In the course of its five-season run, Friday Night Lights has been a variety of things. The show has been a fantastic coming of age character study, a great sports drama, and a honest look into the reality and challenges of marriage.
It’s also one of the best television dramas ever.
The show focuses on the events surrounding a Texas high school football team, including the head coach and his family along with the players of the team. The series may have seemed like a typical high school drama at first, but it was quick to prove it was anything but.
FNL was never afraid to show emotion that cuts right to the core, but part of that emotion comes from the fantastic character work that was crafted by showrunner Jason Katims and company. At first, each character seemingly fell into their respective high school clichés, but the characters became much more. Each had an aspect of their life that you could relate to, but more importantly, the characters felt alive. You connected to Jason Street as he ended up paralyzed at the end of the first episode, you could relate to Tim Riggins having to deal with his father issues, and you felt for Matt Saracen as he received news that his father had passed away in the line of duty.
Each character jumps off the screen in a vivid and amazing manner that makes them believable. Adding to that emotional connection, each character feels like someone that you would have known in high school: the head cheerleader, the sultry vixen, the neighborhood bad boy, and so on. Due to this connection and experience, it lets the viewers go inside the world and mind of these teens and live their lives with them, instead of feeling like you’re just watching. You get right into the thick of it and the show’s plots play into that.
High school football is an amazing way of framing a sports drama. The show proved that it could make the events on the field just as interesting as those off the field. The tension that built over the course of a game was intense and engaging. These young men were tested and forced to bring their best, week after week. The rivalries between schools became the stuff of legend and got even better when they spilled over into the character’s personal lives. The show glorified the sport of football, but it never took away from any other aspect of it. Often, the football games were used to provide an outlet for escape while presenting new challenges to fight for.
While football is certainly at the core of show, the aspect that kept me coming back was the portrayal of Eric (Kyle Chandler) and Tami (Connie Britton) Taylor’s marriage. Most television marriages feel incredibly fictionalized, yet FNL never fell into the same trappings as other shows. They argued and supported and loved one another in a way that was honest and true, adding to the overall realism of the show.
Most of what made this work was the outstanding performances from Chandler and Britton. Chandler was able to make Eric an incredibly stern coach who you won’t dare want to cross, but was able to inspire and support his players in amazing and emotional ways. Tami certainly fell on the softer side of the parenting spectrum, but she was a woman to be reckoned with. Both of the Taylors were shining examples of what it means to fully love one another.
FNL’s legacy will always be a part of television history and will be a shining example of the trials and experience of life. It was so much more than just a show about football and I feel sorry for those who didn’t watch it because they thought it was. Friday Night Lights has been nominated for eight Emmy awards, two of which are acting nominations for Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler. It’s also been hailed by Time as one the greatest television dramas.
Eric Taylor had a saying he used to motivate his players, which helped to keep everything in perspective and remind his players what they needed to do.
“Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.”
By the time it ended, FNL had lived up to Eric’s motto. The show always had a clear idea of where it was going, it wore its heart on its sleeve, and because of this, the show never lost that emotional drama that kept me glued to my television for five seasons. So even though the Friday Night Lights is gone, I won’t forget these characters and moments that have had a lasting emotional effect on me.