scholarship in my senior season. I could have made a play in a third-tier bowl game, been drafted in the 4th round by a hungry but rebuilding perennially second-class NFC team, impressed with my tenacity and work-ethic on the practice squad, moved to reserves, been put in the game because of an unfortunate injury to a defensive stalwart and team captain, and then impressed so much with my tenacity, good instincts, sticktoitiveness, and raw athleticism that I quickly erased so much as the last vestiges of his memory, then made the Pro Bowl as a third alternate. I'm pretty sure, at some point while I'm telling myself this story, in my head, which is on a pillow because I'm too lazy to get up, I actually believe it.

In my fantasy, I'm a cornerback.

*

Also, Kyle Chandler, holy shit. Why have I not seen this man in anything between Early Edition -- the show that guest starred Fisher Stevens (the guy who played The Plague in Hackers) and prominently featured a pet cat and was based on the idea that a guy got a newspaper from some mystical ghost-deliveryman and was able to solve the crimes that happened tomoorow today -- and Friday Night Lights? The motherfucker just oozes charisma. But more importantly -- when they cast him, why didn't they change the concept of the show?

Hear me out -- Early Edition 2: Saturday Morning Post. A high-school football coach gets the paper a day early, Friday morning, and discovers the outcome of the game he coaches that night! He has a mere 12 hours to game-plan a victory, or his team might miss the state tournament! Fisher Stevens guest-stars!

4 comments:

Tim said...

"So, Landry Clarke, played by Jesse Plemons -- who looks like Matt Damon if Matt Damon looked like a pancake with Matt Damon's facial features carved into it like a two-dimension Mount Rushmore --"

Really, really fab. Epic success.

Joe said...

Didn't you used to have a blog, Sr. Tye?

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