The nice summer weather belies a dark truth: two beloved franchises, one hugely popular, the other sadly ignored, are ending. Let's take a moment to remember, and thank, both Harry Potter and Friday Night Lights.
At first glance, these two things, the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and tonight's series finale of Friday Night Lights, might seem to have little in common. One is a cap-off of the most successful movie franchise in history, itself spun off an insanely popular book series that has infused itself onto the cultural consciousness in a way that little else in these ephemeral-minded times has managed to do. The other is a TV series based on a did-OK-movie based on a respected if not terribly famous book, a TV series that many people loved but very few watched. Why they're practically opposites, these two things! Or are they?
As Sarah Blackwood points out in her gorgeous send-off essay on The Awl, Friday Night Lights, while ostensibly a show about teenagers and football, also managed to offer up some very real and resonant meditations on adulthood, whether by showing people tentatively stepping into it or those who are firmly entrenched within it but still always examining and prodding at its borders. The same could be said, though perhaps to a less detail-oriented degree, of Harry Potter, a story ostensibly about teenagers and magic that, to hear Manohla Dargis tell it, also manages to be about the adults. This is to say both Potter and FNL are so successful — in quality, if not in viewership terms — because they have the ability to appeal to just about anyone, young or old, those in the throes of teenage madness or those standing, still a bit shaky, gladly past them.
And that's why it's so sad to see them both go. In Potter's case the loss may be a bit more personal. The series has been in my life, and I hope for your sake in yours, for a lot longer than FNL. And plus there are those books, the true and bright and obvious core of Pottermania, which already had their own blubbery emotional grand finale a few wild summers ago. When we'd finished the seventh and final book, there was at least the comforting knowledge that there were still more movies to be released, Harry and his lovable band of freaks and weirdos and heroes and villains would still return to us every so often to say hello. Well, after this movie, no longer. The archetypal tale of a boy swallowed up by a big swirling scary world only to somehow triumphantly reemerge a man will finally reach its end, in all forms possible, barring an ill-advised (don't do it guys, seriously) stage musical. And yes, blah blah, we've all grown up with this story and Harry's journey is our journey etc. But really the everyday sadness of the Harry Potter movies finishing their stunning run is that they were such an achievement, such reliable bursts of solid big-ticket entertainment. And now they're over!
No more Maggie Smith in a crooked witch hat, no more John Williams refrain bell-tolling us into another grand adventure, no more awkward ahems and shifting as we began to realize that Rupert Grint was turning into a ginger fox. (You know it's true.) It's been such fun! And it's been such a wonderment, such a giddy surprise that they actually pulled this fucking thing off. When's the last time an eight movie-long franchise was so consistently good? Sure there were some stumbles — overly cutesy Chris Columbusisms, a slightly too muddy sixth film — but mostly these movies were just so damn good. It was always nice to know that, amid all the clanging and squishing of summer and holiday tent-pole movies, the latest Harry Potter picture was likely to be a delight, something soaring and silly and somber and satisfying. Now, no more. Harry's flying his last broom ride. We've all grown up. The world spins on. Sigh.
If you could sum up Friday Night Lights with one sound or motion, it might be a sigh. FNL never trafficked in good vs. evil in the way of Harry Potter, it was concerned with smaller nuances, but in the way that FNL was chiefly about good people trying to do good things in a difficult world, whether on a team or in an Order, the two were cousins. Though based on a movie and a book, there weren't really any expectations for Friday Night Lights the way there were for old mister wizard. No the surprise of FNL wasn't that they somehow pulled it off, it was that NBC managed to make a warm and wise and deeply human show, one that taught us things about people (and ourselves!), that was about football. Football! All-American brutality suited-up and beer soaked. And yet, in this show's shaky and wandering lens, lovely, too. And important, in an unexpected way. You see, of course, the show isn't really about football. Football is just the metaphor for the struggle and grunt and defeat and victory of Life Entire. And while this might seem like a beating-over-the-head kind of theme, FNL handled it with a delicate, warmly winking grace. It knew we were on to it.
The great tragedy of FNL isn't a Potterian melange of orphans and fallen heroes and terrible sacrifices. This show's tragedy is, of course, that nobody fucking watched it. I was once the person on the other side, rolling my eyes about all you devotees, saying "OK, OK, I get it already, now please shut up." Of course I later came to learn the error of my ways, and I apologize deeply to everyone everywhere for this mistake, but so many tragically didn't. But while the show's general unpopularity — NBC dumped it on Direct TV after three seasons, but miraculously didn't outright cancel it — was disappointing in a lot of ways, it was also kind of fun, wasn't it? This little Texan secret, this beautiful swoosh of afternoon light and twanging wistful music that was all ours, just the happy few of us. So, like in Potter, the sad part of FNL became something pretty, too. I do wish, though, that the show's ending was getting some small amount of the fireworks that its English cousin is getting.
I don't know. Basically I'm saying that I'm sad to be saying goodbye to so many virtual friends on the same stupid weekend. I'll miss you, Luna and Lila and Tami and Tonks. Yours were stories told beautifully, and while it's bitter to see them go, it's certainly sweet to have known them at all. Ten points for Dillon House! Clear eyes, full hearts, alohomora! Or something. Goodbye!