A few years ago, Friday Night Lights emerged on television and quickly became one of the most heart-felt shows ever to be on the small screen. The show presented us with a simple premise: life in a small, football-obsessed town in West Texas. Quickly — through its focus on characters, relationships, and how the two rely so heavily on one another — FNL became much more than just a show about football. Instead, it acted as a lens capturing what life is really like in Middle America.
Sadly, tonight is our final Friday night. The series finale of FNL airs tonight at 9 p.m. EST on DirecTV.
The project originally emerged from filmmaker Peter Berg, who was apparently determined to depict life in football-obsessed Texas. In 2004, he made a film called Friday Night Lights based on the 1990 nonfiction book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, which was the truthful tale of an old oil-based town in West Texas called Odessa where there’s not much more to life than football. In the film, Berg attempted to depict the book’s story of how that world works and how we can relate to it all, but despite being a success both critically and financially, he wanted more. He understood that two hours wasn’t enough time to dig into characters and their relationships. So to truly explore what it’s like in small town middle America, where all you have is your family, your friends, and your football team, he decided to tell the tale of Friday Night Lights in a third medium: television. And in this realm, Berg has accomplished much more than a movie ever could.
At the heart of the show, we have Eric and Tami Taylor (or as fans of the show like to call them, “Coach and Mrs. Coach”) played brilliantly by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Their relationship has become one of the most realistic on-screen marriages ever. The couple deals with the challenges of raising children and the pressures of being prominent figures in a small town community, all while still managing their own issues. Coach is a stubborn, but thoughtful man. He’s a tremendous football coach, but at times, he has trouble separating that world from his personal life. Mrs. Coach is just as stubborn, but as a guidance counselor, understands what compassion means and its importance. Together, their relationship is nothing short of extraordinary — smart, sexy, witty, frustrating, understanding, appreciative. Ultimately, the two are not only in love, but are vital to each others’ existence and, frankly, damn fun to watch.
Then there’s the football players, their families, and their issues. There’s too many to count, but the show is delicate with each character, revealing that they all have their own situations, whether positive or negative. In early seasons, we see Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), a 17-year-old kid who — who takes care of his grandmother with dementia while his father fights for the army in Iraq — deals with the pressures of football, being a teenager, and trying to grow up. Later, we meet Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a kid whose dad is in prison and whose Mom is an alcoholic. Football is all he has, and as he says, it “saved his life” because for the first time, he had something to focus his time and energy on. And of course, there’s Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), the rugged fullback who loves Texas, loves football, but can’t seem to catch a break.
But outside of the Coach and Mrs. Coach and outside of the football players, there’s the town of Dillon — the show’s main character. In the FNL’s most recent episode “Texas, Whatever,” a character from earlier seasons, Tyra, returned from college and summed up the town with one simple quote:
“You know, it’s kind of like this drug: When you get outside of it, you see it for what it really is. But when you’re in it, seems like there’s no other possible reality.”
Because ultimately, FNL isn’t just about football. It’s about a town that doesn’t have anything else other than its football team. To some residents, Dillon is the entire universe; they can’t see beyond the State Champion banners that hang outside the football stadium. But to others, Dillon is a trap — and it’s a trap they can’t escape. They understand that the town’s priorities are backwards, but they’re so caught up in that world that they don’t even know how to begin to untangle themselves. Everyone talks about “getting out of this place,” but in the end, no one really leaves. The desolate, gritty town sucks the dreams out of its residents, and we viewers are left to wonder about their pain.
So in the end, FNL, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for providing us with characters who don’t always do what we expect. Thank you for giving us relationships that we can identify with. Thank you for, simply, being genuine. Tonight, we say farewell, and please, do us proud. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.