FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: The Son - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote


June 8, 2010 by  

I have played a variety of roles in my life. Before I was ever a student, co-worker, or friend, I was a son. Born into a crowded house with two older siblings, I was fortunate to enjoy the spoils of a childhood filled with love and affection. My parents taught us to value hard work, education, and friendship. Those lessons stayed with me every day, no matter how far I wandered from home.

On Sunday, May 24, 1992, my Mom died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Losing a parent is a life-changing tragedy, whether you are fifteen (as I was at the time) or fifty-five. There is no better or worse time for it to happen, no paint-by-numbers method to deal with the aftermath. The biggest challenge in the wake of such loss is accepting the realities of your altered universe.

Death is a common device to tell stories on television and in films. They rarely get it right. Without the luxury of time, onscreen grieving has to move at a breakneck pace, lest the audience becomes bored with indifference. In telling the story of Matt Saracen, Jason Katims and the team behind Friday Night Lights took a leap of faith. They trusted their actors to take things slow, and trusted their audience to understand the nuances of mourning.

Zach Gilford may never be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for his performance in “The Son.” It has become an embarrassing tradition for FNL’s best and brightest to fall short of Emmy gold, despite a track record of unparalleled excellence. Normally, these slights irk me as a fan. In this case, I take comfort in the fact that Mr. Gilford will be rewarded with a long and storied acting career on the heels of this outstanding work. In Hollywood, that is a far more precious currency than statues or magazine covers.

If I were Zach’s agent, I would keep three scenes on his acting reel, and let the work speak for itself. Their contents reveal an actor capable of playing a fully transparent character, naked of any self-indulgent melodrama or unnecessary movements.

With his friends in tow, and over the objections of the funeral director, father and son are brought face to (no) face. At that very moment, Matt was stripped of his sense of denial. He was shaken to his core, and anyone with a heart shed tears with him. Whether he was QB1, a pizza delivery guy, or Julie’s adoring boyfriend, Matt Saracen has always been Dillon’s best boy, the epitome of my theory that FNL’s heroes can be unearthed through their manners. No one could wish him ill, and no one could explain why such a tragedy would befall him. It was a moment that Matt had to experience, even as Tim Riggins wondered if anyone should have to face such things.

Because he is a well-mannered young man, Matt could not break his dinner commitment to the Taylors, even if it meant arriving late. A few fork strokes later, after expressing his discomfort with overlapping foods, Saracen’s downward spiral continued. The pain was too much, and the truth spilled out. Matt’s diatribe, where he explained that he channeled his anger toward his Dad in order to be a good person, was timeless. That scene would have fit any time line, any genre, in any era. Matt was angry at his father for leaving him, and angry with himself for turning a man he did not truly know into the villain of his story.

Finally, Matt’s eulogy was a poignant portrait of what FNL is all about. Ultimately, this is a show that celebrates respect, love, and commitment. Henry Saracen’s life in the military may have strained his family back home, but it was an honorable pursuit. His uniform hardened him, and made moments like the toilet paper incident more rare over time. Thankfully, his son understood the value of that work, and offered memories of the better times before laying him to rest.

Other stories moved forward in this episode, including Vince’s dual education on the football field and at the chop shop. For now, I’ll leave the focus on Matt’s story, and invite all of you to share your thoughts on one of FNL’s finest hours.

What did you take away from this story? I would love to read your opinions…


6 Responses to “FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: The Son”

  1. Nicole on June 8th, 2010 5:04 pm

    This was an amazing episode – I can’t imagine how much harder to watch it would be when you can identify so closely with the storyline. I’m really sorry about your mom – I know it was 1992, but you never quite get over something like that, do you?

    Zach Gilford was just incredible – his pain so real. I hope you’re right, that even if he’s not recognized with awards, he is rewarded with a long career playing roles that measure up to his ability. Did you see the movie Post Grad? If not, spare yourself. How hard is it to make a good movie starring Gilford, Alexis Bledel, Jane Lynch, Michael Keaton among others? Apparently harder than I would have thought.

  2. Tessa on June 9th, 2010 6:25 pm

    Really great review for a really great episode. Zach Gilford was so amazing this week. He’s always been able to hold his own (which is impressive seeing as he’s next to Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), but his performance was so powerful this week.

    PopEater is starting a facebook campaign to get him nominated for an Emmy:

  3. Patty on June 12th, 2010 2:16 am

    I caught up tonight. I have watched every episode of this fabulous show over the past two weeks and have to just say THANK YOU to Kath and Dan for talking about this show – I watched it because they love it. Thanks, Erik for writing such wonderful recaps. (that I will be reading every week now!)

  4. Erik on June 12th, 2010 9:16 pm

    Nicole: FNL resonates with me on a personal level, much more so than the other shows I’ve written about. Though I’m sure it is poor form among “real” writers, there was no way I could write about this story without pulling back the curtain.

    It’s funny you mentioned Post Grad, because it popped up on my Netflix recommendation list last month. After seeing the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, I decided to pass. It would be sad to see so many of my favorites struggle to make sense of a bad script.

  5. Erik on June 12th, 2010 9:23 pm

    Tessa: I immediately clicked over to support PopEater’s campaign when your comment posted. Small shows like FNL need fan support to be recognized, and it’s inspiring to see those folks burning calories for a great cause.

    In reading your reaction, I noticed that Kyle Chandler & Connie Britton’s names did not appear in my review. As a HUGE fan of both amazing actors, it speaks volumes that Zach Gilford overshadowed them. There are more words to be written about Eric & Tami’s virtual adoption of Matt, treating him as a son rather than a rival for their daughter’s affection. Count it as item #1 for a post-FNL season review!

  6. Erik on June 12th, 2010 9:30 pm

    Patty: I discovered FNL during Season 1, but only because Bravo was running a marathon and I was sick in bed on a Saturday. However you found Dillon, it is well worth it, right? Season 1 and Season 4 are the best in the show’s run, so enjoy the ride!