Although this blog is intended to offer readers a review of a current film each week, I decided to do something a bit different this week and pay tribute to one of the best television series ever to grace the smaller screen. It ended its five-year run last Wednesday, and those who haven’t been watching it have missed a true entertainment gem.
Before it became a television series nonpareil, “Friday Night Lights” was an outstanding film based upon the book of the same name by journalist H.G. Bissinger. The book and the film chronicled a season of the Permian High Panthers football team in the little town of Odessa, Texas.
The television series is set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, where Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), live with their teen-aged daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden). Eric is the highly respected successful coach of the Dillon Panthers football team, and Tami also works at the high school as a guidance counselor.
Although critics raved about the series from its inception, it suffered from low ratings and really struggled to survive for five years. In fact, it was about to be cancelled after its third season until a deal was struck with Directv to extend it for two more seasons that would air first on Directv and then later in the year on NBC. This year it will begin its NBC run on Friday, April 15.
During its time on the air, “Friday Night Lights” built a small but fiercely loyal fan base, but the reason it did not appeal to the masses was the result of the misconception that it was just a show about high school football players. This is really sad because the acting, writing, directing, and shooting of the show were far superior to the same elements in programs that enjoyed a much higher number of viewers.
For those of us who eagerly awaited each new episode, the town of Dillon became our second home, and the people there were our friends and neighbors. Every week we shared in the intimacy of their lives, and we laughed with them during times of joy and wept when misfortune struck some of them.
In addition to Eric and Tami, such characters as star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter), his cheerleader girlfriend Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), hard-running and hard-drinking fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), arrogant running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles), soft-spoken second-string quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), and super Dillon booster and local car dealer Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) became household names for us, and we spoke about them during the week as if we knew them personally.
Throughout its five seasons “Friday Night Lights” managed to address just about every social issue imaginable, including racism, religion, alcoholism, abortion, drug use and abuse, and premarital sex. And it treated all these topics with a maturity, dignity, and taste uncharacteristic of many television series these days.
The acting in the series was consistently brilliant. You won’t find one weak link in this amazingly gifted ensemble cast, and because the actors were permitted to ad lib freely, they came across as completely natural. For example, if you didn’t know better, you would totally believe that Chandler and Britton are husband and wife in real life. Their portrayals of Eric and Tami transcend acting, and the same can be said of all the cast members.
And the scenes that are played out in the different houses in Dillon are every bit as riveting as those set in the locker room. Some of he most heart-wrenching segments in the show take place not on the gridiron but in Matt Saracen’s home, where he lives with his grandmother (Louanne Stephens), who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Stephens’ performance will tear your heart out, and the love and devotion she and Gilford bestow upon their characters toward each other is so beautiful it will make you weep.
The show also always managed to achieve and incredible balance between humor and drama, and that, along with everything else about the show, earns “Friday Night Lights” a score of 10 to the 10th power. All four previous seasons are available on DVD, and the final season begins on network TV in April.
Last Wednesday the lights went out in Dillon for the last time, but for those of us who fell in love with the town and its people, those lights will glow in our hearts forever.