Here’s to God, and football, and ten years from now, Street, good friends livin’ large in Texas. Texas forever, Street. - Tim Riggins (from the Pilot episode)
There is something profoundly misguided, innocent, pessimistic, optimistic, short-sighted, prescient, beautiful, sad and uplifting about that conversation Tim and Jason had at the beginning of the pilot episode. A rather simple statement made by a misguided high school kid that turned out to define the greatest show no one ever watched.
Friday Night Lights is a story about very simple things that remain decidedly complex at their cores. Family is simple. Family life is complicated. Friendship is simple. Relationships are complicated. Football is simple. Football teams are complicated. Small towns are simple. Dillon, Texas is complicated. And while in that pilot episode, in that first half hour, we’d have loved to think everything would turn out for our heroes (Riggins and Street sure thought it would), the writers of Friday Night Lights drove home, with crushing clarity the idea that life (and high school), in its simplicity, is incredibly complex.
The writers took on and managed that complexity by never holding fast and true to television guidelines, especially in respect to its teenage characters. They shuffled folks like Street and Smash off to their own lives in order to make room for the Vince’s and Becky’s of the Dillon-world thereby avoiding the awkward, “Hey, we’re all going to college together!” scenario that’s plagued much, much lesser work throughout the years. Because the show was never about the kids, it was about the town (and a marriage which I’ll get to in a bit). And towns move on and change and new heroes are born and though the faces change, the story stays relatively the same.
See, there’s a certain Americana to the way Friday Night Lights presented its story. A blue jeans wearing, cold beer drinking, pickup driving, back to basics sense of simplicity. But in that down home exterior is a layered story about people and the tale of a town. The first few seasons hammered this point home with sweeping shots of small town life interspersed in the story. Main Street shops closed up with “Gone to the Game” signs in the windows. Dudes repairing stadium lights. Shots of Texas country roads. And the characters were a byproduct of a place. We cared about them because we care about Dillon, Texas and all its intricacies. We cared about Texas the same way Tim Riggins did (does). It’s home. And we rooted for the town and its team as if it were our own.
See this was a show built on the dreams of the young and grounded in the reality of the old. But isn’t that life?
I can’t tell you how much this season’s meant to me - Jess
This final season encapsulated a series about bonds, friendship, love, loss and sports. And the final act, shot over the haunting melody of Explosions in the Sky reminded us of everything beautiful about the show. The players basking, like little kids, in the glory of the Cotton Bowl because football is, at its heart, a kids’ game. The nervousness of the locker room. Coach validating Vince one more time. The Lions taking the field. Vince leading men. The coin flip. The kickoff. Tami and Eric meeting eyes. Vince’s dad showing up. The frenzy of emotion. Matt and Julie in the stands. Buddy caring more than any player. Luke scoring. The Lions falling behind. And Coach giving Vince one last piece of coaching.
We never saw Vince’s pass land. We never needed to. And though we were treated to championship ring shots and State Banners flying, in the end I’d argue that the ends were merely a byproduct of the means. The winning never mattered. What mattered were the bonds, and the people. What actually mattered was watching Luke kiss Becky and board the bus headed for the military life. What mattered was seeing Matt and Julie in a studio apartment together. What mattered was Vince realizing a bright football future. What mattered was Becky on the sidelines, as a coach. What mattered was Jason Street’s name in the locker room. What mattered was Tim realizing he’d lived his dream. And what mattered was seeing Eric and Tami together.
Clear eyes, full hearts...well we’ll deal with that later - Coach Taylor
I always wondered how the Dillon Panthers knew to shout an emphatic, “Can’t Lose!!” The automatic response was one of those television leaps we’re all willing to take when it comes to something emotional and inspiring. But seeing that group of Philadelphia kids respond in silence and confusion to Coach’s line was both refreshing and nostalgic. It reinforced the idea that the football in the Friday Night Lights story was always just a variable in the equation while Eric and Tami’s was the constant.
It wasn’t easy watching the finale, wondering whether Eric would realize his idea of a great marriage (compromise?) was the exact thing he wasn’t able to do. And as he gave the speech to Matt and Julie about why their marriage was ill-conceived, it was noticeable that his criteria for making a marriage work didn’t include “love”. Because at the heart of this show we’ve always a understood a very simple truth: Eric and Tami love each other. In fact, a greater television couple has never existed. Which made his reluctance understand Tami’s needs maddening and his ultimate willingness to leave Texas tear-wrenching. We were all just waiting for him to get there. And that love made is easy to see Coach operate in a new city, with new players, in a new arena. The football never really mattered.
Texas Forever - Tim Riggins
Friday Night Lights is a beautiful show. It is beautiful in its characters, camera, story, message, theme, humor, truth, scope, writing, sincerity, and vision. I doubt there’ll be another show like it.
And as I watched Tim Riggins crack that final beer with Billy, I couldn’t help but see a little flicker in 33’s eyes. And that little eye flutter, that ever-so-slight look off into the distance seemed to tell the whole story of Friday Night Lights. That things start one way and end another. That some dreams are realized and some are shattered. That sometimes you win State and sometimes you lose. That sometimes you get the girl and sometimes you don’t. That your friends hate you and then forgive you. That you make mistakes and then try and correct them. That people leave, but usually come back. That high school is really just the beginning. That football is just a game. That life never works out perfectly, but it does work out. And above all, your home is where your heart is. And your heart is in Texas.
Some final thoughts on an incredible series
Friday Night Lights is the only show I never fast forwarded through the theme song. Thank you Explosions in the Sky, and it got a little dusty in the Norrie house during your last intro.
I never thought I’d be happy for Julie under any circumstance, but seeing her with Matt ended up being an okay thing mostly because Grandma Saracen was so damned ecstatic about that whole thing. Can’t go against Grandma.
Good to get one final moment of Landry preaching to Matt.
I want to know a Buddy Garrity in my life. Or do we all just know a Buddy Garrity already?
Watching Luke board the bus in fatigues was possibly the most bittersweet moment of the series.
Thank you Peter Berg.
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Doug began writing for CinemaBlend back when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles actually existed. Since then he's been writing This Rotten Week, predicting RottenTomatoes scores for movies you don't even remember for the better part of a decade. He can be found re-watching The Office for the infinity time.