I was both the perfect candidate to watch and not to watch “Friday Night Lights.”
The show, which premiered in 2006 and ended in 2011, centers around life in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. High school football is the heartbeat of Dillon, and right from the get-go the pressure is on new Panthers head coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). Win, and he’s the toast of the town. Lose, and he and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) will be moving again.
Growing up in football-crazed Austin put me in the show’s target audience. As a fan of both the book and the movie, however, I was initially wary of the show — why ruin a good thing? By the time I had come to my senses, “Friday Night Lights” had moved to NBC’s Friday slot, which was a silly thing for producers to do because those who cared about high school football spent that night in a stadium and not on a sofa.
But now, after a month-long Netflix binge, I have seen the light. I have seen small-town America reconstructed beautifully in Dillon. I have seen God, and he wears No. 33. I have, seven years too late, finally seen the perfect show.
The writers of “Friday Night Lights” did a tremendous job developing 20 or so characters, making viewers care about them and then breaking them down right in front of them. By framing each character as relatable commodities — someone we once were, someone we hope/expect to become, someone we’re scared to become and someone we know — “Friday Night Lights” does what “Lost” and “The Office” failed to do: It keeps us caring all the way to the end. The result is tears, fist-pumps and time spent lying in bed thinking, “Damn, what would I do?”
From beginning to end, tough decisions define the show. The choice between the one thing you’ve worked toward your entire life — with a superteam of an opportunity right on your doorstep — and the thing that would make a loved one the happiest. The sobering reminder that we don’t have total control of our lives, that we’re a bad break away from some stranger bathing us with a sponge. The opportunity to sacrifice a year of life so someone could have the father you never did.
This is not a show about football. The sport is ever-present, a driving force behind many of the plot lines, but “Friday Night Lights” is deeper than that. For every cliche streets-to-stardom ascension, there’s a dark side, the bullet holes in the back. For each character who outdoes his presumed fate and does something with his life, there is a character who can’t make it out of Dillon. For every failed relationship, for every ruined marriage, there are the ones that last, Swedes and TAs be damned.
Don’t worry, there is levity. Miracle touchdowns are scored in the final seconds of games, Mack Brown and Rick Barnes make appearances and a spontaneous trip to Mexico awaits.
See if you notice the Matt Saracen-Case McCoy on-field similarities and the inexplicable disappearance of J.D. McCoy. Grab some tissues for the opening episodes of season four. Root hard for Smash and his mother, and prepare to hate Joe McCoy. You’ll spend 67 hours of your life binge-watching “Friday Night Lights.” I’d do it again. Texas forever, forever on Netflix.
Printed on Thursday, April 25, 2013 as Clear eyes, full hearts, must see