Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series Review

Friday Night Lights(NBC)

Friday Night Lights stands as one of the greatest dramatic shows ever on television.  

H.G. Bissinger wrote a book in 1990 called Friday Night Lights:  A Town, A Team, and a Dream about the 1988 Permian Panthers and the town whose love, hopes and prayers were linked to the team.  It’s considered one of the best books ever written and in 2004 a critically acclaimed film was made.  But the story had so many possibilities that producers decided to take a shot at adapting it for the small screen.

The television version of Friday Night Lights is set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.  High School football in most places is followed but not obsessed over, but in Dillon it’s a way of life.  Nearly all residents of the town live and breathe football 365 days a year and live vicariously through the success of the team.  Women watch the games while getting their hair done in the salon, and the local Panthers radio show is on everyone’s station.

Friday Night Lights  uses football as a backdrop, but ultimately the show isn’t about football, it’s about life.  At least that’s what I say to people who have either never watched Friday Night Lights, or never even heard of  it.  Much like My-So-Called-Life, Battlestar Galactica, firefly and other all-time great gems that went unnoticed, Friday Night lights is a show that never managed to attract the major audience that many thought it would going into it’s first season.  That it managed to stay on for five seasons despite a small audience, remains one of the few examples of shows whose quality is so astounding, that not even network executives have the heart to destroy it.  After it’s third season, NBC struck a deal with Direct TV that allowed the final two seasons to air on their network.  It was a saving grace.

The core and heart of the show belongs to the Taylor household. Coach Eric Taylor(Kyle Chandler), his wife Tami(Connie Britton) and their daughter Julie(Aimee Teegarden).  During the shows five season run you find out that the Taylor family has done quite a bit of moving over the years as Eric has gone up the ranks of coaching positions.  A year here and a year there, the family is akin to a military family who moves from base to base many times.  It’s no wonder that neither Tami, nor Julie feel any real sense of joy at being in Dillon.  To them it’s just another stop on the train.

Throughout the shows five seasons, Eric and Tami provide what I believe to be the best portrait of a real marriage I have ever seen.  They had their squabbles and fights, their intimate moments, their own small crisis’s and of course the difficulty of raising a teenage daughter to top it all off.  Through it all however, both the writers and actors managed to make their love and marriage real, but also kept everything grounded in reality.

Grounded in reality.  I guess that’s a good way of describing half of what made the series so great.  With the exception of one season two storyline, the entire series felt like it could be happening in your own small town.  Plot lines and dialogue were exceptional, often honing in on the more intimate problems and crisis that plague both young and adult lives rather than the bombastic and over-dramatic stuff we are often forced to digest in other shows.

The other half of what made Friday Night Lights so exceptional was that everyone wore their heart on their sleeves.  Of course there were at times deceptions and lying, but most of the time it wasn’t malicious.  Instead people were simply trying to do the best that they could in whatever situations or circumstances they found themselves in.  Like in real life, most of the time we lie or deceive the ones we love out of shame for something we did rather than because we want to hurt them.  Friday Night Lights never lost sight of that.

The show however wasn’t just about the Taylors.  The cast is quite extensive, but other notable characters include star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) who became paralyzed in the pilot of the first season; young and timid Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) who is the backup quarterback and now must face the pressures that come with the starting job, and dating Julie, coach Taylor’s daughter;  Tyra Collete (Adrianne Palicki) a beautiful but damaged girl who’s arc over her years on the show is one of the best.  She falls into a somewhat unlikely on again, off again relationship with Matt Saracen’s best friend Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons) who helps her to achieve goals she never thought she could.  Then there is Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) the head booster who’s daughter Lyla starts dating Jason Street before moving onto his best friend Tim Riggins.

It’s possible that Tim Riggins is the best character throughout the run of Friday Night Lights.  He and his older brother Billy(Derek Phillips) are on their own.  Their parents gone and Billy trying to take care of the both of them.  Tim’s a wreck, and his path to adulthood is filled with ups and downs, but there is not a single character on the show who can light a candle to Tim emotional journey from carefree adolescent, to actually attempting to be an adult.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Friday Night Lights is not really a show about football.  Football revolves around these people, not the other way around.  The show is really about dreams.  Everyone in the show has them.  Some want to stay in Dillon, but many want to get out and see what’s on the other side of the next hill.  It really becomes apparent in the last couple of seasons, but it’s really been there all along.

Friday Night Lights has alot of  highly emotional and powerful moments.  These moments are often dramatic, but not over-dramatic.  There was Jason Street’s career ending injury and it’s aftermath, Matt Saracen’s grandma with early onset Alzheimer’s, his father’s death and so many more.  Some others were as big, but most were small crisis.  Each one however seems like it’s been constructed just in the right way so that it oozes an authentic, intense and often painful or joyous quality depending on the situation.  Most shows often err on the side of too much and it shows.  There is a fine line between dramatic and melodramatic and Friday Night Lights has shown the ability to see that line clearly most of the time during it’s run.

What makes the show wonderful was the simplicity of it’s messages.  There were no after school special episodes to plague the show.  Sure, there were pregnancies, drug use etc., but it was shown as a part of the fabric of the lives of these peoples.  No Bob Saget to sit down one of these people on his knee  and tell they why it was bad, bad, bad that they did whatever they did.  That was Full House, this is a much better reflection of real life.

I urge anyone who reads this review to watch this show.  I can’t express enough just how amazing it really is through words, so at the end of this article, I’m going to post a clip that might be able to give you some insight as to how excellent it is.  And like I said, even if you don’t like football, even if you hate it, you might just still fall in love with Friday Night Lights.

During the show, the there are two terms uttered often during the shows run.  “Texas Forever” was often said by Tim Riggins who wanted nothing more than to stay in Dillon, have his own farm and live the good life.  The other was Coach Taylor’s favorite quote.  He said it at the end of practice, during half time and when it was needed most:

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”

I think we could all do just fine by living by that motto.

This first video shows the opening scenes of the pilot.  You get to see some of the major characters.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series Review

  1. Pingback: The Best Show No One’s Ever Seen « theunconstructivecritic

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