7 Tried & Tested Christmas Gift Ideas

Christmas bells are almost ringing, and with it comes the groan of your bank account in racking up the names on your gift-recipient list. However I like to think of myself as something of a gifting guru and with that power comes great responsibility, so onto you I bestow my certified wisdom.

Photographic print canvases

Gone are the days of getting photos developed and storing them in actual physical albums with those flimsy plastic wallets that are really hard to open. Photos exist merely in the digital plane, on our cameras, our memory cards, our laptops, our clouds. It seemed to me then, that the idea of getting something printed, would be even more special. Especially if done on proper, tangible, hang-able canvas. For a couple of years running, I’ve done just this with scenic photographs taken on family trips to Copenhagen and Nice. I use Photobox who frequently have some kind of discount offer going (not that I’m cheap or anything) and the quality of their products has always been high. Equally this gift fulfils my dream of having something I snapped exhibited for an audience (the above photo is currently on show in my parent’s hallway).

A coffee table book

Christmas is as an opportunity to purchase something that people wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themselves. For me, that encompasses a present as basic as a bottle of Baileys, fancy hair products, or even a brand new notepad, which seems a bit insignificant, but just isn’t something I consider necessary when shopping for the essentials (a.k.a. what I can justifiably afford). Therefore a coffee table book – surely the marker of twenty-something sophistication (it means you have a coffee table and probably a flat in which said coffee table resides) – which usually retails at a price upwards of £25, is an immensely great idea. Plus, they’re often pretty hefty, so you get points for showing up to Christmas looking like a baller, AND they’re square or rectangle, making wrapping them up piss easy. WIN WIN WIN WIN.

Here is a lovely list of examples if you need further inspiration.

A hot water bottle

Hold up, I know what you’re thinking. A hot water bottle is not a sexy present. It’s functional and trite. It’s on the same level as socks or towels or shower gel. You might need it, but it exists merely as interim present before you move on to the electronic goods and sparkly things in small boxes. Let me expostulate. (I’ll make it quick whilst you’re looking up that word). A hot water bottle is literally the gift that keeps on giving. Every time the recipient refills their rubbery pouch (that got weird), they’ll think of you (hopefully) and the warmth you bring to their lives, physically and metaphorically. Still skeptical? As I said, these presents are tried and tested and just last year I bought a friend a superbly fluffy number and it was greeted with rapture.

Event tickets

The idea of giving something intangible is often frowned upon at Christmas, because it eliminates the possibility of ripping open wrapping paper with expectant delight. However, I’m a big advocate of gifting an excursion or activity to do with someone, simply because it’s like two presents in one. You get the joy of telling them what you have planned, and then, if you’ve been smart enough to wrangle the other ticket for yourself, you get the joy of sharing the memory with them.

Something personalised

Kind of not cool that I typed ‘nutella’ into Google Images and it knew to fill the blank with my name.

Claudia Winkleman recently wrote about the joy of receiving, and giving, a personalised gift. Whilst I would be a little bit underwhelmed if a jar of Marmite with my name on it were all that lurked in my stocking, I wholeheartedly endorse her sentiment. Exhibit A, I once bought my Dad a Boston Red Sox baseball shirt that has his own surname, rather than a player’s, inscribed on the back. V. v. well received. Exhibit B, I bought my Mum a glass from Not On The High Street (I return to them time and time again when look for something a little bit unique and a little bit chic) that you can personalise to read ‘Mum’s Gin & Tonic’ or ‘Tracy’s Bacardi & Coke’, depending on their preferred tipple or if they like to be called by their actual name rather than defined by the fact they birthed you. Just a thought.

Something homemade

One year when I was particularly skint and feeling more Nigella than usual, I decided to make a little Christmas hamper of sweet treats for my nearest and dearest. I toiled over stove and pan to whip up a selection of chutneys, jams, biscuits and fudge, hand-decorated the labels, tied them up with brown string and in little gift bags and smiled smugly as I bestowed them upon relatives and roommates alike. No-one’s ever told me that the box of shop-bought chocolates were the best they ever tasted, but I have heard that my raspberry jam is a superlative among preserves. (They also told me the fudge was a bit hard, so you can’t win them all).

Stationery

Circling back to the aforementioned brand new notepad, if you’ve a stationery fiend friend (as I am – my go-to childhood make-believe game was ‘offices’, complete with memo pads, appointment lists and a Filofax for my abundant agenda), then some writing implements and a Moleskine journal is an easy way to their heart. I once bought my BFF, who shares my love of the Nora Ephron film You’ve Got Mail, “a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils”, and I like to think it has cemented our bond in more than just writing. Plus, with December generally declaring the resolution of another year (depending on what calendar you subscribe to), there’s no better time to write down all your achievements and everything you’re excited for with the dawn of a new year.

 

 

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Friday Recommendations

First-time female directors, emails that haven’t been leaked and an interview with Rebecca Solnit. It’s time for another Friday of recommendations!

  1. TIME have conducted a special report on ground/record/glass-ceiling-breaking women and it’s well worth your, well, time.
  2. Ann Friedman interviews Kate and Laura Mulleavy, of Rodarte fame, about their debut feature film Woodshock.
  3. This whole creative conceit is pretty cool. Thread.co invite/host email-based conversations between awesome people such as Jenny Slate, Vince Staples and Adam Scott.
  4. Jon Sopel, BBC’s North America editor recaps his experience of reporting on Trump’s presidency. And though he seems a bit caught up in the intoxicating maelstrom of it all, he is scathing with regard to the lunacy of the current POTUS. It’s also very honest about the fact that the madness is unlikely to end soon.
  5. Having experienced virtual reality for the first time this week at the Open City Documentary Festival, I have a new appreciation for it as an art form, as discussed in this New Statesmen piece on the artists exploring VR’s cavernous, dazzling and multi-dimensional possibilities.
  6. Find a way to see God’s Own Country please. It’s tender and terse, bleak and beautiful and quite frankly one of the best British films I have ever seen.
  7. A24 have released a trailer for Greta Gerwig’s hotly anticipated directorial debut, Lady Bird, featuring the ever-brilliant Saoirse Ronan. It looks angsty and awkward and very amusing.
  8. I have been reading Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, a short and sweet ‘how-to guide’ for being a creative in the 21st century, and considering I stole this blog post series from his weekly newsletter, I figured I’d better link to his brilliant website.
  9. See if you can spot Christian Bale in this series of portraits from Vanity Fair, taken at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival.
  10. And finally, an interview in which Rebecca Solnit talks paying her dues, living frugally and the various forms of violence against women.

Friday recommendations

Happy Friday friends, and welcome to September!

Things get meta this week, with a list within a list. Plus, lots of TV and film content, and the multi-faceted effects of global warming, from Hurricane Harvey to tortellini…

  1. I’m a big fan of Naomi Klein’s. She has a formidable knowledge of global politics, economics and environmental policy and she espouses it in a way that’s persuasive and positive. Her take on Hurricane Harvey for The Intercept and why we have to keep climate change at the forefront of our political agenda is further proof of that.
  2. An interesting think-piece on Game of Thrones and its flawed, slash non-existent depiction of female friendships.
  3. This is how you revive the arrhythmic heart of a derailed TV series. Welcome aboard True Detective Season 3, Jeremy Saulnier.
  4. A beautiful assessment of how must-see movie God’s Own Country finds the texture of love in blood, salt and mud.
  5. An inspirational, and aspirational interview with Lena Waithe, actress and writer on Master Of None, on navigating Hollywood with grace and dignity. 
  6. A cool snapshot slash summary of the book cover designs for this year’s Man Booker longlist.
  7. I’m moving home on Sunday, so everything is a bit messy and in flux at the moment, with half my possessions already gone and the other half in IKEA bags. So I’m torturing myself with these beautiful interiors decorated in my fave colour: grey. Utilising every shade from slate to silver, and not a filthy pun in sight.
  8. I went to a Sofar gig in NYC and had a gorgeous evening filled with acoustic music, candles, cushions and friendly people. They’re hosting a bunch of intimate gigs across 60 countries in partnership with Amnesty International to help refugees find a home. In London you can see the likes of Gregory Porter, Jessie Ware, The Staves, Daughter, Kwabs, Nick Mulvey and Kate Tempest. Just go here to donate and enter the competition for tickets.
  9. Not to get too repetitive, but global warming is real guys, and it’s having a very real affect on pasta-making in Bologna.
  10. The line-up for the BFI London Film Festival 2017 is live. On my ticket wish-list are:  (I hope you like lists within lists).
    1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Call Me By Your Name
    3. Mudbound
    4. Amant Double
    5. The Florida Project
    6. On Chesil Beach
    7. Thoroughbred
    8. Ava
    9. Columbus
    10. Gemini
    11. Racer and The Jailbird
    12. The Rider

And that’s me reigning it in.

Friday recommendations

Good afternoon!

I’m back again with a litany of links to articles, videos, music, interviews, trailers and titbits that I liked this week and would like it if you liked them too. Cool? Ok.

  1. The Cut published this compilation of famous women being bold and assertive and unapologetic and essentially using their platforms as women of influence to progress the feminist agenda. Amen.
  2. You know when you read something and just get such life envy? This couple [named Ivy and Audi, a.k.a. COOL, HIP PEOPLE] are furniture designers and makers in Bloomington, Indiana and their apartment is a treasure trove of minimalist design and interesting trinkets.
  3. I have been terrified by both Patti Levin and Aunt Lydia, so this truncated version of the Vox podcast is a welcome insight into how actress Ann Dowd creates her dark and twisted characters.
  4. TV has long been more forward-thinking than cinema, in part because the risks (and therefore the mistakes) are cheaper to make. Not to be cynical or anything. However the upshot of that risk-taking is that TV is head and shoulders above film in terms of representation and inclusivity. This is being reflected at this year’s Emmys with a host of female creatives being nominated for their behind-the-scenes work.
  5. I have yet to meet a person that needs more books on their ‘to-read list’, however when Vulture’s Autumn Literary Preview includes new works from Jennifer Egan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag, as well as icons such as Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton, then I figured you’d be interested regardless.
  6. HOLY SHIT NEW GRIZZLY BEAR. A lot has happened in the 5 years since I became obsessed with their album ‘Shields’ and its scuzzy, moody, anthemic brand of indie music, but suddenly they’re back on my radar and it feels like they never went away.
  7. Daniel Poppick and Jenny Zhang in conversation.
  8. An artist discusses the expedition that inspired her collages. The ink process is mesmerising and the final results are spectacular.
  9. And if that’s given you wanderlust, this photo story about the Brazilian wilderness will do so even more.
  10. Humans of New York is getting a TV show!

Friday Recommendations

Hello. Happy Friday.

As per a fair few newsletters I’m signed up to (more on that in another post to come), I decided to start sharing some of the things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching this week in link form.

Here are my 10 recommendations for this week:

  1. Places. A journal which provides public scholarship on architecture, landscape, and urbanism, which might sound a little dry, but has a wealth of fascinating and insightful essays on everything and anything that relates to a sense of place. The sheer variety gives me a nerd-on. (Like a knowledge hard-on). Anyway, this piece on how neighbourliness breeds liberal politics and curbs your prejudice is particularly good.
  2. This interview with author Victoria Redel on the power of female friendships, published in the mind-bogglingly brilliant Guernica Magazine.
  3. I recently read Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, a book of aphorisms that are precise, yet puzzling. Perturbing, poignant and poetic. It’s published by Graywolf  Press, an awesome independent publisher that champions underrepresented voices and unique perspectives.
  4. I saw a Member’s Preview of the empowering documentary Step, which charts a group of female African-American seniors at a poor inner-city school in Baltimore as they attempt to get into college and win a step competition. It’s got a lot of rhythm and a whole lot of soul and if you’re not whooping and crying at the end, then check your privilege please. There’s a special screening on at Hackney Picturehouse tomorrow.
  5. The trailer for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project dropped this week. His debut Tangerine (filmed entirely on an iPhone)was something of a trailblazer in indie cinema and although this is shot on 35mm, his innovative, joyous, vibrant and intimate filmmaking looks very much alive.
  6. Who are we kidding? Summer is over and done with. There is a thunderstorm happening as I type. Here are some stunning images of the Antarctic wilderness to get you hyped for winter.
  7. This wicked interview with illustrator Leah Goren for The Great Discontent hits so many nails on so many heads. She chats about social media, being freelance, having the confidence to ask for what you want and doing what makes you happy. Plus her illustrations are just lovely.
  8. Also fun bit of serendipity but I was scrolling through Anthropologie, courtesy of Domestic Sluttery, and came across these wondrous cat bowls designed by none other than Leah Goren! They’re currently out of stock, but will hopefully make a return and the mugs are still available!
  9. An interesting project putting the female perspective at the forefront of photography.
  10. And finally, this powerful piece is on the front page of Politico this week. A dissection on the events in Charlottesville, as told by a former Neo-Nazi.

May Culture Round-Up

TV 

I Love Dick, Series 1, Amazon

Arresting and squirm-inducingly intimate, this is a defiant depiction of obsession and desire, in all its forms – ugly, unrequited, unruly. Based on Chris Krauss’ memoir of the same name, Transparent’s Jil Soloway is arguably the perfect helmer for this provocative source material and in her hands it becomes even more cerebral and transgressive.

The art world might be alienating to some audiences, but Kathryn Hahn’s aptitude for awkward charm and Kevin Bacon’s aloof roguishness are enough to keep you enthralled. (If you need more convincing there is a scene where he is shirtless and carries a sheep.) The soundtrack, cinematography and direction are also astonishingly good, with Andrea Arnold taking the ropes in a few episodes, utilising the raw-nerved, hypersensitivity on which she has made a career to sizzling effect.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Series 1, Hulu

Reed Morano has long been a favoured cinematographer of mine. Since seeing her work in Frozen River, Little Birds & For Ellen I have been enchanted by the visceral, vérité-style of her shots and her gorgeous attention to detail. It was exciting news then to hear she’d be given her biggest platform yet directing and executive producing The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu.

A damning and darkly modernised version of Margaret Atwood’s novel, there’s a spiky wit and stylishness which pulsates throughout. Its self-reflexive, pop-cultural nods are put to particularly good use in the soundtrack department, as seen in the first two episodes when Leslie Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ play towards the end. Its spine, however, never loses its morality or for that matter, its chill. Despite the hubristic sense of humour, The Handmaid’s Tale sadly remains a timely tale of female subjugation and exploitation.

The casting is also cunningly brilliant. Elisabeth Moss might just be the hottest property in television right now, what with Mad Men and Top of the Lake also on her CV, and her Offred is another bastion of strength, smarts and vulnerability. Samira Wiley and Madeleine Brewer, of Orange Is The New Black fame, also appear as fellow handmaids, whilst Alexis Bledel as the mutilated Ofglen will make you forget she ever played Rory Gilmore.

This is tense, imaginative and rousing TV. Poignantly performed and executed with exacting technical precision, it’s hard to watch but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.

FILM

Berlin Syndrome (DIR. Cate Shortland, 2017)

Teresa Palmer plays a nervous solo traveller in Cate Shortland’s third and most accessible film yet. As a Berlin-based romance turns sour, and as the title alludes to, escalates into a hostage situation, what begins as moody indie fare turns into something weird, intense and cerebral. The muted performances and consistently menacing, irresistibly mounted cinematography breathe life into a somewhat spare plot. However, predictable this is not. Shortland explores the predator/prey dichotomy with a startling empathy, and eschews the cliché of villain/victim to summon something as sensitive as it can be sickening. As in her debut Somersault, and follow-up Lore, Shortland continues to prove herself a brilliantly tactile and evocative director, weaving a texture at once sensuous and suspenseful. It might be minimalist in design, but the effect is resounding, with the last 30 minutes especially thrilling.

In cinemas now.

BOOKS

The Girls – Emma Cline

I finally got around to reading the wunderkind Emma Cline’s literary sensation The Girls. A novel so talked about its pages were practically curling under the weight of expectation. And sadly, I wasn’t wowed.

The narrative concerns 13-year-old Evie Boyd and her fleeting, though formative experience of a Charles Manson-esque cult, where a ragtag group of women worship their mysterious leader Russell. Cline is especially good at evoking the sun-drenched and soporific landscape of 60s California, as well as the bewildered internal landscape of adolescence that tempt Evie into this world. However, as a reader we’re always kept at a frustrating distance. Evie’s perspective is curbed by her half-hearted initiation into the group. She experiences some, but not all of their deviant activities and in firmly sticking with Evie’s viewpoint, Cline rather limits her own ability to delve deeper into the savagery and sadomasochism of the cult.

As The New York Times so succinctly put it:

What results is a historical novel that goes halfway down the rabbit hole and exquisitely reports back. Then it pulls out, eschewing the terrifying, fascinating human murk…Still, it’s a spellbinding story.

 

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

At a lithe 147 pages, Riley’s thoroughly British novel(la) is all the more intriguing when you consider its being shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction and that other such novels to have been nominated include Hanya Yangihara’s behemoth A Little Life and Donna Tartt’s equally weighty The Goldfinch. It says a lot about the particularity and potency of Riley’s writing that she’s considered among them. And not wrongly so. This lovely, if mordantly sad book, concerns Neve and her strained marriage to the ailing Edwyn. In vibrant brushstrokes Riley depicts quite how she ended up there and in doing so, proves herself an absolute fiend for tight, lucid prose. Take the following:

Back in the summer she’d had a birthday M&S voucher she said she wouldn’t use: did I want it? I did. She’d started her turn then as we crossed the floor to Hosiery: surrounded, as we were, by strange statuary. My mother blenched extravagantly at the gussied-up torsos, blinking hard like someone had flashed a torch in her eyes, saying she couldn’t understand why anyone would buy, wear, matching underwear.

For her sheer powers of observation and her ability to locate humour, tenderness and melancholy in the gut-wrenchingly ordinary, Riley must be commended. It’s perhaps a bit on the scant and under-sketched side for my taste, but it’s easy to relate to her exploration of muddied relationships – whether parental, platonic or romantic.

THEATRE

Woyzeck at The Old Vic

I saw this Jack Thorne penned revival of Georg Büchner’s classic on its first night of previews, which means I had the advantage of being completely unswayed by public opinion, but the disadvantage of seeing quite a nervy and fluctuant production. John Boyega takes on the titular role of a hard-up soldier, struggling with past traumas and drug-induced paranoia, though the setting has been relocated to 1980s Cold War Berlin. He’s a charismatic actor and can more than carry himself on stage, and here he delivers a committed, if somewhat gauche performance. Surpassing Boyega in subtlety and charm is his Irish Catholic girlfriend Marie, played by Sarah Greene (Poldark’s former squeeze apparently!), whose got the tough job of being the stable axis around which Boyega erratically rattles. The supporting actors likewise, bring presence to their occasionally stereotypical characters.

Ultimately this is a fierce and robust play about poverty, masculinity and mental-health, and the set design, music and direction all do well to limn the claustrophobic environment and its increasingly malevolent protagonist. However it struggles to reach the levels of gravitas its so desperately striving for.

ART

The American Dream: Pop to Present at The British Museum

Warhol, Liechtenstein, Pollock – the greats are all on display in this exhibition that claims to chart ‘The American Dream’ in all its monolithic, prevailing and consumerist glory. And certainly its scope is extensive, and impressive: there are more than 200 works from 70 artists working between 1960 and 2014 on displays and art movements including abstract, minimalism, photorealism and portraiture are all touched upon. Ed Ruscha’s pleasingly geometric gas station prints and the orange glow of the California room were particular highlights.There are political allusions – AIDs, gender equality, civil rights, the Vietnam War – but the exhibition as a whole felt too hurried and surface to be exploratory or penetrating.

On reflection, I don’t think pop art is my thing.

MUSIC

Angel Olsen at Camden Roundhouse

Angel Olsen knows how to make an entrance. As the woozy backbeat of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ is kickstarted by her suited-and-booted band, she appears, a few bars in and lets her soaring vibrato fill the room. It’s almost better to have not listened to her latest album in a while; to have forgotten how good Angel Olsen is, because her live performance more than reminds you. The show as a whole is muted and magical, with the volume turned way down low on theatrics or distractions, and the focus solely on Olsen’s enthralling, transporting vocals. ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ and ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ provided energetic interjections, but ultimately this show was an extension of her album: subdued, smouldering and sublime.


Seeing Friday Night Lights with fresh eyes and a full heart

This year saw the 10-year-anniversary since cult-favourite Friday Night Lights debuted on NBC. As a fairly new devotee, I investigate what about the show sees its appeal endure…

The great thing about streaming platforms – and to be honest, box sets before them –  is that TV shows are gifted with a longer shelf life; preserved in ‘recommended picks’ for a new generation of episodic dalliances or fiercely loyal fans.

Stories and characters once banished to the past can live beyond the era in which they aired, ripe for rediscovery and newfound appreciation. Shows that I grew up around and oft heard mentioned during dinnertime discussions; The Shield, 24, Friday Night Lights, The West Wing, I have been able to pluck from nostalgia and finally understand.

I remember my parents trying to describe 24 to me. “You watch someone for an hour in real-time, so that each series makes up a whole day in their life” my mother vaguely summarised, perhaps trying to shield me from the terrorist sub-plots and gung-ho tactics of Jack Bauer. I mistook it for some kind of warped documentary, or a perverse realisation of The Sims. “So you watch them go to the bathroom? When do they sleep?”, I naively inquired. In retrospect, I can almost hear my parents smirking with superiority.

That naiveté extended to my rebuff of Friday Night Lights. Originally airing for 5 seasons between 2006 and 2011, during my prime pre-university years, I was of an age – considered mature – where I would’ve been allowed to join my parents in watching it. But I turned my nose up at the idea of high-school football, heated rivalries and sports jargon.

friday-night-lights-reunion-ew

“You watch One Tree Hill” my Dad protested, willing me to get on-board, “that’s about basketball”. True OTH had bestowed me with knowledge of what a point guard and a layup were, but “its about SO MUCH MORE than basketball” I retorted. I see now why my argument fell on deaf ears. Friday Night Lights far outstrips One Tree Hill in the reputation department, and is most definitely about so much more than high-school football.

It’s not the football games or the tantalisingly close victories that I stick around for. It’s the phenomenally well-written characters. And Taylor Kitsch’s smile.

It’s a paean to identity, morality and family. It’s about romance and first love and making mistakes. It’s about compromise and marriage and making more mistakes. And with a perhaps unrivalled earnestness it tackles the universal theme of following your dreams.

And so the love affair has begun. We spent all weekend together, and I still can’t get enough. I think about Friday Night Lights constantly, especially when we’re apart and I flirted obscenely with the notion of purchasing a Dillon Panthers t-shirt off Amazon the other day.

But why? How has this sometimes corny, slightly outdated show about small-town rituals and sporting obsession exerted a python-like grip on my attention and monopolised every spare hour since I met with the pilot?

The Guardian asserted that “its appeal lies in its optimism”. The Dillon Panthers are the underdogs from the get-go. Written off early in the State Championships, you’re rooting for them to overcome obstacles (paralysis, race, class, tornadoes, rivalry, corruption) all the way to the ten-yard line. But if I’m being honest, it’s not the football games or the tantalisingly close victories that I stick around for. It’s the phenomenally well-written characters. And Taylor Kitsch’s smile.

Across the 35 episodes I’ve watched thus far, the thing that continually astounds me is how well-drawn the individual narrative arcs are and how invested in each story I am. It would be easy for FNL to become the Eric and Tami show; Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are electrically good as Mr & Mrs Coach Taylor. But FNL routinely manages to span and interweave several storylines, without it ever feeling like characters (or at least those we really care about) are being short-shrifted or for want of a better word, benched.

married20

The fact that it excavates past surfaces, and gets to know characters like Riggins’ brother Billy, Saracen’s best friend Landry or Smash’s mother Corrina is testament to the fact that it’s not just the football team and the cheerleaders that get to bask in the spotlight. The show cares about the town as whole and each individual’s role within it. From the pilot onwards we’ve been introduced to the menagerie of Dillon residents whose affiliations to football range from supportive to exploitative. Characters from multifarious backgrounds with manifold intentions exist in Dillon, and FNL doesn’t evince a preference for any type.

Sure, there have been hiccups. Let’s not mention the Landry/Tyra murder debacle, a plotline conceived out of network pressure to amp up the drama, and subsequently the ratings. Or the ill-thought out romantic asides to keep characters treading water (RIP Carlotta and Jackie, victims to circumstance and lazy penmanship).

But the show excels when it sticks to what it does best. And that’s the little things. The frustrations of marriage, and the awkwardness of school corridor encounters with your ex. Julie Taylor’s embarrassment at having her Mum work at her school (something I know only too well), and having ‘the chat’ with her Dad (something I was thankfully spared). When Eric flies off the handle at Tami’s sister for taping over one of his games, the 90s kid in me broke into a rueful grin of remembrance. I’m sure many-a married couple can take solace in Eric and Tami’s sometimes strained, but always loving, back and forth.

tami-julie-friday-night-lights-4533494-2560-1920

What’s more it doesn’t confine its characters to stereotypes. Who can forget the tragedy-tinged pilot that sees star quarterback Jason Street paralysed after an ill-advised tackle? Convention would dictate that his status is validated with glory on the pitch, but in a show determined to set itself apart, that validation must be discovered elsewhere. It’s a bold move and it was only the beginning.

Church-going cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), with her shiny brown hair and perfectly plucked eyebrows is perhaps the closest thing you’ll get to cookie-cutter on this show and even she has her moments of tenacity and rebellion. FNL playfully, and continually subverts the boilerplate identities that high-schoolers are meant to fit into. QB1 Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is painfully shy and cares more about his ailing grandma than partying on weekends. (Who else felt a bit sick when he experimented with open relationships and kissed two girls in one episode?! So not cool Saracen). Drunken, womanising fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is part douchebag, part nicest guy on the planet. I’m surprised I haven’t gone into an arrhythmia the amount of times my heart melted at his gestures of kindness and protection.

It’s harder to like other characters. Not everyone on this show is a hero, nor should they be. Smash Williams and Buddy Garrity spring to mind, both of whom teeter on the brink of obnoxiousness on several occasions. But the writers clearly possess an affection for their characters and rather than consigning them to a certain fate, they take the time to make you reassess your judgments. For all of Smash’s locker-room smack talk and juiced up bravado, it pains him to disappoint his single mother (brought to life brilliantly by Liz Mikel), and there’s a glimmer of sensitivity in his dealings with bipolar girlfriend Waverley. Similarly, Buddy Garrity gets his moment of sympathy when, having been kicked out of his house for extra-marital indiscretions, he takes an ex-convict under his wing.

It can’t be said that every appearance is depicted with such refinement. There’s the occasional aggressive thug or opposing team offender that recalls convention, but where it matters, these characters are packed to the rafters with nuances, flaws and redeeming features.

Take for instance, Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki). The kind of blonde, lithe beauty who might as well be wearing a tiara, because she has ‘homecoming queen’ written all over her. But both the writers, and Tyra, know she has more to offer than that.

In season 1, she’s working at a diner on the eve of a Dillon Panthers game, pouring coffee and explaining the tiresome ceremonies that plague her football-infatuated town to a cute customer. “Just a bunch of overheated jocks too dumb to know they have no future, fighting over a game that has no meaning, in a town from which there is no escape,” Tyra mutters. This isn’t a girl you’ll find at a pep rally anytime soon.

fridaynightlights

It’s in these exchanges that FNL explodes commonly-held perceptions. It allows its characters to dream big, to exist beyond the boundaries that a small-town in Texas might impose. Which is true of FNL itself. The show refuses to liken itself to fellow high-school dramas and evokes classic Greek tragedies more than it does the melodrama of other cable shows.

The greatest thing about FNL is that every pass, every victory, every moment of triumph feels hard-earned. Dillon is a town tempered by struggle and the joy of watching this show is seeing the characters make it out the other side. The persistence and confidence instilled in these players by Coach Taylor, and in the students by Tami, is a lesson that we could all do to learn.  

As summarised in a Grantland piece:

In an era when sports television was supposedly at its nadir, when elite storytelling was supposedly only the work of prestige outlets like HBO and AMC, Friday Night Lights emerged as the quintessential show about American spirit and uplift at a time when the moral and economic bedrock of [the US] seemed most in doubt.

And though that optimism never extended to commercial ratings, Friday Night Lights has found a home in the hearts of many. Thank goodness – like Jason Street did Lyla Garrity – I gave it a second chance.