Late last night I was flipping through the TV channels and came across an old favorite of mine that I had not seen in a while, Friday Night Lights. With a smile, I stopped what I was doing and turned my attention to the screen. As soon as I heard the familiar melody of the opening credits a feeling like being wrapped in a warm blanket came over me. This is the feeling I get when I remember how much I love a show and how truly wonderful a show is. Whether it is from memories of watching the show with family or having a marathon with a friend, or even just as simple as identifying or completely loving a certain character, this is the feeling that I always get: warmth.Friday Night Lights is no different. I started watching this show after it left the air, when I saw I could stream it on Netflix (which I highly encourage you do). The pilot episode aired in 2006 on NBC and the 5th and final season finished airing in February 2011 on DirecTV, totaling 76 episodes. The plot is based around a high school football team in the small rural (fictional) town of Dillon, Texas (though the show is based on real events from the 1988 Odessa Texas high school football team written in the non-fiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger). But this show is about so much more than football.
As a born and raised fellow Texan, I love this show because it is true to the lives of people in a small Texan town. Yes everyone in town goes to the football games on Friday nights, yes people do wear cowboy boots everywhere they go, yes those thick southern accents are real. But you don’t have to love football to love this show. This show completely centers around the people of Dillon: the coach, his wife and daughter, the guys on the team, the crazy over-involved parents, the cheerleaders, the high school students and their families. Friday Night Lights (FNL) is about people, people picking each other up when they fall, a town full of people that rally around kids in support, people who against all odds become family. It’s not all sunshine and daisies in this show, it is real. It shows the struggle of race, child development, school funding, drugs, and family values. I cried when Smash got accepted to college, cheered when the boys won the big game, hurt when Matt lost his father and laughed pretty much anytime Landry was on the screen. FNL has it all and then some.
Why it worked:
Without getting too film nerdy, the way this show was physically filmed is different than most shows, along with the writing and acting. Basically the writers wrote each script, but the actors were allowed to go off script and improv scenes as they felt their characters would handle things. The actors and camera crew did not block scenes as most normal shows do, instead the actors just played the scene and the camera followed them all around the room. This allowed the show to feel very authentic, as it was in fact authentic. There were almost no rehearsals and most scenes were shot in one continuous take. Also, the whole show was shot in Austin Texas and often used real people in Austin as the extras and shot scenes at The University of Texas, Aggieland and even the Dallas Cowboys stadium! All of this combines to make the perfect formula of authenticity. It is real and not in the way reality shows are “real”.
Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton)
This guy understood what it meant to be a true Texas high school football coach and she knew what motherhood mixed with being a wife and a career woman looked like. Together they had what I believe to be the most honest portrayal of marriage on television. Also, both of them were the ultimate cheerleaders for every character on the show, and they showed audiences how to be humble supportive people. They were the heart and soul of this show.
Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford)
This character is one that is put in impossible circumstances before he is ready and the underdog we all root for. He has a hard family life with an absent mother and father in Iraq leaving him to be the soul caretaker of his crazy but sweet-as-can-be grandmother. This is one of the characters that I think has the most growth over 5 seasons. In season 3 when he receives some horrible family news, Zach Gilford gives one of the most standout performances of the entire series.
Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons)
Landry is the core comedy of this show. His friendship with Matt Saracen and relationship with Tyra Collette are pure and sweet. He is always there to provide a helping hand or a sarcastic joke at just the right time. Landry is the ultimate
Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch)
Though not my favorite character, I feel I would probably get attacked by FNL fans if I did not not mention the shows hunky bad-boy heartthrob. I mean just look at the guy… What’s not to love?
Why YOU should watch it:
You should watch this show because it is pure heart. Because of the way it was filmed and the incredible performances by the actors, you feel like you are truly a part of their family. You will root for the Dillon Panthers and your heart will break when they lose, even if you know nothing about football. Friday Night Lights is fun, heartwarming and has a true spirit unlike any other show.