Those of you who (like me) grew up in Greenwood know what it’s like to live in a small town that centers its identity upon the local high school football team. The whole town shows up to the home games, and the streets are deserted during away games. The head coach and the main players are treated like local celebrities. And it seems like all anyone can talk about from August to December is the next big game.
I’m not critiquing this kind of local football culture. I loved growing up in it. I wasn’t totally sucked into it like some people I knew, but I enjoyed going to the games on Friday nights, and I really appreciated the sense of community and identity that Greenwood Bulldog football offered. Now that I’ve gotten older and moved away, I can’t attend the games anymore, but I still root for the Bulldogs every Friday night, especially now that my little brother Drew plays on the team. I think my upbringing in Greenwood is part of what led me to connect so strongly with the TV show Friday Night Lights.
Friday Night Lights tells the story of Eric Taylor, the head coach of the Dillon Panthers football team, and his family as they try to navigate the crazy, hectic world of Texas high school football. The first season of the show begins with Eric’s becoming head coach of the Panthers after working as an offensive coach for several years. Expectations are high, and Coach Taylor’s skeptics are vocal as the season begins. Everyone in town has an opinion about how the coach should handle his team. And everyone wants to see the team win the holy grail of high school football: the state championship.
The team’s entire strategy is based around Jason Street, the best high school quarterback in the nation. Jason has been training for years for this season, his senior year, and everyone expects him to do great things. But in the first game of the season, Jason gets critically injured, leaving his team and new head coach Eric Taylor with a huge problem: How do they carry on without their star player? Part of the story of the first season is about Jason dealing with his injury and about his backup, sophomore and all-around nice guy Matt Saracen, trying to find his place as the team leader.
Although on the surface, the show seems to be about football, football is really just a tool that the writers use to develop the characters. Everything that happens on the field reinforces and symbolizes what is taking place in the characters’ personal lives. Friday Night Lights is extremely character-focused, and the characters they’ve created are dynamic, realistic, and very easy to connect with. It’s easy to find a favorite character or two that you really root for, and it’s fun to see their stories unfold. The show’s creators use a unique three-camera filming style and allow the actors to do a lot of improv, which leads to very real, very relatable conversations.
There’s no way I could cover all the characters on Friday Night Lights in this short blog post, but I will name a few of my favorites. Tami Taylor is the coach’s wife who finds herself working at the school as a guidance counselor. She’s sassy but wise, and she has some great one-liners throughout the show. Julie Taylor is Eric and Tami’s daughter, and she serves as the main love interest for Matt. Landry is Matt’s best friend. He plays a small role in the first season, but he becomes more and more important as the series progresses. Tim Riggins is the team’s fullback. He has some behavior issues, but he’s also got a good heart, and he’s grown to become one of my favorite characters. Buddy Garrity is a former Dillon Panther who now is in charge of the booster club. He’s the classic high school football player who never grew up, and his entire life revolves around Panther football. There are so many more characters on Friday Night Lights, and some cast members come and go throughout the seasons. If you decide to watch, you’ll find one or two characters that you especially connect with and root for, and that makes watching the show really fun.
Friday Night Lights really serves as an introduction to Texas culture. The show’s creator insisted on filming in the state, so the entire cast moved there for the duration of filming. The show captures the small-town feel and the state pride that comes along with growing up in the great state of Texas.
And the show deals with some real-life issues. Racism, sexism, drug abuse, grief, and abandonment are just a few of the themes that come up multiple times throughout the show. They have no problem taking these issues head-on and portraying them in ways that help the viewer understanding issues that they may not face in their own lives but that are problems in the world around us.
Friday Night Lights is a show about growing up in small football town. It tells some incredible stories about realistic characters whose lives revolve around God, football, and the great state of Texas. Football serves as a great mechanism for developing the characters and also adding to the show’s tension, but make no mistake: This is a show about life, not about football. I think Friday Night Lights is a show that can appeal to anyone who’s willing to give it a chance. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time. So check it out on Netflix or via the incredible DVD box set, and enjoy everything that the Dillon Panthers have to offer. Thanks for reading, friends! Texas forever.