TV Review: Friday Night Lights

Since I reviewed Fringe, which is one of the best shows to ever hit TV, I figured I ought to review Friday Night Lights.

As the show came to a close, I kept hearing people talk about it and seeing people Tweet about it. After a week or two of this, I figured I ought to give the show a try.

I was immediately drawn in by the relationship between Coach and Tami, along with the interesting characters who seem a lot like some of the kids I knew growing up. I love football, so it helped that the show centered on essentially arguing that football for these kids was far more than just a game.

Because any real football fan knows that it’s a lot more than just a game. And if you have played it on an actual, formal team (which I haven’t), you know that even better, I imagine.

So Friday Night Lights takes place in Dillon, Texas, a smallish city in south Texas. Dillon worships football and the town nearly shuts down on Friday nights during football season. The show opens on the day of the first game of the year, when coach Eric Taylor is just starting as coach and his quarterback, Jason Street, seems destined for football godhood. There is plenty of hype and all of the main characters are introduced.

Here are the characters, the actors, and my thoughts on each one. I do this because the show is a character drama above all.

Coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler. Chandler owned this character. He played him with real authenticity, and I like that the writers avoided making him the perfect man. He’s definitely enlightened, but he’s not above letting a shady stuff go on as long as his program isn’t slowed or interrupted. His priority as coach is molding the young men into men with integrity and character. This is crucial to the success of the show. I loved Taylor’s slow burn when things peeved him off; I loved how he learned as the show went on; and I loved over all his devotion to his family.

Tami Taylor, played by Connie Britton. Britton took this character and made her fascinating to watch. She was strong and motivated by love and concern and devoted to her family. She also made her selfish at times and pig-headed– which was great when the coach and her argued. The dynamic of both of them being pig-headed at times was very authentic. I also loved Tami’s arc. She starts off as an overwhelmed coach’s wife being thrust into situations she wasn’t prepared for. Then she becomes the high school’s guidance counselor and I think she starts to really bloom there, while at the same time she began to understand just how important her husband’s work was to those kids.

The relationship between these two people is at the heart of Friday Night Lights and it is a model that is surprisingly good for the world to see. These people make it work out, through sacrifice, humility, and love.

Julie Taylor, played by Aimee Teegarden. Julie is fundamentally a good kid, like nearly all kids out there. She wants to do good things, wants to do right by her family, and wants to have a social life. Her arc is excellent, and Teegarden is deserving of real accolades for her work. She plays a teenage girl in search of herself wonderfully.

Matt Saracen, played by Zach Gilford. Gilford does a great job. He is probably destined to doing character work for his entire career. Matt’s mom left when he was young, his father is off in Iraq on his 4th tour, and he lives with his grandmother, who is losing the fight against dementia. He has a job, maintains good grades, and because of what happens to Jason Street in the first episode, is suddenly thrust into the role of starting quarterback, despite not being endowed with an overabundance of talent. Gilford plays this potentially too-good character, who is on the edge of disaster and a breakdown, marvelously. When his relationship with Julie Taylor begins to really flower, you can see his stress level drop. But when the inevitable breakdown comes, it is motivated well by both the writing and acting.

Tim Riggins, played by Taylor Kitsch. Riggins starts out seeming like your basic slacker with ridiculous talent. He drinks too much, practices drunk, lets a gorgeous girl get away, sleeps with his paralyzed best friend’s girlfriend and overall is a d-bag. But he’s got honor, a sense of right and wrong that might be different but still guides him, and a heart of bronze, if not gold. Kitsch does a nice job with this character. He is understated and seems like an authentic portrayal of a Texas kid who genuinely doesn’t think life in Dillon is bad. Tim lives with his brother; his father took off years before. His brother wants Tim to do more than he did, but enables Tim’s constant drinking and ends up being a less than stellar influence. While I spent some time wishing the writers would get Tim to pull his head out of his backside, I feel like they got it right. He pulled his head out in his own way and ended up being a very interesting character.

Tyra Collette, played by Adrianne Palicki. Tyra’s arc is wonderful. Tami Taylor comes along, shows Tyra that Tyra has the potential for actually breaking free of Dillon’s inertia, and Tyra decides to go for it. She screws things up plenty, makes dumb choices, and surrounds herself at times with the wrong people. At least she was wise to leave Tim Riggins. Palicki is indescribably beautiful and she can also act. I loved her character, the silly murder plot aside.

Jason Street, played by Scott Porter. Street gets paralyzed in the first episode. The exploration of what a gifted athlete does after such an event is excellent, and Porter nails it. His entire storyline is very nice.

Landry Clarke, played by Jesse Plemons. You start the show thinking that Landry’s role is essentially that of best friend/sidekick to Matt Saracen. And maybe that was the original intention. But Plemons’ acting is so spot on, and his character so entertaining, that you’re glad that his role grew throughout the show’s run.

Lila Garrity, played by Minka Kelly. I thought that Minka was going to be a flat actress, but she showed great levels throughout her arc. I think that the writers did a nice job having Lila transform from a slightly blind and devoted girlfriend to the star quarterback into her own wonderfully strong person.

Buddy Garrity, played by Brad Leland. I don’t know if Leland will ever get work again. He embodied the character of Buddy so perfectly, with his smile, garrulousness, and sheer force of personality! I think Leland deserves an Emmy for his work. He played Satan, angel, the deus in deus ex machina, and father so well. Great story, great acting, great writing.

Vince Howard, played by Michael B. Jordan. This character rolls around in later seasons. His arc from jailbait to confident chooser of the right is very well written and acted. Jordan’s got a future.

Brian ‘Smash’ Williams, played by Gaius Charles. Smash is a talented running back who is feeling the pressure to go all the way to the pros and take care of his family, to whom he is wonderfully devoted. Special props to the writers for writing his mother with such force and truth. Great character, great arc, and nice acting.

Luke Cafferty, played by Matt Lauria. I first saw Lauria in the splendid The Chicago Code. He’s a great actor! As Luke Cafferty, he plays a Texas farmboy who is trying to get out of the rut of his life very well. Good work done with this character.

That’s my review. It’s a phenomenally effective show. It bothered me that every girl in the town was beautiful (because it’s Texas, yes, but not every female in Texas has a stereotypically perfect body) and that the show portrays drinking and underage sex as a fundamental norm for high-schoolers. Other than that, I loved the show.

I watched all the episodes inside a span of four weeks.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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