It's fall 2006, and I'm sitting in a dark theater with a few friends, waiting for The Covenant to start. A trailer for some typical football show comes on. Ugh, football. How I loathe thee. But hey, the long-haired witch guy from the movie we're about to troll will be in it, sooo... a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
I watch the pilot at home on premiere night - October 3, 2006 - and when it's over, I am confused. I hate football. I hate sports and players and cheerleaders and enthusiasm and high school. So why the hell did I love this show?
Friday Night Lights has been over for quite a while, but I've re-watched the series multiple times. The whole thing. All 76 episodes. I have been known to half-ass a lot of things, but not a FNL re-watch. Once I start, I can't stop. This is why.
There are sooo many great characters.
I am a character person. If I'm going to get invested in something, I have to love the characters. You can have the most fascinating plot in the world, but if I don't care about the characters, I'm out.
I've loved a great many FNL characters, even ones I didn't particularly like. (For example, Smash is a pompous ass, but I do love him.) They're are a lot of them in FNL, and they're all very different. They are complex, and interesting, and easy to care about. Just about everybody should be able to find at least one character to relate to, and a few more to root for.
The phenomenal acting.
Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton each took home an Emmy for FNL in its final season (took you long enough, award people), but they are the tip of the great acting iceberg. This isn't some CW tween show with soapy, over-the-top acting. FNL's performances are powerful, emotional, and genuine. All the time.
The way it's shot.
Friday Night Lights is shot documentary-style, so it has a handheld feel. Very up close and personal, in the moment, heavy on the close-ups, and a little too shaky at first. Fortunately for viewers, the camerawork became more controlled as the show went on, but it didn't lose that personal feeling. It's still very easy to get absorbed in.
You don't have to like real football to like FNL.
I, Dasm, hate the sport of football. I don't want to watch it, I don't want to hear about it, and I have a terrible track record with football fanatics because the only time I derive joy from the sport is when your team loses. (Yep, I'm that person. Don't let me find out which team your life revolves around.)
Friday Night Lights is a football show. Can't argue that. But even a person who hates football as much as I do can get behind the Dillon Panthers (and later the East Dillon Lions) and share their joy and their disappointment. It's nice to know what it feels like to root for something, even if it's just a fictional team. Nobody has to know that you cared about a sports thing. ;D
It's got great music.
...not you, Crucifictorious.
The FNL theme (by W.G. Snuffy Walden) is one of the very few TV themes I don't skip. It's an instant upper. I dare you to listen to it without raising your mood a degree or two. link
, I'll wait.
The show's other music contains a little of everything: rock, rap, gospel, hip-hop, country, jazz... Christian speed metal. Something for everyone, and it always fits the scene wonderfully. The standout is Tony Lucca's link
. It plays during the build-up for the first game without Jason, during the victory parade in the season 1 finale, and again as the final season winds down. If I hear that anywhere, it's time for FNL feels.
FNL's got issues.
Racism. Abortion. Drugs. Assault. Murder. (Just kidding, we do not talk about season 2.) Infidelity. Jealousy. Disability. Mental illness. Aging. Responsibility. Sexuality. War. FNL isn't afraid to tackle the issues (see what I did there?), and it handles them in a non-preachy and realistic way (lalala what second season?).
It's a community thing.
Dillon, Texas, is a community held together by a football team. When the team splits, so does the town. The players are treated like gods. The whole town basically shuts down when there's a game. Dillon's funny that way.
I don't care very much for the place I live, or the people in it. The only people who care about football are the ones who have relatives playing. We just don't have much in common. I'm not saying that I want to bond with these people, but it's very interesting to experience it through this fictional community. (Does this actually happen in real life? Do places really come together like this for reasons other than tragedy?) Even if it's not a real thing, it's still a nice idea that makes for great storytelling.
I am not a shipper. I don't have whatever chip people have that makes them need to see a hookup every time two characters make eye contact. Nothing ruins a show for me quicker than romance, especially when it's clearly just catering to shippers. But FNL's relationships never felt forced.
There were plenty of ships for the shippers to ship, but there were also real relationships. The best ones weren't even romantic. (Aside from Mr. and Mrs. Coach, 'cause duh.) Tim and Billy. Matt and Smash. Julie and Tyra. Eric and Buddy. Mindy and Becky. Matt and Grandma Saracen. Luke and Tinker. I could go on for ages. FNL's relationships are complicated, and flawed, and outstanding.
It didn't completely reinvent itself when most of the main characters left.
When the teenagers we started the show with graduated and moved on to bigger things, FNL added some new characters for the Taylors to interact with - but they also promoted some of the minor characters who had been there since the beginning. Billy and Mindy had been early favorites of mine, and I was so happy to see that they stuck around and got their own storyline!
Even after the original characters moved on, they popped back in a few times. Dillon is still home, after all. Nobody ever really leaves. That includes me.
FNL stands the test of time.
Aside from little things like VHS tapes and flip phones, not much has changed. The characters, the issues, and the message remains the same. FNL is now 10 years old, and I bet it'll still be relevant and enjoyable on its next big anniversary, and the one after that.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.