Friday, July 15, 2011

'Friday Night Lights' is over, but Texas is forever

If you watch television as an escape from the issues of real life, then "Friday Night Lights" was probably a tough sell for you. That it appeared to be a teen drama about football didn't help.

It had trouble catching on from its debut in October 2006, partly because of the ultra-serious tone, but for other reasons. At first, it was aired against shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol." Then, after it found a permanent home on Friday night (imagine that), it couldn't get rid of the label of being a football show.

The series finale airs tonight on NBC. It aired in February on DirecTV as part of a funding partnership, but for 'FNL' fans, this is the real goodbye.

It wasn't a football show. It wasn't a teen drama, either. It was a drama, period. Looking back, I wonder if the people who ran the show would have done their marketing pictures and videos with the characters in football uniforms at all.

It wasn't the kind of show you could have on while you were working around the house and then settle in for the last 15 minutes. You had to dig in because the most telling moments came in the ways the characters expressed their emotions, not just through the dialogue or plot points. They had a way of grabbing you and pulling you in, like, well, a linebacker.

Football wasn't why people tuned in. One of the few knocks against the show was that the games had too many dramatic finishes. Teams don't have last-second victories every week, but the Dillon Panthers did.

In the first three seasons, it seemed as if Coach Eric Taylor had three entries in his playbook:

1) Smash Williams runs for a touchdown.
2) Tim Riggins runs for a touchdown.
3) Matt Saracen scrambles and throws a long TD pass as time runs out.

For the East Dillon Lions in the the fourth and fifth seasons, their main play was for some combination of Taylor, QB Vince Howard and Luke Cafferty to argue about something, then one of them would miraculously win the game while coach throws his head back in bewilderment.

Those are quibbles, though, because 'FNL' made up for it in so many other places. Some of my favorites:

- The give and take between the Taylors, Eric and Tami. ("Eighteen years.")
- When Buddy Garrity would get himself into a pickle.
- Tim Riggins celebrating a victory by drinking a beer on the tailgate of his truck in the school parking lot.
- Saracen being the steadying hand for Julie Taylor (I haven't watched the finale yet, I'm holding out hope he sets her straight).
- When Smash's mom found his stash of steroids.
- The McCoys (except for the child-abuse angle). I'm still hoping J.D. shows up as the quarterback of East Dillon's opponent in the state final.
- When Saracen wants to see his dad one last time. And when he slams the door in Joe McCoy's face.
- Eric to Saracen: "That's my daughter!"
- The last scene of Season 3.
- Minka Kelly
- Wind sprints in the rain.
- Riggins leaving his shoes on the field.
- Smash walking on at Texas A&M.
- "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" and "Texas forever"

- Howard Primer



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