Farewell, Friday Night Lights

Reposted here, without permission, is my article from The Student Life at Pomona College. A few names redacted. The Season 5 finale of Friday Night Lights aired on NBC last Friday after being broadcasted a few months prior on DirecTV.

With its five seasons finally concluded after last week’s finale, it is safe to say that Friday Night Lights (“FNL”) is about much more than football. Case in point from the finale: as the quarterback launches a long, spiraling, slow-motion pass into the brisk Texas night, the camera cuts to all the characters in attendance, lingering on each of their faces in turn —first friends and families, then players and coaches. The outcome of the game hangs in the balance, but suddenly it doesn’t matter. It’s the people that matter: the residents of the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.

FNL paints a portrait of a contemporary American small town where football is king. The show revolves around Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), principal/guidance counselor, and her husband Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). Both were nominated for Emmys in 2010. Their relationship has been consistently hailed as the “best portrayal of a marriage on TV,” and their conflicts make a perfect target for armchair feminist analysis. The pair shepherd two crops of high schoolers from adolescence to adulthood. Among the students are the strong, convention-breaking blond Tyra Colette (Adrianne Palicki), the stuttering, lovable replacement QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), the Taylors’ sexually rebellious daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), ex-juvie recruit Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan, a talent from “The Wire”), and of course, the brooding heartbreaker Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch).

The show also features Esquire magazine’s 2010 Sexiest Woman Alive (Minka Kelly), a successful abortion (a rarity in TV), a Christian speed-metal band, a teenage girl football coach, and the best parent-teen sex talk you’ll ever see (record it and show it to your kids). There are a few gay characters, and a lot of half-time speeches and “Texas Forever” too. Enough of them for Slate magazine’s Meghan O’Rourke to call the show “singularly designed to make men cry.”

Derek Jeter's future wedding party?

Despite critical acclaim and a cult following, FNL never achieved widespread success, and it only survived past the second season because of a last second co-production agreement with DirecTV. FNL’s inability to make it mainstream may be a product of its lack of a core demographic audience—it was first marketed to men for the football and then to women for the drama. Yet I see this as more of an asset than a detriment: it’s masculine and feminine, teen and family, blue and red state.

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