Friday Night Lights Comes To A Close - #texasforever

I apologize for the cliche, but I was completely blindsided by Friday Night Lights. I started watching it as research for another project, but within the first 5 minutes of episode one, I was hooked. By the time the song Black Betty kicks in during the first Panther’s practice, its impossible to turn away.

Within about two weeks I watched the first three seasons of the show and was desperately trying to get my hands on season four, which at the time was only being aired on DirectTV and unavailable in Canada. Last week I watched the finale of the series and as of writing this, I am convinced that Friday Night Lights displayed one of the best television runs I have ever seen.

The series follows the residents of Dillon TX, a fictional small town that lives and breathes their high school football team the Dillon Panthers (and later the East Dillon Lions). In the pilot episode, the town is crushed when their star quarterback Jason Street is paralyzed in the first game of the season, leaving their dreams of State Championship glory in the dust.

As much a the show is about a football team, its more so a show about people and the trials and tribulations of real life. Its feels real and honest; the characters are not just engaging to watch on screen, they are people you grew up with.

The emotional core of the show rests of the shoulders of Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tammy. I’ve talked about the importance of a series point of view and FNL’s perspective on the world can be summed up by these two people. Very simply, the Taylors believe in people and the power of the human spirit and this belief echoes throughout the entire series.

One of the problems I have with a lot of family dramas over the years has been the rehashing of conflicts over and over again. I love Six Feet Under but by the fourth season I was so sick of Brenda and Nate always either being broken up, or on the verge of it that I just wanted it to be over. What I think is incredible about Friday Night Lights is that Eric and Tammy’s relationship is never called into question. Sure, they have their fair share of problems, but they are the rock in the center of the series.

The Taylor’s are surrounded by an incredible ensemble cast that really cannot be praised enough. Stand-outs include their daughter Julie and her boyfriend Matt Saracen, the reluctant QB who has to fill in for the town superstar. Brian ‘Smash’ Williams who you despise at the beginning of the series but grow to adore over the course of his time on the field. By the fourth season almost the entire cast has been replaced with a new crop of players - this can be the death blow for many series but FNL manages to do it with grace.

The standout of the series though is one Tim Riggins, played by Taylor Kitsch. If the Taylor’s are the rock at the center of the series, Rigs is the heart. He’s the directionless drunk with a slow texan drawl but over the course of the series you can’t help but love him. From his speech in the opening episode - “Here’s to God and football and, ten years from now, Street, good friends livin’ large in Texas. Texas forever, Street.” - to his final moments in the finale, its clear that if FNL is about anyone, its about him. The Taylors are at the core, but if a protagonist is defined by the transformation they make, Rigs takes it.

I may be full of praise, but FNL is far from perfect. The second season is almost entirely a departure from what makes the show so good. It feels as though after the first season, the moderate success of the show was met with notes from the network for bigger drama and clearly it didn’t work. Storylines involving murder and trips to Mexico for mysterious surgeries felt injected into a series that at its core is really about relationships and while it didn’t cripple the series, it definitely slowed it down. But as quickly as they went down that road, the season was cut short due to the writer’s strike and season 3 began with a blank slate. Over 8 months has passed between seasons and the creative team behind FNL was able to get back on track.

Showrunner Jason Katims also developed NBC’s Parenthood, a show that has much of the same spirit as Friday Night Lights but as enjoyable as it is, it never quite lives up to the bar set by FNL. Parenthood is melodrama. Yes, its good melodrama full of great performances and sweet moments, but Friday Night Lights raises itself above. It definitely can be melodramatic, but the show isn’t defined by that. A huge part of this is that every season is a football season, with Coach’s team fighting to get to the State Championship. This injects the show with a purpose and direction, something that Parenthood and other family-oriented soap operas don’t have.

In sitting down to write this, I did a google-image search for something to include in this post. Everything that came up was a promo shot that made FNL look like ‘90210 in Texas.’ Its disappointing to think that might be the legacy that FNL has, because its certainly so much more than that.

"Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose"

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