Probably, what Friday Night Lights will be most remembered for (other than how it was able to reach five seasons) is its level of sincerity; sincerity that is rarely seen on television.
Friday Night Lights was sincere, humble, down to earth, and real.
That was possible in large part because of a very special cast. A cast that had the talent to not only bring the characters from script to screen, but to do so in a way that made you forget you were watching actors in a scripted television drama. Fully embracing the unique production style of Friday Night Lights and making these characters truly their own, making them feel more like real people.
Seeing how much this cast has grown is amazing. From the originals like Zach Gilford, Taylor Kitsch, Aimee Teegarden, Adrianne Palicki, Minka Kelly, Scott Porter, Gaius Charles and Jesse Plemons to the 2nd generation in Matt Lauria, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett, and Madison Burge. For most of them, Friday Night Lights was their first acting gig. And admittedly, when we first arrived in Dillon, it showed. But to see how they evolved as actors and grew over the course of the series (and seeing where they all are now in real life) just adds to the color of the series.
The grown-ups were excellent too. We could always trust Louanne Stephens, Brad Leland, Liz Mikel, Angela Rawna, and Derek Phillips to make the most of the sometimes unjustly small screentime they had.
And then there’s the heart and soul of Friday Night Lights, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Eric and Tami. Coach and Mrs. Coach. The most flawless performance of a married couple on television. Maybe ever. The chemistry was there. The effortless talent was there. The portrait of sincerity and strength on the series. It is an absolute crime that they both don’t have shelves full of trophies and statuettes.
Finding the right cast for this little show that could, just one part of the show’s magic.
Its unorthodox production style helped make the series unique. The multi-camera, handheld setup made for gritty, documentary style filmmaking that at first turned many people off to the show when it first premiered. The shaky visuals being too much for prospective fans from ever getting into the show.
But it is this style of filmmaking that helped the series feel so authentic. The more fluid production style led to the cast having more freedom with scenes. Executive producers Peter Berg and Jason Katims and the cast regularly note how the actors could move anyway they wanted, with no marks like in traditional television series, and trust that the cameras would always find them.
Friday Night Lights felt natural and real. Like this really was a documentary about a small town that really existed in the heart of Texas. Being able to catch moments like actors breaking during a scene, lines being ad-libbed, and cows in a field wanting to be friendly to Connie and Kyle. They kept it all in and it made a world of difference.
More Than Football
The series premiered during the 2006-2007 season, arguably one of NBC’s best development seasons in recent memory.
On the surface, one might see Friday Night Lights is a show about high school football. And that was one of the reasons many people weren’t inclined to check the show out when it first premiered.
But the show is much more deeper than that. Friday Night Lights is more about the community, their lives at home, at work, at school, relationships, family, friendship. They are dealing with real world issues. Real life situations that many of us may encounter in our own lives.
The stories, so simple, yet so deep, engage viewers, make them relate to the series even more.
Friday Night Lights proved that television dramas about everyday life was just as, if not more compelling than its outlandish, over the top, shock and awe contemporaries. The show tackled issues like war and abortion but never condescending and never cheesy.
It wasn’t always flawless storytelling, but for every misstep, there were 8 or 9 things the show would do right.
Friday Night Lights had something for everyone. Football, romance, drama, comedy, action, politics… yup, it was all there, all seamlessly weaved together.
The Little Moments
One of the signature features of Friday Night Lights was the excellent use of the little moments. The small, everyday moments that anyone could find in their own lives. Whether it be silent smiles or the one word looks, Friday Night Lights has perfected the use of simple, fleeting moments that have more meaning than long monologues or overdramatic scenes other series may have. A simple look, a hug, can speak volumes in Dillon, and much of that is credited to the incredible ensemble cast.
Scenes like a touching moment between Grandma and Matt Saracen or the silent, yet strong expression on Mama Smash’s face or the many moments of Coach and Mrs. Coach sitting on the couch quietly reflecting on their days; they all helped the authenticity and down to earth feel of the series. It all helped to make Dillon, Texas feel like a real town we could all go and drive through tomorrow.
You could be cheering one moment and crying the next (and yes, even grown men like myself often cried thanks to Friday Night Lights). The series is the epitome of MaGMC and in a very good way.
There will always be the question of NBC’s marketing department (as it seems to be with many failed NBC shows in recent years), but much credit also goes to NBC for actively seeking out a way to keep the show on the air and ultimately finding that their relationship with DirecTV didn’t have to stop with keeping the daytime drama Passions alive.
It may seem too soon to be saying goodbye to Dillon after just five seasons, but most people agree those five seasons were a blessing. We were all lucky to have had the luxury of enjoying five seasons of a series that would’ve otherwise been yanked off the air.
All part of the special history of Friday Night Lights.
It has been an incredible five years in Dillon, Texas. It is rare for a television series to have made a connection to its audience like Friday Night Lights has done.
There may never be another television series like it. Friday Night Lights was and is a special series. Unique and colorful. Deep and meaningful. Honest, heartfelt, sincere. Humble, down to earth, and real.
One can only hope the series will not soon be forgotten. And hopefully, future audiences can discover the greatness that was and is Friday Night Lights.
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose… Forever.