I just finished watching Friday Night Lights for the third time over the past 10 years, and as a man in his mid-forties, I am perfectly comfortable admitting that it is still one of my favorite shows. FNL is most certainly NOT a show about football; the game is merely the tie that binds.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t find myself looking inward to figure out why the guy who grew up in New York City and never attended a single high school football game would be drawn to a show that covers themes like small-town America and sports rivalry high jinks. My hunch is that I hang around for the teenage romance and musical score, which sounds much creepier than intended.
The series’ pre-cursor, the movie of the same name, first reeled me in. Actually, it was the soundtrack: Explosions in the Sky.
EITS, the post-modern instrumental rock band, also from The Lone Star State, provided the music, set against a barren Texas landscape. Add in a healthy dose of hormones and close-up reaction shots, and the atmospheric guitars tie it all together like an offensive coordinator on top of his game, and the show rocks me to my core every time. This New Yorker is all in on Texas forever.
The bedrock of Friday Night Lights, where football is the ultimate metaphorical backdrop, is Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton). The duo perfectly captures the truth about marriage: you can love and support each other ’til the end of the earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are familial challenges and too-close-to-home bickering; the performances are believable, solid. As surrogate parents to the entire town of Dillon (yes, Dillon, Texas is sorta a real place), the Taylors are the foundation of family that people dream about. And while they may not always be open-minded or accessible, these are role models who always succumb to unconditional love and sound logic.
Since we are talking about a TV show, after all, every high school stereotype is alive and well: the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, and so on. But the show’s brilliance is its artful way of slowly peeling the onion, revealing that even the most seemingly one-dimensional characters are hiding something. Tim Riggins has a moral compass, it’s just buried behind an armor of testosterone. An artist lives deep inside of QB2, Matt Saracen. Tyra Collette is a secret academic when she’s willing to put in the work. Brian “Smash” Williams cares about a lot more than just himself. And Lyla Garrity, well, she’s just Lyla Garrity.
For suburbanites, Dillon is the town we all grew up in. The one that we spent countless hours railing against, promising to abandon at the first chance–until we find ourselves looking for a new town that has the same qualities–and ultimately submit to an unlikely yet unconsciously predetermined homecoming. Texas forever is more like hometown forever.
Race and class and religion and alcoholism all intermingle, and while some of the storylines feel heavy-handed, overtly designed to elicit sentimentality, the show depicts serious topics with a nuanced balance–allowing the viewer to feel yet not get consumed by any singular subject.
As far as teenage dramas go, Friday Night Lights nails a feeling. The fleeting glances, the fleeting athleticism, the fleeting romances…holy shit…this is a show all about growth and impermanence…and as I type this, I am starting to understand why the show has such a tight grip on my heartstrings.
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” suddenly sounds like gospel directly from Buddha.
I need to talk more about Explosions in the Sky and their unique brand of instrumental rock. Their music makes me feel alive. A companion along life’s jagged journey. The guitars tell a story in a way that words never can. And the music supervisor who matched their tunes with high school football is probably a savage in the kitchen, combining a basket of bizarre ingredients into delicious fine dining.
If EITS are new to you, start with “The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” and explore if you dig what you hear.
The more I write, the closer I’m getting to my connection with FNL.
Most of the characters feel like outsiders, even when they are part of something, but they never have the clarity to realize they are in. Whether it’s the football team or the surrounding community, they’re all connected to something bigger than themselves, but they are often too immersed or distracted to see it. We can all relate. Many of the characters suffer from “success anxiety” aka achievemephobia. As soon as they are close, BOOM, they’re on their back (RIP John Madden).
If you are looking for a show that personifies empathy, look no further; Friday Night Lights is your jam.
The residents of Dillon, Texas, are good people. We are good people. And we’re all collectively better with Explosions in the Sky playing the soundtrack of our lives.
When I am no longer ready for this world, those who love me will know where my ashes belong. And they will know to play “First Breath After Coma” as I float away to whatever is ahead. Texas forever, anyone?