Friday Night Lights + My So-Called Life

Double feature:  Like your high school drama as self-serious and insular as possible? Then “Friday Night Lights” and “My So-Called Life” are for you.  Conversations in both series are at an emotional pitch where “small talk” is impossible, no matter how trivial the words being exchanged. Grainy images with near-bleeding colors give a sense of worlds simultaneously dissolving, or cohering, in every frame.

Beyond their similar visuals and shared intensity, these two absorbing shows also overlap in archetypes – the bad boy with little-to-no parental presence, shearling coat, and ache-inducing beauty; the ardently fumbling straight arrow frustrated by his own goodness; the troubled party girl who dreams past her town but is at risk of remaining marooned there.

There is angst enough to go around in both shows, but “My So-Called Life” disproportionately focuses on its lead character’s burden thereof, and her evolving relationship with it.  This single locus of attention, in contrast to the more equitably wandering eye of “Friday Night Lights,” points to one of the most significant differences between these otherwise reminiscent series.

Where “My So-Called Life” argues for one’s responsibility to the self and its integrity, “Friday Night Lights” makes a case for the self’s responsibility to the community.  The former show excuses egotism and betrayal as self-defense mechanisms for developing personalities.  The latter does not, arguing instead that the highest forms of self-development involve becoming a valued member of a group.

Where friends in “My So-Called Life” tell each other what they want to hear, abetting in ego-preserving delusions, those in “Friday Night Lights” are more inclined to tell it like it is, comfortably unleashing tirades that keep each other in their place.

The two series also differ in their characterizations of inter-generational relationships.  The adolescents in “Friday Night Lights” are much less horrified at the thought of turning into adults – and less uncomfortable with intimacy with them – than those in “My So-Called Life.”  This has something to do with the shows’ varying levels of sympathetic imagination between the generations, along with varying degrees of fluidity in the grown-up vs. adolescent behavioral boundary.

Will either or both of these series make you nostalgic for high-school?  That depends, to a large extent, on the emotional valence of the particular experience you lived through.  “Friday Night Lights” may make you vicariously miss experiences you never had.  “My So-Called Life” may make you cringe in recognition, but also smile upon a period when you had time to luxuriate in the depth and novelty of your emotions, and could give each new feeling its analytical and expressive due.

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Cooking Up A Story” and “-taro” at Flickr)

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