This is it. Tonight is the final episode on Friday Night Lights on DirecTV (it’ll air on NBC starting in April). It’s hard to believe that, after five season, this incredibly beautiful, creative television series is coming to an end.
In 2006, I remember noticing that NBC was producing a TV version of Friday Night Lights. I thought the movie was OK, but what caught my eye about NBC’s version was that they cast Kyle Chandler to play Coach Eric Taylor. Chandler was one of the stars of my (previous) all-time favorite show, Homefront, back in the early 90s. He’s also from Loganville, which is mere minutes from my home and an alumnus of the University of Georgia, my alma mater.
The previews looked good, so I knew I wanted to give FNL a shot. I was wary, because I have a long history of falling in love with shows that wind up not lasting. That fear, of course, came dangerously close to becoming a reality more than once.
From the start, I became wrapped up in the story of Coach Taylor, his wife Tami (Connie Britton) and daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), along with the football team and the rest of the town of Dillon, Texas. The show was clearly innovative. Handheld camera work and loose, improv-ish dialogue didn’t feel like a documentary; rather you felt like you were there with the characters. The characters were realistic, just like people you’d run into in a small Southern town. The accents were authentic (thank God). The relationships rang true. It was like nothing on TV.
Season 1 followed the Dillon Panthers to the state championships under the leadership of second-string QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), who was forced into the first-string role when golden-boy quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) was paralyzed in the first game of the season. Season 2 stumbled a bit, but was still head and shoulders above most shows; it was (possibly mercifully) shortened by the strike. NBC was too ready to pull the plug after both seasons. After the second, DirecTV stepped in to save the show in an agreement that would allow the satellite provider to air the show before NBC did.
Season 3 saw some shifts in the show, as star player Smash Williams (Gaius Charles) went off to school and others, such as Saracen and bad boy Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), along with “the girls,” Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) and Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) graduated. The big bombshell came at the end of the season, when the school board sent Coach Taylor to East Dillon, the school on the poor side of town, to revive the football program there. Season 4 debuted some great new characters like Vince (Michael B Jordan), who plays football to avoid jail time, Jess (Jurnee Smollett), and Luke (Matt Lauria) and included “The Son,” the best-written episode of television ever. I won’t go into Season 5, just to avoid spoilers (although I will say that the producers wasted a character in Hastings Ruckle, who has done virtually nothing all season, instead of promoting Tinker, played by LaMarcus Tinker, to full cast member status).
FNL hasn’t been afraid to tackle tough topics like racism, infidelity, abortion, steroid use, aging, drug abuse, death, and meddlesome boosters and parents. It’s a rare show where families regularly attend church, usually willingly. The music is second to none; in addition to the two incredible soundtracks, I’ve downloaded hundreds of songs over the last five years, and I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming release of the show’s score. I’d buy that too. This is a show that should’ve won Emmys galore and should’ve had a fan base that was exponentially higher than it had, but it didn’t. I’ve always felt like the show was a special secret I shared with a few others.
And now, like all good things, Friday Night Lights has to come to an end. I’m sure it’ll be a truly poignant, and probably sad, episode, but I look forward to a satisfying conclusion to a show that I’ll unashamedly call my favorite show of all time. Farewell, FNL. We’ll always have DVDs.