Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights, "Wind Sprints" (IMDB)

‘Friday Night Lights’ Still Burns Bright

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise — and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there’s certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), and their daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) are quickly thrust into Dillon life. A small Texas town, Dillon revolves around high school football; it’s players are local celebrities, and everyone has an opinion on how to win games. In its five-season run, Friday Night Lights introduces a large ensemble cast of characters and it would be impossible to touch upon all the stories, or even all the characters, that make a lasting impression.

Still, it should be noted that even when the series made a misstep — such as when Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Landry (Jesse Plemons) accidentally murdered someone, or Santiago [Benjamin Chiaramello], Buddy’s [Brad Leland] pseudo-adopted son disappears from the series — the core characters and their relationships continued to build and evolve in always engaging and thoughtful ways.

Part of what makes the series so consistently watchable is the special attention given to place and time. Small town Texas life is shot on location, and the farms, barbecue joints, and working-class homes add further authenticity to a show already committed to portraying life in the fictional town of Dillon. It’s the series’ specificity that makes it so widely appealing. The experiences of these players, coaches, students, and parents are relatable in the universality of their relationships, and the complex dynamics that develop over the course of the series’ run continually shift and grow, always add more layers and further fleshing out characters.

Friday Night Lights has always excelled in exploring and conveying the emotional lives of its characters. Whether dealing with the parent-less Riggins brothers, Tim (Taylor Kitsch) and Billy (Derek Phillips), or the sweet and heartbreaking relationship between Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and his beloved grandmother (Louanne Stephens), or Lyla’s (Minka Kelly) fraught relationship with her often overbearing father, Buddy (Brad Leland), or Tyra’s unstable home life, the series manages to make their difficulties understandable and easy to relate to.

When Matt’s father returns to town after a tour of duty overseas, it’s Matt’s tempered hope that makes his father’s eventual return to war so hurtful. When Smash finally achieves his dream of playing college football, it’s his final goodbye to Coach Taylor that resonates so fully after his many struggles. When Julie has sex for the first time, it’s Tami’s talk with her—smart, loving, and a little bit heartbreaking—that speaks to the bond of their relationship. These moments are only a few of many that remain with the viewer long after the episodes have aired.

More than any other relationship in the series, Eric and Tami’s marriage is the grounding center of Friday Night Lights. Because the series’ approach to filming includes handheld cameras, there’s often an intimacy to scenes that’s not always easy to achieve on television. As characters interrupted and talked over one another in ways that felt natural and realistic (also used to great effect in head writer Jason Katim’s next series, Parenthood), the series creates an atmosphere of familiarity and warmth exemplified in then Taylor family. Eric and Tami’s relationship conveys not only ordinary realism, but also seems groundbreaking in how obviously they like and respect one another. It’s a testament to Chandler and Britton’s terrific acting that they imbue their characters with so much closeness and affection for one another.

As the series focuses on a high school team, the usual dramas and mundanity of high school life are often at the center of the show. The various romantic and platonic relationships that sour or strengthen over the course of the five seasons runs the gamut. The many romantic entanglements involving Tim, Lyla, and Jason Street (Scott Porter); Landry’s quest to gain popularity; Tami’s mentorship of Tyra, as school guidance counselor; and Smash Williams’ (Gaius Charles) determination to use football as a way to support his family all feel familiar as plot points. The difference that Friday Night Lights makes is in the quality of its storytelling—small, intimate moments took on huge significance in the series—even during big, dramatic arcs, the show always prioritizes the ways characters relate to events and one another over the actual events themselves.

The Blu-ray release of the full series, unfortunately, does not contain any of the special features previously available on the DVDs. There are no deleted scenes,commentaries, or featurettes. Packaged in a box set of slim cases, the series also lacks any booklets with episode information. Still, despite this uninspired packaging, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding series; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

RATING 10 / 10