A new feature for a new year! On the last Friday of each month (although, technically this post just missed that Friday deadline), I will be posting a recommendation of stuff I love; TV, film, music, books etc. We kick off with what might be the greatest TV show ever – Friday Night Lights
For the uninitiated, Friday Night Lights is a US TV show that was originally a film, which was based on a book (Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger). The show ran from 2006 – 2011, lasting five seasons. It was – ostensibly – about a high school football team in rural Texas. Oh, but it’s really about so much more than that!
People who watch FNL tend to be fanatical. It’s not a show that you tune into when there’s not much else on, it’s a show you watch an entire season of in one day, not stopping until 3am (true story). One of the wonderful things about the show is how utterly involving and compelling it is, despite seeming not to be about much in particular.
Our central dynamic is the Taylor family. As the show opens, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been appointed head coach of the high school football team, the Dillon Panthers. In the town of Dillon, this team is the heart of everything. It is the pride, their glory and builds a sense of community. As with all things people are passionate about, there is some ruthlessness to the lengths fans will go to, to protect ‘their’ team and what they feel it stands for. The show does a great job of exploring why the success of that team means what it does to the wider community and how dangerous it can be to forget the players (the oldest of whom would be 18) while thinking of the ideal of the team.
And this is why Coach Taylor is our way in, the show’s true hero: because he never forgets that the kids he’s coaching are still kids. As much as he’s teaching them how to be great players, he’s also teaching them how to be adults. Friday Night Lights has become famous for Coach Taylor’s inspirational speeches and there is a danger they could be cheesy, but somehow, they always seem unforced and kind, rather than grandstanding. I think much of this is due to Kyle Chandler being totally brilliant in this role, for which he (eventually) won an Emmy.
The foil to our Coach is his wife, Tami (beautifully played by Connie Britton). Tami is never just ‘the wife’ character, there for our hero to tell his problems to. She has her own career, which progresses across the duration of the show, a complicated relationship with her teenaged daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and is juggling the strains and stresses of being the coach’s wife. Coaching the team brings with it a bright spotlight, not just for Coach Taylor but for his whole family.
They are our central point, our anchor throughout. For the purposes of the show, the rest of Dillon exists around them. This means that many of our other lead characters are high school footballers. But as I said, this is not really a show about football. How they behave on the field and within the team often correlates with what’s happening elsewhere in their lives. These are young men, glorified for their sporting skills, but struggling to cope with the demands of the real world. We have Jason Street, former star quarterback, navigating a life very different to the one intended for him; Tim Riggins, bad, lacklustre attitude towards…almost everything, more concerned with partying than his future and with only his older brother around, he lacks any sense of responsibility – except on the field; Matt Saracen, shy and sensitive, caring for his ailing Grandmother and nursing a crush on the coach’s daughter, Smash Williams, full of bravado and ego but carrying the weight of expectation and Vince Howard, criminal record and a troubled background, but with the opportunity to make a better future for himself.
But it’s not just about the boys: Lyla Garrity, cheerleader, perfect girlfriend, now struggling to cope with major changes; Tyra Collette, self-styled ‘bad girl’ who nobody expects to do anything with her life and Julie Taylor, rebelling against her image as the coach’s daughter and carving out a role distinct from her parents’.
I could go on and on; other major and minor characters that populate the team and town throughout the run of the show, each one fully realised and nuanced. The show does it’s best to show the complexity of human nature – characters frequently make decisions that you know will cause problems, but are true to their nature. Things don’t always work out, because in real life, we don’t always get what we want or live up to our full potential. But somehow, this isn’t depressing and FNL remains one of the most uplifting shows on TV. The show advocates for kindness, fairness and the idea that people can change and achieve, if given the opportunity. In the Taylors, the show has two people who are simultaneously realists, while maintaining great optimism for the young people they look after.
This is not a show about football. It’s a show about real life and real people. With a wide and talented ensemble cast, there really is something for everyone to relate to. I really, really love this show and I will continue to tell everyone I know how good it is. Plus, it has the best opening theme ever:
Go watch it!
Don’t just take my word for it, see below for more parise for Friday Night Lights…