Why I Should Binge Watch – Friday Night Lights

Dave Lange

WHAT IS Friday Night Lights ABOUT?

An absorbing drama series that revolves around the Dillon Panthers, a high-school football team based in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. The series is based on a movie of the same name, which was inspired by a non-fiction book bearing a similar title. Kyle Chandler tops the cast as Eric Taylor, the Panthers’ new head coach, who faces a lot of emotional and moral dilemmas, both on and off the football field. Connie Britton co-stars as Taylor’s wife, Tami. A strong cast rounds out what is a full and, at times, complex spectrum of characters.

Original TV Home: NBC, DirecTV

Number Of Seasons: 5 (2006-2011)

Total Episodes / Time Table: 76 Episodes (approx. 41 to 46 minutes each plus a 61-minute series finale) = approx. 55 hours.

Viewing Strategy: You can complete the series in about 3 weeks watching 3 to 4 episodes per day.

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WHO’S IN IT? Top Up arrow

Friday_Night_Sn1_0906_09(1)Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Aimee Teegarden, Brad Leland, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Zach Gilford, Derek Phillips, Blue Deckert, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Stacey Oristano, Gaius Charles. Some notable recurring/guest stars jump aboard as the series goes on. Among them: Liz Mikel, Louanne Stephens, Derek Phillips, Kevin Rankin, Chris Mulkey, Alicia Witt, Michael B. Jordan, Matt Lauria, D.W. Moffett, Janine Turner, Jessalyn Gilsig, Steve Harris, Daniella Alonso, Lorraine Toussaint.

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WHERE IS IT NOW? Top Up arrow

Netflix, Amazon, CraveTV, YouTube, iTunes, GooglePlay and other streaming sites. Also available on DVD (in sets containing individual seasons, or a boxed set containing all five seasons).

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WHY IS IT BINGE WORTHY? Top Up arrow

Friday nights are big for high schools – particularly during football season. And Friday Night Lights explores the complex culture of high-school athletics as well as a lot of issues that might seem familiar to anyone living in a community where high-school football has such a major role.

Although the obsession with football is a big part of this series, so also is the show’s overall high-school setting, which is riddled with the assorted challenges of adolescence. The show’s storylines also tackle many political issues, including economics and education funding, as well as such moral and social issues as racism, drugs, sex, abortion, religion and general family values.

It has been almost 10 years since Friday Night Lights made its debut as a weekly series on TV, but many of the issues it explores are still as big and important as they were a decade ago. And, as sports-themed shows go, this is still one of the best around.

Inspired by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s non-fiction book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team And A Dream, the TV series was a spinoff of a 2004 theatrical movie that had the same title. Both the feature film and the TV series were the creative handiwork of Bissinger’s second cousin, Peter Berg, whose notable acting credits include the role of Dr. Billy Kronk on a medical drama called Chicago Hope. Berg directed and co-wrote the theatrical version of Friday Night Lights and was the creator and an executive producer of the TV series as well. Although both are set in Texas, the TV series takes place in a fictional town and boasts a different set of characters.

Even though Berg was quite happy with the film, “we were limited – it was a 90-minute movie,” he told reporters at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles back in the summer of 2006, a couple of months before the TV series premiered. Wanting to delve more deeply into the social and cultural issues explored in the book, Berg came up with the idea of doing a TV series. “I sat down with Brian Grazer, the producer, and Buzz,” Berg recalled, “and said, ‘Well, you know, wouldn’t it be kind of neat to be able to go deeper and to explore these issues?’”

And explore them they did. One of the core issues that came into a bigger focus was the role of the head coach’s wife and the challenges she faces in fitting into the whole picture. Although the characters had different names, the roles of the coach’s wife in the movie and the series were both played by Connie Britton.

“I got to play this role in the movie,” Britton explained during the TCA press session in 2006. “And we kind of didn’t really do it justice in the movie because it really became a movie about this team of players.” When Berg approached Britton to do the series, “he swore that, in this TV show, we were going to really talk about these women,” Britton recalled. “And that really excited me.”

Friday_Night_Lights_0410_1Britton shines throughout the series as Tami Taylor. So does Brad Leland in the role of Buddy Garity, a local car dealer with a heavy-handed influence on the local football scene and on Coach Eric Taylor. Kyle Chandler delivers a consistently solid performance as Taylor, even picking up an Emmy Award for his work in the show’s final season.

Friday Night Lights also snagged a number of other awards during its run, including another couple of Emmys (for casting and writing) as well as a Peabody Award, three American Film Institute Awards and two Television Critics Association Awards (for Outstanding New Program in 2007 and for Program Of The Year in 2011).

Although many of the show’s cast members weren’t that well known when the series premiered, some of them are much more famous now, in part because the series was a major springboard that propelled them to other high-profile projects. Britton, of course, went on to appear in the first season of FX’s American Horror Story and is now well known for her role as Rayna Jaymes on ABC’s Nashville and for the role of Faye Resnick in FX’s The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. Also particularly notable, among the show’s younger cast members: Jesse Plemons, most recently seen in the second season of FX’s Fargo, and Zach Gilford, whose credits have included such series as Off The Map, The Mob Doctor and, most recently, a new ABC drama called The Family.

On the visual and creative side, Friday Night Lights has some distinctive onscreen characteristics. There is a lot of good, intense camera work, much of it hand-held and deliberately jumpy. Music helps round out much of the action as well. Another unique and clever part of the series is the off-camera voice of fictional sports-radio host “Slammin’ Sammy” Meade (David Cowgill), who sets the stage for many of the episodes by recapping a lot of the details of what’s been going on when it comes to the high-school football scene in Dillon.

Friday Night Lights served up a different number of episodes each season, due to a variety of challenges during its run. It dished out 22 episodes in its first season and was due to deliver 22 episodes in its second season as well. The number ended up being cut when the general strike by the Writers Guild of America shut down production after 15 episodes.

Although the series had been critically well received, ratings were lukewarm for NBC during the first two seasons. The show ended up being saved by a unique co-production deal that had the subsequent three seasons (13 episodes each) air first on DirecTV and then on NBC.

Friday_Night_Chandler_0906As for the show’s storylines, there are many, MANY twists and turns that affect this show’s central characters. To reveal much more would require way too many “spoiler alerts” – a modern-day journalistic term for “just don’t bother reading this story.” Instead, let’s just say this series will pull you in rather quickly and keep you firmly in its grasp.

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MUST SEES … Top Up arrow

The series is heavily serialized, so it’s tough to jump into episodes randomly without having seen some of the storylines leading up to them. Nevertheless, there are some notable standouts …

Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): The debut episode introduces us to the show’s key characters, including the Dillon Panthers’ new head coach, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). It also unveils some of the challenges that lie ahead for Taylor and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), as well as their daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden). The episode sets the tone for the entire series and underscores the sometimes-overpowering obsession with high-school football that exists among the townsfolk of Dillon. It also sets the stage for the Panthers’ young backup quarterback, Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), to find his way into the spotlight. The episode is about more than football, though. As emotional journeys go, it’s one of the strongest introductory episodes to any TV series.

It’s Different for Girls (Season 1, Episode 10): This episode switches gears, focusing its attention on the young female characters in the cast and how many of them are the driving force behind the boys on the football team.

I Think We Should Have Sex (Season 1, Episode 17): The title pretty well says it all – well, almost. The episode explores how 15-year-old Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) really wants to take her relationship with the 16-year-old Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) to the next level.

Mud Bowl (Season 1, Episode 20): This is one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. When a train derailment causes the Panther football field to be shut down, Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) gets an idea to build a replacement “field of dreams” in order for the Panthers to be able to retain home-field advantage for an important playoff game. A surprise rain storm ends up wreaking havoc on the game.

State (Season 1, Episode 22): The final episode of the first season finds the Panthers prepping for the state championship. It’s a fun-filled ride. But there are some other big developments that are about to change the lives of the Taylor family.

Leave No One Behind (Season 2, Episode 14): The second season got somewhat off track, thanks to a couple of plot twists that were decried by many critics. But this second-to-last episode of the season gets things back into their groove with a storyline that finds Matt (Zach Gilford) and Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) both hitting emotional breaking points.

It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy (Season 3, Episode 6): Although the episode title refers to a new character named J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), the big must-see moments in this installment involve Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden).

New York, New York (Season 3, Episode 8): Jason Street (Scott Porter) and his pal, Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), head to New York, where Jason hopes to land a job at a sports agency. It’s a comical and touching journey.

Always (Season 5, Episode 13): The series finale sets the stage for a lot of big changes that lie in store for the members of the Taylor household. It also maps out some intriguing life paths for many of the show’s other core characters. This is also the episode for which Kyle Chandler won his Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. The final video montages are played out artfully and suspensefully at times, with the closing scene providing a fitting conclusion to what has been an absorbing saga.

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MOST SHOCKING EPISODES Top Up arrow

There tend to be tiny shockers that pop up in a lot of the show’s episodes. But there are some episodes that tend to stand above others …

Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): Not only does the debut episode set the stage for the series, but the twist of fate that befalls one of the players sets the stage for a lot of the drama that will unfold during the series. The outcome of the episode is actually a big end run around how you might think things will play out.

Wind Sprints (Season 1, Episode 3): Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) puts his team through a grueling late-night training session in the pouring rain. Afterward, he makes one of his players walk home – which leads to a major plot twist.

Crossing the Line (Season 1, Episode 8) and Full Hearts (Season 1, Episode 9): The friendship between best pals Jason Spark (Scott Porter) and Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) encounters a bitter confrontation.

Nevermind (Season 1, Episode 11): Matt (Zach Gilford) endures some mixed feelings when his father, Henry (Brent Smiga), comes home from his tour of duty in Iraq.

What to Do While You’re Waiting (Season 1, Episode 12): Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) finds himself the target of a lawsuit.

Blinders (Season 1, Episode 15) and Black Eyes and Broken Hearts (Season 1, Episode 16): When assistant coach Mac McGill (Blue Deckert) makes some remarks to a reporter about the black players on the Panthers, it ignites a lot of tensions in town – and on the team – in these two racially charged episodes.

Mud Bowl (Season 1, Episode 20): Although it is one of the funniest episodes of the series, it’s also a shocker, thanks to several scenes, including one near the end of the episode.

Last Days of Summer (Season 2, Episode 1): The mood is mostly festive as the Dillon Panthers gear up for a new season. But a shocking encounter near the end of this episode turns the world upside down for Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Landry (Jesse Plemons).

A Sort of Homecoming (Season 4, Episode 4) and The Son (Season 4, Episode 5): These are a couple of big, emotional episodes that find Tami (Connie Britton) enduring the wrath of some local townsfolk. The big story, though, involves a tragic development in Iraq that affects Matt (Zach Gilford) and his relationship with his father, Henry (Brent Smiga). The final scenes of both episodes are heart-tuggers.

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THAT LINE WAS SO GREAT… Top Up arrow

 The show’s Southern sensibilities – and sense of humor – make for a many great lines. Here are only a few that stand out …

“Texas forever.”

– From a variety of episodes. It’s one of the show’s core themes – and a saying that is repeated by many characters, particularly Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch).

“I’m startin’ to look at this whole damned town like big, ol’ out-of-tune guitar.”

 

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) tosses around his thoughts as he helps his friend, Matthew Saracen (Zach Gilford), go through football-passing drills.

“I’m not so sure you’re mine. I’m going to have to order up a DNA test on you.”

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) reacts to his daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), after she theorizes that Moby Dick is really the perfect metaphor for the town they live in.

 

“I am tellin’ you, room in the bathroom is what has saved more marriages than Oprah and Dr. Phil combined.”

 

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): A real-estate agent tells Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) why he should put in an offer on a particular house.

 

“Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable and we will all, at some point in our lives … fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts – that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us. And that when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times – it is this pain – that allows us to look inside ourselves.”

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): In the aftermath of an injury during his first game as coach of the Panthers, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), in a voiceover at the end of the episode, reflects on how cruel twists of fate can be.

 

“You know what, honey? I’m doin’ it, alright? I threw the party for over a hundred people in, in, in two days’ time. I did it with no help. And I’m cleanin’ up after your football stars – who, by the way, happen to be pigs. I’m doin’ it. But I’m not going to pretend to like it. Not right now. Not down here. But when I get back up there, I’ll give you a big smile, alright, just like I know you need. But down here, I am pissed. And I am going to stay down here until I can get back up there and give you your smile.”

– From Who’s Your Daddy (Season 1, Episode 4): An upset Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) berates her husband under the table as she cleans up some spilled beer during a party that she and Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) are hosting for the high-school football players and their parents.

 

“I’ve got to get to my daughter’s dance recital or Tami’s gonna have me neutered.”

– From Who’s Your Daddy (Season 1, Episode 4): Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) scrambles to leave his office at the end of the day.

 

“I’m not here to make friends. This ain’t my home. This ain’t my school. It never will be. … I don’t like the food here, the music, the weather. I can definitely do without everybody going on and on about the great state of Texas. I’m here to get noticed, get recruited and get my ass to LSU. And you? You just trying to scrape by. Trying to win some games, keep your job. You and me are an arranged marriage. Nothing more. Now you seen what I can do. You wanna start Saracen, you go right ahead.”

– From Git ‘er Done (Season 1, Episode 5): Ray “Voodoo” Tatum (Aldis Hodge), a star high-school quarterback recruited from New Orleans, makes his arrogant views on an upcoming game clear as he meets with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler).

 

“All right, listen up. I’m supposed to give you some fatherly – and wise – advice at this time in your life. Listen up, if you’re wondering if a boy’s thinking about you, he’s not. He’s thinking about sex or he’s hungry, those are the only two options.”

 

– From Crossing the Line (Season 1, Episode 8): Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) warns his daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), about boys in a comical exchange as they play ping-pong in the garage.

 

“Don’t worry. He’s all bark and no bite. Most of the time.”

 

– From It’s Different for Girls (Season 1, Episode 10): Julie (Aimee Teegarden) offers Matt (Zach Gilford) her opinion of her father as the relationship between the teenagers begins to grow.

 

“How about it, QB1? Think you can get the ‘V-chip’ out of Julie before I can work my magic?”

 

– From It’s Different for Girls (Season 1, Episode 10): Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) teases teammate Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) about Matt’s crush on Julie (Aimee Teegarden), not realizing that Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is standing behind him and overhearing their conversation.

 

“There’s something else I gotta say. Yeah. I like myself. And I love football. I love it. I love the game. I love the crowds. I love the attention. I love being a star. I can’t help it. It’s, it’s a beautiful thing, it’s just who I am, it’s how God made me. I like you a lot, Waverly. I mean, more than I’ve ever liked any other girl. But if you don’t like me for me, then I gotta live with it ’cause I can’t be nobody but the Smash. Yes, I like talking about myself in the third person. Something tells me, deep down inside, you like it, too.”

– From What to Do While You’re Waiting (Season 1, Episode 12): Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) apologizes to his would-be girlfriend, Waverly Grady (Aasha Davis), for being so obsessed with football – and himself.

 

“Do you realize this is the definition of prejudice? You guys are prejudging her. And, you know, maybe, if you weren’t so prejudiced, 16 of your players wouldn’t have walked off their team.”

– From Black Eyes and Broken Hearts (Season 1, Episode 16): Julie (Aimee Teegarden) chastises her parents for questioning her decision to be friends with Tyra (Adrianne Palicki).

 

“You quittin’ football to try and make a point about racism in a small Texas town? That ain’t the Million Man March. You are 17 and you got a brilliant future ahead of you. And I’m not goin’ to sit here and watch you throw it away, tryin’ to teach a lesson to a bunch of fools! You know how you get back at people that think like Mac McGill? You get back on that team. You play like the star that you are. And you get recruited by a A-list university. Go on and get your degree. Now, you get up from here, get you somethin’ to eat, get your butt into bed, ’cause you goin’ to that game tomorrow.”

– From Black Eyes and Broken Hearts (Season 1, Episode 16): Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) gets a lecture from his mom (Liz Mikel) about putting racial tensions aside and ending the boycott that he and his fellow black players started against their team.

 

“No, y’all are going to the Father-Daughter Dance. I’m gonna pull out my camera. I’m going to take a picture of you both. You’re going to look real happy. I’m going to cherish it for the rest of my life! So, y’all stop being a pain in the ass and make me happy, for once!”

 

– From Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Season 1, Season 19): Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) lambastes her husband and daughter as she prepares them for the school’s father-daughter dance.

 

“When Jason Street went down in the first game of the season, everybody wrote us off. Everybody. And yet, here we are, at the championship game. Forty thousand people out there have also written us off. There are a few out there who do still believe in you – a few who’ll never give up on you. You go back out on the field, those are the people I want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts. Every man, at some point in his life, is going to lose a battle. He’s gonna fight and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man is that, in the midst of that battle, he does not lose himself. This game is not over. This battle is not over.”

– From State (Season 1, Episode 22): After the Panthers get trounced during the first half of the state championship game, Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) delivers a solemn but solidifying half-time pep talk to the team in the locker room.

 

“Ever notice how no one ever changes in this town? Nothing ever changes. Everyone goes to the same church or, same job ‘n’ same restaurants. Everybody goes to the football game on Friday night. It’s like this huge fish tank we’re all stuck in and you can’t find a way out. I’m kinda … I’m stuck. I’m stuck.”

– From How Did I Get Here (Season 2, Episode 6): With his 19th birthday on deck, Jason Street (Scott Porter), in a conversation with Lyla (Minka Kelly), bemoans the fact that things have always stayed the same in Dillon.

 

“Maybe you don’t understand exactly what I’m sayin’, Matt. Marriage requires maturity. Marriage requires two people who, for the rest of their lives, are willing to listen, to really listen to each other. And that marriage requires the greatest of all things, which is compromise.”

– From Always (Season 5, Episode 13): Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) offers his advice to Matt (Zach Gilford) and Julie (Aimee Teegarden) at a restaurant after the 19-year-old Matt and the 18-year-old Julie have revealed that they want to get married.

Tami Taylor:

“You ready to go home?”

 

Eric Taylor:

“Yeah, let’s go.”

 

– From Always (Season 5, Episode 13): The final lines of the series, creating a simple ending that has Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) walking away together as the lights go out on the football field – and on the entire series.

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