“Friday Night Lights” is centered on the small town of Dillon, Texas and how high school football symbolizes the importance of tradition and community while capturing the struggle of adolescence. In Dillon, football is an identity. It’s something that brings the entire town together and believe it or not, winning the State Championship is the only thing the town focuses their attention on. It isn’t called Friday night in Dillon, it is called GAME DAY. The team is like royalty in this little town… as long as they do what is expected of them. Win. This show is worth studying because it isn’t like any other show on television. It uses sport to show that life isn’t perfect, but it is still worth living and even the tiniest of dreams could be accomplished.
The show begins with a fresh start. It’s a new season for the Dillon Panthers and there’s a new head coach. The ultimate question of the season is: Will they or will they not win the State Championship? Just like the entire season, each episode builds with anticipation very quickly, ultimately leading us to Friday Night (Game Day). During each episode the days of the week will be written across the screen just to emphasize what’s to come. I believe author, Sonia Saraiya, said it all when she said, “By the time those lights actually turn on, it’s almost painful, how much you need the game to start.”
Although it’s questionable with how much attention these athletes get, it’s important to remember that the show is centered on a HIGH SCHOOL football team. Unlike shows like “One Tree Hill” or “Freaks & Geeks”, FNL spends very little time concentrating on the struggles of high school. So, instead of introducing cliché characters and obvious high school scenarios, FNL deals with realistic issues that allow viewers to not only make a connection but develop an emotional appeal as well. For example, in Episode 16 “Black Eyes and Broken Hearts,” a racial comment is dropped by one of the coaches insinuating that the color of one’s skin will determine what position they are capable of playing. The African American players on the Panthers were insulted causing tension within the team right before a playoff game.
In the pilot episode, all of the main characters are quickly introduced. You have the “high school football coach, Eric Taylor, the star quarterback, Jason Street, his cheerleader girlfriend, Lyla Garrity, best friend, full back and ladies man, Tim Riggins, black running back star, Brian ‘Smash’ Williams and underdog back-up quarterback, Matt Saracen.” Throughout the season, the character’s lives off the field slowly unravel making it even harder to stop watching and you quickly realize that being a Dillon Panther isn’t as great as it may seem.
Oh, I forgot to mention… Friday Night Lights probably produced the gutsiest pilot of all time.
The star quarterback for the Panthers in a football obsessed town. He basically has a perfect life, the perfect girlfriend, and a one-way ticket to the NFL. He is the talk of the town and the first guy on every Division 1 college-recruiting list. His teammates, his coach, and the entire town of Dillon are counting on him. Let’s just say he’s earned the right to have a perfect season. All he has to do is play his game, his way. No pressure, right?
Now Picture this:
First game of his senior year. It’s the 4th quarter with 6 minutes left to play and the Panther trail 24 -14. He throws an interception. As the defender starts making his way toward the Panther end zone, Street lays a hit on him forcing a fumble. The crowd reacts to the courageous play, but soon realizes that Street isn’t moving. His perfect life, his career, his love for football is taken a way in seconds. He becomes paralyzed.
The writer, Peter Berg, interrupted an intense scene with an emotional situation that immediately drew all your attention to the TV. With the town’s superstar injured, their picture perfect season becomes just a pipe dream. The town’s spirit is killed. So, how does the game end? “The underdog back-up quarterback, Matt Saracen, enters his first high school football game. Play by play he slowly instills confidence in himself, his teammates, and the crowd. Saracen led the Panthers to a victory that Friday Night in Dillon.
As an athlete, I found it extremely easy to relate to the characters. Not a specific character, but the team in general. I think that’s what drew me to this show. Obviously not so much about football, but more so about the underlying lessons and values learned while playing a sport. For example, the importance of teammates. Knowing that even when you can’t stand them, those are the people that will have your back. Those are the people who will throw themselves in front of an opponent’s punch when there is a scrum. Those are the people you can count on no matter what.
This show has a way of taking you from your living room and placing you in the stands on Friday Night. I’m not going to lie, when I watch this show I still manage to get goose bumps. I’m talking goose bumps after you hear your favorite singer live or hearing the national anthem played after a hard fought victory. It might be the weekly events leading up to the game, or the intensity in which the community talks about it, or even just a Coach Taylor pep talk. For example, in the pilot episode after Jason Street was escorted off the field in a stretcher, both teams came together and said a little prayer on behalf of Street. The fact that both teams came together and set the game aside to support one another in a time of need immediately gave me the chills. The best part is, I know absolutely nothing about football.
But that doesn’t matter because the show is about so much more.
The pilot concludes with a voice over from Coach Taylor,
“Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested”
This quote foreshadows the entire season. Again showing us that FNL isn’t just about football. It’s about community, tradition, teamwork, and perseverance.Events that happen throughout the season all lead back to that exact moment where the entire town of Dillon was forced to overcome something tragic.
So will they rise or will they fall. Do the Panthers Win State? We will find out…