Recently I’ve been rewatching Friday Night Lights, the hit American NBC drama that ran for five seasons between 2006 and 2011. I’ve probably watched it about five times in my life, most times on my own, some times with others but every time I love it. I made the mistake of watching a few clips on my lunch break, which resulted in me wanting to cry and run through a brick wall at the same time, while staring at the bright whites of Google Sheets. For those not in the know, the show is based around Texas high school football in the town of Dillon – home of the Dillon Panthers. Me, being a person who peaked in high school, when I was a high school football player – would obviously love it. It’s pretty much me thinking about the good ol’ days right? Wrong, I grew up in a pretty decent sized city, in Canada where football isn’t that big of a deal. These guys in the show, play in a small town in Texas where the sport is pretty much a religion. Although I relate to the show through the vehicle of high school football, the show itself is incredible for reasons above sports.
The show is directed and shot incredibly well. It’s hard to find shows on television that are filmed like this show is. Often times you can find the camera shaking as it closes up on the face of a character during a tense situation. I think it does this to demonstrate that this show is real and raw, and it really puts the viewer in the room with the characters. And if you’re not sold on the atmosphere in that scene wait till the music hits. The use of music in this show is damn near unparalleled. It’s quite honestly, some of the best musical direction I’ve ever seen in a network television series. They pick all the right moments to play these amazingly dramatic chords and mix them with these thrilling scenes, that weave in and out of character close up’s, action shots from games, and slow mo’s. In these montages, there are so many things happening at once, yet it feels like time is moving in molasses. Everything about the direction just sucks you into the tiny town of Dillon, Texas.
Dillon, Texas itself is a little universe on its own. Peter Berg, the developer of the series had mentioned that the show was not like 90210, where the cast was going to be followed into university. Rather, the show is about Dillon, Texas and the people of Dillon as they live and grow. When someone who has been a member of the main cast for the first three seasons leaves Dillon, they leave the main cast. This provides the writers to spotlight someone else from the town. What happens is that this shows gives you a sense of community. You grow familiar with the local diner, the high school, the streets where the players live. It just feels like a closed little world that you feel very comfortable in. When you turn on an episode, you feel a sense of familiarity with the setting and of course, the characters.
But it’s the characters, the writing, and the acting that ties it all together. Every actor on this show, goes all out on their performance. For five seasons, every member of the main cast and the extended cast just totally sells their role. You really believe that even though these actors live in L.A. or New York, they feel like residents of this small town setting. Personally, my favourite performances come from two of the most popular characters on the show – Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen and Kyle Chandler as coach Eric Taylor.
Matt Saracen, is the backup QB turned full time starter at the beginning of the series. He’s nervous, shy, and quiet – not something that you would expect from the leader of a football team. However, it’s his growth that makes you so excited to watch him. When I was an athlete, I was never the biggest or most athletic, so Matt Saracen, was actually my favourite character in the entire show. He was the everyman who rose to the occasion and did his best no matter the circumstance. Zach Gilford is absolutely outstanding in this role as he’s able to be so vulnerable with Matt. You feel the nervousness with Matt, you feel how timid he is when he asks for things he doesn’t think he deserves. When something bad happens, you can hear and see Matt fold into himself, Gilford is incredible.
Kyle Chandler as coach is just breath taking. When coach Eric Taylor says something you can feel every intent he has behind his words. You can feel whether he’s speaking for the best of those around him or if he’s saying something because he’s selfish and hasn’t given much thought to it. But I think the greatest think about coach Eric Taylor is that he is a man of his word. Sure he might not think through everything he says. He makes some decisions on behalf of his family, that are quite selfish, but he makes those decisions because at the time, he truly believes those are the right decisions. And when he makes mistakes, he hones up to them and apologizes if needed. Chandler makes Eric Taylor seem like both Superman and a whiney spoiled adult at the same time. It’s this performance that anchors the entire series as he is one of the series regulars across all five seasons. When I was watching FNL as a high schooler, I always thought that Matt Saracen was the main character, but as the seasons go on, you start to realize that this series is actually about Eric Taylor.
Anyways, that’s enough rambling about Friday Night Lights. This was long, this was kind of niche, and this was kind of boring. I don’t imagine that anyone read to the ending, but if you did, let me know in the comment – have you watched FNL before? Have I convinced you to watch it? It’s one of my all time favourite shows. I laugh, I cry, I get up on the edge of my seat. It’s truly a show that is one of a kind and I find that even after all these years (more than a decade!) I still go back to it to get that feeling of familiarity as a resident of Dillon, Texas.