Grand Rounds

Why we do the things we do

The Best Marriage on TV: Discovering Friday Night Lights

Ask yourself: “What would the Taylors do?”

I have just discovered Friday Night Lights. I watched it with some trepidation on Netflix, as my own memories of football seemed too valuable to risk in another storyline.  I didn’t think I could share the gridiron with a mere television show. 

So, before you read any further, click here. This is the perfect background music for what I am trying to say. Lou Reed always knows how to capture a mood.

Friday Night Lights has become an embarrassing obsession for me. In fact, I freakin’ dream about the show

I don’t dream about the gorgeous people on the show, though all the people on the show are pretty damn gorgeous. 

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What do I dream about?

I dream about the idea of the show, the feeling of the show, the freshly-cut grass smell of nostalgia that oozes right out of my laptop every time I watch another episode.  I’ve written about the paradoxical fact that I played high school football, but with this show I get to watch my high school football every day, sometimes for many hours in a row.  Like a junkie hooked on clichés, I’ve been mainlining Friday Night Lights.

I want my daughters to date someone like Landry. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I’d want him to be like Matt Seracen.

And of course, like any sentient being, I want to rescue Tim Riggins.

But most important, I want to play football for that coach. 

Because football is a funny game.  It’s the only game that most of us who played sports give up entirely when we leave high school.  Where I grew up, just outside of Kansas City, a bunch of corn fed Kansans and teeny little me running around in football pads that made us feel invincible, it was the only game that could give us abject and unfettered permission to act like total dicks (OK – I’ve grow up now…I meant to write “total miscreants”) or to stand for something in which we really truly believed and to behave in ways about which we could later be unabashedly proud.

You see, you can’t talk about football, and you certainly can’t talk to someone who played high school football, without the conversation itself and the silly bald men talking (in this case me) sounding increasingly old fashioned and corny and ultimately making fools of themselves.  That’s OK, though.  All you need is that Lou Reed song.

There is melancholy among those who played and play no more.  There is remembered pride in going to battle on the field (you see…super-corny), and then shaking hands with the other team after the game.

So, as a psychiatrist and an observer of popular culture, I have been trying to figure out why this show has gotten not just under my skin, but under the skin of an amazing range of reviewers.  Publications as diverse at the UK’s Guardian and New York Magazine have celebrated the show as one of the best television programs ever. What does this show offer?

The show offers marriage.

I love Coach Taylor and I love his wife and I love the way they share the joys and burdens of being a family and of being parents.  I know I’m not alone in this conclusion.  In 2011, The Atlantic called the marriage the best marriage on TV.  Marriage Therapists on NPR have applauded the show’s writers.

If you haven’t watched the program, this might not make much sense.  But if you watch just one hour of the show, you’ll get it.  My wife, who eschews about everything related to football, overheard me watching the episode where Coach Taylor takes the college coaching job and moves away from his family for the summer. 

Two weeks after she overheard that episode, out of the blue one morning, both of us getting ready for work, my wife casually asked me:

“So, does he come back?”

“Who?” I asked, fumbling with the trying decision of whether or not I ought to wear a tie.

“The coach,” she sheepishly responded. “I want him to come back to his family.”

So, how did I respond? 

Here’s the thing: I answered that question by asking myself an even more embarrassing question.  Before I gloated and said something like “Aha! You do like the show,” or teased her and said sadistically something like “Well, you’ll just have to watch the show to find out,” I asked myself this query:

What would Coach Taylor say?

And with that in mind, doing my best not to imitate his Texas accent (that’d be too obvious), I smiled and kissed her on the cheek. 

“He comes back,” I said. “He needs his family and his family needs him.”

Leave it to Lou Reed.

“I want to play football for the coach.”

Steven Schlozman, M.D., is an Associate Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Harvard Medical School.

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