Friday Night Lights has a way of captivating me like only a few shows ever have.
Mid-way through season 5, the East Dillon Lions earned a hard-fought victory over a dirty rival squad, the South Kingdom Rangers. Maybe it was the build-up of the long bus trip to the game, or perhaps it was the fact that this was the same school that the Lions had to forfeit to in the Season 4 premiere. Whatever the reason, I was extra-riveted by this fictional sporting contest, to the point where I was fist-pumping and leaping off my couch when the Lions scored or caused a turnover. When the final whistle blew, I got the chills, and turned to my wife and said, “The East Dillon Lions are my favorite football team”.
Sure, that’s a silly notion: a fictional group of high school football players being my favorite team. I know that. Thing is, I love to root for these guys, and that’s ultimately a testament to the superior writing, directing and production of Friday Night Lights. If it strikes you as odd that I am speaking in present tense in reference to a show that has already aired its series finale, that is because my wife and I are about 8 episodes behind on our DVR. We will get there, give us time. That’s what having a two year-old does to your tv catch-up time.
Halfway through season 5, the thing that struck me is that Vince Howard (current QB1 and most prominent player on the East Dillon team – played by Michael B. Jordan) is one of the most important guys in my life. Again, a ridiculous claim, but I find myself genuinely concerned about his well-being. I have a sincere desire to see him find happiness in the end, knowing that the series finale looms closer with each episode. When I began confessing these feelings aloud to my wife I realized that I have felt this way before. I had the same feelings about Jason Street. I felt the same way about Matt Saracen. After that it was Landry Clarke, and then Tim Riggins. Each one individually carried the weight of all or part of a different season of Friday Night Lights as the primary school-aged protagonist. Matt Saracen was just the back up QB in season 1. Landry Clarke was the backup QB’s goofy friend for two years.
I swore I wouldn’t let myself get attached again.
Tim Riggins was a bit of an antagonist with little to no redeeming qualities, yet each of these characters evolved into someone I cared deeply about. Each time the show moved a new character into the forefront as another one moved on, I swore I wouldn’t let myself get attached again. No chance. Vince is just the latest in a long line of characters I sincerely care about. I cannot say that about any other show I’ve ever seen.
The tough part of basing a show around high school-aged characters is that they have an expiration date. Teenagers won’t stay in high school forever, but FNL had a way of moving them on so gracefully. The one constant over all 5 seasons was Coach Taylor and his family (even the school changed!). Kyle Chandler has created a ton of fans based on his expert portrayal of Eric Taylor. I don’t get to see many movies while they are in the theater anymore (again, two year-old), but I went out of my way to see Super 8, and Chandler being in it was a huge reason. Connie Britton, who played the coach’s wife and school counselor Tami Taylor, has also won me over as a fan for life; although that might have already been the case after her turn on Spin City.
I don’t know what the future holds for these beloved characters. I know most of the FNL-loving world does by now, and from what I’ve heard, multiple sources claim it was the perfect ending. That’s high praise for a show that has consistently delivered for 5 seasons. When my wife and I finally arrive at the finale I’m sure there will be more fist-pumping and chills, and if the show causes me to shed a tear, it won’t be the first.
Lead image via DadCentric.com