Why You Need to Watch ‘Friday Night Lights’

Tonight at 8pm EST, there’s a few television options for the average viewer. You’ve got the wonders of America’s Next Top Model, the dwindling Jericho, the forensics of Bones and the…well, the less we speak of ABC’s aging comedies the better. And yet, despite all of those options (I’d actually consider the first three to be decent ones), the best show airing at 8pm on Wednesdays is one that you’re not watching, and one that finishes its season early this evening.

That show is Friday Night Lights. And it is what you should be watching this evening. Now, I’ve got a multitude of reasons why I think you should watch this show, and in my attempt to convince you I am likely to use a large variety of football metaphors. In fact, I may or may not equate every single player to a specific position. And yet, I want all of you who might not understand these metaphors to know that the show is not about football. It is about real life, and how football is actually a manifestation of true emotion for these high school kids and for the people in the town of Dillon, Texas. I’ll let the recent Peabody Awards press release make my case for me:

“No dramatic series, broadcast or cable, is more grounded in contemporary American reality than this clear eyed serial about the hopes, dreams, livelihoods and egos intertwined with the fate of high-school football in a texas town.”

And that’s the reality of it; no show has been as successful at crafting a true ensemble character drama in a small town setting, and I was an early doubter of the show’s ability to succeed. While every storyline has not been perfect, and every character has their off moments, somehow it all comes together into something vividly real. While some people like to bash its jarring camera work, I think that it works to the show’s advantage. It makes it feel less like some slickly produced drama and more of a fly on the wall experience.

Which is why this show absolutely needs to be saved. It is the best new drama on television at this moment, and it is absolutely integral that everyone needs to tune in for the Season Finale tonight (And it WILL be the season finale). And, to help convince you of this, I want to present why this show’s characters are so damn intriguing. Individually, so many of them deserve the attention of both viewers and the television academy.

But, much like a football team, this really is a group effort on the part of the show’s characters. They make this thing work together, and as a result I think we need to treat them like the unit that they are. As a result, I present:

If the Cast of Friday Night Lights were a Football Team…

 

Quarterback: Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler)

There are two other quarterbacks on the show, and yet in the end it is the venerable Coach Taylor who is most often forced to make the show’s largest decisions. He has the weight of the show on his shoulders, whether it’s dealing with the running back’s drug problems or a town which is pretty well ready to kill him should the team fail to live up to their expectations. There has always been a strong parallel between Taylor, coaching in his first year after having been assisting for years, and Matt Saracen, the back-up QB thrust into the position.

In the end, if Coach Taylor fails to live up to those expectations as a character the show fails. While he certainly has some assistance from the rest of his team, in the end it’s up to the Quarterback to make the passes and call the plays…and Kyle Chandler has been up to that task all season. The performance is almost always understated, but Chandler has given Taylor a human quality. He can be a hardass in practice, emotionally charged during games, and yet still caring and sentimental with his wife and daughter, or calmly supportive of his players. I can only hope that this great work is recognized in August.

Running Back: Tami Taylor (Connie Britton)

However, the show’s drama can’t just rely on Coach Taylor, which is why it’s important for the Quarterback to occasionally hand it off to a capable running back; for Friday Night Lights, this is the steadfast and level-headed Tami Taylor. Being the Coach’s wife is not an easy job, and she takes on the burdens of it quite often whether in the form of no-warning barbecues to throw or just having to deal with a husband who watches game tape all the time. And yet, that wasn’t enough for her: she went ahead and became the high school’s guidance counselor as well, there to hold up the academic and social standards of football players and students alike.

Every time the show asks Connie Britton to step up to the plate [Ahh, Mixed Metaphors!], she provides a dynamo performance as a character that never backs down, always keeps her smile, and yet is a complete and utter hard ass in the end. As the season comes to a close Tami is refusing to back down from her wish to stay in Dillon, even if it means fighting with her husband to do so. It is a character on which the show relies for its emotional core and its heart, and Connie Britton takes it into the end zone (Right sport this time) every single time. You couldn’t ask for much more out of a running back.

Wide Receiver: Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford)

He may be the quarterback, but in the end he’s the wide receiver in this particular metaphor. He might not be calling the shots, or throwing the metaphorical passes, but it’s his job to bring them in and run with them into the hypothetical end zone. Saracen began the year as a scared quarterback barely capable of playing in the big game, and now he’s heading to State. The pass has been thrown by Coach Taylor, and in playing in and perhaps winning that big game it is his job to catch that pass and take it into the end zone with a strong performance. And yet, all the time, he has to balance the fact that he’s dating the coach’s daughter, that his father is in Iraq, and that his aging grandmother needs constant attention. Much as a wide receiver has to deal with patterns and be aware of their surroundings, so must Saracen, and Gilford does a fine job of portraying this.

The Offensive Line: Smash Williams, Tim Riggins, Jason Street

One is a brash, loud-mouthed third-person speaking running back. One is a drunk womanizer who has thus far slept with his crippled best friend’s girlfriend and his hot neighbour. The other is that crippled boyfriend, recovering from an injury on the football field and fighting his way back into society. They’re the offensive line in this scenario because…well, because they are. The Offensive line is meant to protect the quarterback, and really that what there folks do. They’re there to ensure that the Coach succeeds, and on the field they do so. Even Jason, now, is coaching the team, standing on the front line once again. Yeah, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but it works.

The Defensive Line: Tyra Colette, Lyla Garrity, Julie Taylor

Three females, each with their own centres of strength, and each with their own ways of undermining the offense. Julie is a teenager, set in her ways and intelligent enough to challenge her parents intellectually. She’s always there to question them, to check them, and to block them when they try to move forward with certain plays. Tyra, on the other hand, is like a web of some form. She’s pulled Tim into it many a time, and her behaviour can even be a black hole for a character like Tami who tries to mold her into something new. Lyla is a rather boring character who provides drama between Tim and Jason, having slept with the prior while dating the former, but she’s found new strength in her father’s divorce (She basically went Destruction Derby on his car dealership) and in breaking things off with Jason. They provide the drama, in the end, which I figure is rather important when trying to mess up an offense.

The Safety: Landry

He’s the show’s comic relief on one day, providing fashion advice for best friend Matt Saracen. He’s a tutor the next day, assisting Tim with his English paper or Tyra with her calculus. He’s a comforter the next moment, helping Tyra after she was assaulted outside a restaurant. Landry is capable of providing so many different roles to this show, and as a result he’s the safety, capable of really doing anything in the show’s storylines. I’m half expecting him to deliver a baby at some point, simply because he probably could.

The President: Buddy Garrity

He’s the guy who sits up in the box smoking a cigar and not actually doing anything productive, and yet he has an opinion on everything. He’s not smart enough to be a Coach, so all he can do is make suggestions and hope they’re taken into consideration.

In the end, the reason why I provided all of these metaphors is the fact that I think they go to prove that while the show is a reflection of the game of football, that game has actual real life connections to life in a small Texas town. A football team is a unit, each side containing its own intricacies, and in life like on the field there is drama, there is frustration, and there is reality.

Friday Night Lights isn’t a show about football, it’s a show about reality. When it has football storylines, such as last week’s fantastic Mudbowl, it is visceral and powerful. When it doesn’t have football, such as the fantastic Sweeps month episode regarding sex, it is still visceral and it is still powerful because it keeps the camaraderie, the emotion, the drive of football and simply extracts it from real life situations. That kind of emotion can be found in our own lives, in our own interactions, and the show is more than capable of figuring it out.

Tonight on Friday Night Lights, the Dillon Panthers are going to State. And while the show has recently had six scripts ordered, making it a likely renewal from NBC, we need to make sure that the show is going to next season. We need to make sure that this show, which deserves to head to the Emmys late this summer, still has a home at NBC starting in the fall. The work that producers have done with this show has been astounding, and it deserves its shot at glory. So, tonight, I implore you to strap on your figurative helmet, pop in your hypothetical mouthguard, and take to the field to experience the power of Friday Night Lights.

As the players exit the locker room, they have a chant of sorts: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” Well, the show has its own motto: “More Eyes, More Fans, Won’t Lose.” Let’s keep this motto in mind, and let’s keep this show alive.

2 Comments

Filed under Friday Night Lights, NBC, Television

2 responses to “Why You Need to Watch ‘Friday Night Lights’

  1. Al Pacino

    Al Pacino is still alive

  2. Pingback: Cultural Learnings' Network Upfronts Extravaganza: Preview « Cultural Learnings

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