I come late to “Friday Night Lights.” So late, in fact, that this most remarkable of television series doesn’t exist anymore, which is perfect in itself: it’s hard to top the inspiration that serials worth watching require to keep going, and, even though I’m barely into the third season of this five season wonder, I wouldn’t want any of the incredibly skilled cinematographers and editors (who are as crucial to the look of the show as any of the stars) to eventually lack, or worse yet, feed off of, their past inspiration in seasons to come. Here’s what got me first. That the show was actually cinema. While the innovative cinematographer, Haskell Wexler’s, influence is everywhere–lens to the sun, camera angles that convey something of the rawness and unsettled feel of a Southern landscape–the show’s cinematographers brought a burnished warmth to the characters that Wexler wouldn’t. (Indeed, when Wexler is feeling warmly toward a given person, he lays on the guaze.) But all of the characters–particularly the coach and his wife, played by Connie Britton–come to us with their own High Definition (HD) feelings anyway. Particularly Britton. I had never seen her before this show. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, where her father worked as a physicist, the now forty-four year old actress studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. (Another famous alumn: Diane Keaton.) She first became familiar to audiences on a TV show called “Spin City,” which I have never seen. And I wouldn’t have seen “Friday Night Lights,” either, had it not been for the insistence of certain friends who talked about the writing and casting with a reverence generally reserved for cinema. Britton’s performance doesn’t borrow from the stage–she knows what the camera is for, and what it magnifies, and how improvisation within the confines of a script adds what writers generally can’t think of, since they live their characters in a different way–but from her relationship to the other characters. Like all good mothers, she knows who she is, even as she waits for others to discover themselves, and those aspects of herself that she parcels out, for fear they’d drown in her love and understanding if she showed up all at once. With her long tousled American beauty hair (she won’t give up her young popular Texas girl days for anyone), and “Really?” look of incredulity when her husband or child or student does makes yet another bone-headed move, Britton’s Tami Taylor speaks with a twang and thoughtfulness that dictates where and when she’ll position her body during a particular scene; she’s aware that language is physical and that one’s physicality is visual. Britton’s sun freckled body never threatens to overwhelm the other characters, but she never goes away. She fights for comprehension, even as it eludes her. Years ago, Myrna Loy was always cast as the perfect wife. But surely there’s room for Britton on that mantle, whose directness and truth as a performer rests in our mouth like something freshly brewed–and home grown American.
Posted in: Television– August 14, 2011