Friday Night Lights is not a show about football. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of football, but there is more to the small town of Dillon than throwing around the old pigskin. Friday Night Lights manages to explore dysfunctional families, small town ideologies and the desire for more in a barren Texan landscape. The realistic and poignant dialogue, rife with Southern accents and drawn-out cadence, still remains relevant over a decade later. Seriously, Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, are the type of parents I can only hope to be.
Friday Night Lights doesn’t look polished or finessed with its handheld shots and overlapping audio, but that only adds to its layers. The show manages to exude a certain level of authenticity. I’ve never been to Texas or even watched an entire football game (no, not even the Superbowl) and yet I feel as if I’m right there in the stands at Dillon High cheering on the Panthers. It probably helps that the show was actually filmed in Texas.
The attention to detail is apparent from the start of the pilot. The handheld camera sweeps over weathered hands still wearing their state championship rings from seasons past while signs boast which football player dwells within the walls of a home. The pilot is a slow burn of developing a setting and fleshing out the characters. We meet characters without ever being introduced to them. Peter Berg, the director of the film Friday Night Lights, uses his cinematic style in the pilot while also trusting his audience to make connections on their own.
The pilot takes its time getting to the game. We feel invested in it (even if, like me, you know nothing about football) because the characters and direction have carefully built our anticipation up. Then we’re finally there, under the bright lights waiting for…something. And when that something comes, it hits you hard.
This show was one that locked me in from the start. Between the strong characters, who both defy expectations and meet stereotypes, and the beautiful cinematography, I felt as if Berg had created this little town that I was desperate to be a part of. The pilot is an anomaly as it manages to set up storylines and give off this aura of completeness. Everything in Dillon has been established and the exposition from environment to audience is done with a light touch. It’s a complete world and we’re lucky to get a glimpse inside.
Friday Night Lights is far from a perfect series. Brace yourself for the season 2 drop-off as the dreaded writers’ strike left unresolved plot points and the front half of season 3 was spent trying to correct it. This is a show that came in with a strong, clear direction—note that two of the strongest episodes of the series are the pilot and series finale—that, successfully, battled back from derailment.
So come on down to Dillon, Texas. It’s a small town filled with good-hearted people who are a little too obsessed with football. Be welcomed into the halls of Dillon High and the home of Coach Taylor. Watch the action unfold both on and off the field. You’ll cheer and you’ll cry but you’ll be happy you did it in the end.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.