Friday Night Lights is an American sports drama television series developed by Peter Berg, that is inspired by the 1990 nonfiction book by H. G. Bissinger, which was adapted as the 2004 film of the same name by Berg. The series is about a high school football team in the fictional town of Dillon, a small, close-knit community in rural West Texas. The series features an ensemble cast, led by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who portray a high school football coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor, a high school faculty member. The rest of the primary cast includes characters associated with football and high school.
In brief, since I don’t want to ruin the show for you, I will provide you an overview of the show’s story as a whole. Aside from Coach Taylor and his family, the show explores the lives of the Dillon high school football players. In the pilot, Coach Taylor’s protege and star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) suffers an in-game spinal injury that ends his football career. He faces life as a paraplegic. At first, Street struggles with these disabilities and the upturn of his life. Gradually, he copes with his new reality. Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), his girlfriend, undergoes her own changes, making a transition from a Panthers cheerleader to a Christian youth leader.
Street’s injury allows sophomore Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), who is quiet and reserved, to become the Panthers’ starting quarterback. He eventually dates the coach’s daughter, Julie. Saracen’s father is serving as a soldier in Iraq, so he is the sole caretaker for his grandmother Lorraine Saracen. Saracen receives little help, except from his best friend Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons). Star running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) works to get a college football scholarship. Fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) struggles with alcoholism and complicated family problems. His older brother Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips), while not his legal guardian, serves as Tim’s caretaker. Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) stars as a town vixen who wants to leave Dillon for a better life. Involved with Riggins, Tyra eventually develops a complicated relationship with Landry Clarke.
The fourth and fifth seasons shift focus to the East Dillon Lions, now coached by Eric Taylor. The fourth season introduces several new characters, including Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a talented athlete who has never played football before, but he rises to stardom as the team’s quarterback. Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) is a running back and is romantically with Becky Sproles (Madison Burge), a beauty-queen hopeful who has complicated family issues; Becky also develops a deep relationship with Riggins. Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), an East Dillon student who works at her father’s restaurant and cares for her three younger brothers; she briefly dates Landry and has a relationship with Vince; and shows aspirations of being a football coach. Hastings Ruckle (Grey Damon) is introduced in the fifth season, a basketball player turned football player, who serves as a receiver for the Lions.
So, above I have provided an insultingly short overview of an amazing show that is raw and emotional to the core – a show which allows the cast to impress us with some amazing performances topped by an episode in Season 4, called “The Son” where Zack Gilford, who plays Matt Saracan, gives a powerhouse of a performance. Even the most unemotional of viewers, will feel a strange warmth stir within them when they see that episode. I still believe it is an insult to the field of acting, that Zack Gilford did not win an Emmy for that.
But it’s not just Matt Saracen who draws you in – the story of Jason Street, the star QB whose life changed after a football injury leaves him a paraplegic. From having it all to building his life up again, there is something real in that character which makes you root for him. As Coach Taylor says in one of the episodes to Jason Street – “You lift everyone up around you”. Jason Street had every reason to give up but his courage and his will not to be defined by a life-altering injury inspires you. Even a character like Tim Riggins who is a womanizing drunk, has so many real raw moments where you respect him and his talent. Smash Williams was a fun character who also gave it all to succeed. But what I enjoy the most about the show is how even side-characters like Buddy Garrity, Saracen’s grandma, Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons), Tyra Collett and Julie Taylor all have such well-developed storylines. Even the villain JD McCoy who annoys you right from the beginning, has a well-defined arc.
But the true centerpiece of this masterfully crafted show has to be the power couple – Coach Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor. Both play their roles magnificently throughout the five seasons and I would say it is one of the most realistic portrayals of a healthy and strong marriage on television. It’s not all perfect but they communicate, they sacrifice and they endure. Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor is brilliant – inspirational but not cringy; caring but not sappy – not only does he motivate his on-screen teams but also motivates the viewers – especially someone like me, for whom American football makes no sense and calling it football sounds silly when you run around with the ball (bladder) most of the time. But Coach Taylor and FNL made me enjoy it and actually root for the fictional Dillon Panthers.
Friday Night Lights is the show to stream if you’re looking for an engaging drama to watch with your partner