Well, it’s happened. After five fantastic years (well, season 2 was a little iffy) the lights have gone out on Dillon, Texas. Friday Night Lights, a true milestone in broadcast television, has been laid to rest. Now for fans of the show, you may be wondering, “Wait, why now?” Well, if you’re really curious, my reaction to the ending of Friday Night Lights has been a bit like the grieving process. I’ve made it through the denial with a little bit of help from casting news. Adrianne Palicki has just been cast as Wonder Woman in a new NBC pilot. While I’m glad that Tyra is getting work, it sort of makes the whole thing more real to me. People are moving on to new shows. Friday Night Lights is really at an end.
Still, I can’t help but think “man, what a way to go.” I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t had the good fortune to see the series finale, but it truly did live up to the standards of acting and writing that we’ve come to expect from this show over the years. It remains one of the few instances of television that I have remained as engaged throughout the seasons and even though most shows’ final seasons suffer, it remained a truly emotionally and unexpected experience.
But returning to my grief, I’d like to think of this post as a memorial service. This is a chance for people, myself included, to reflect on what brought them to Friday Night Lights. What better way to do that then count down some of the greatest moments of Friday Night Lights?
5. “Mud Bowl” (Season 1, Episode 20)
“Mud Bowl” encapsulates everything that Friday Night Lights is about. It’s got an amazing football game and enough character drama to keep everyone interested. As sacrilegious as it may sound, there’s a point in the series where my love of the characters overwhelmed any remotely athletic storyline, but this show illustrates how beautifully the two could work together. The stakes were high for the Dillon panthers, but so was the drama. It also featured the beginning of one of my favorite Friday Night Lights romances between Tyra and Landry, and a truly upsetting scene where Adrianne Palicki showcased her incredible skills as an actress.
4. “I Think We Should Have Sex” (Season 1, Episode 17)
I struggled with choosing another season one moment as my number four moment, but there’s just so much about that first season that is truly remarkable. This scene is definitely one of my favorites, because it highlights the family dynamic. Julie was one of those characters I struggled with at first. She seemed so goody-two shoes, but in this scene between her and Tami, we’re given a closer look at the relationship between the two. Tami’s motherly instincts and desire to protect her daughter is touching, but also heartbreaking as we see Tami lose her composure for the first time. Connie Britton isn’t a mother herself, so it’s difficult to imagine what channeling that experience is like, but it seems so honest.
3. “Underdogs” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Season three is such a strong season in its own right, but it’s also a bittersweet one. “Underdogs” introduced the possibility that Dillon might be losing one of its own as Tyra begins to think about what college might have to offer her. Her struggle to write her college essay is certainly a relatable one, but when she comes through, it absolutely blew me away. The delivery of it is heartfelt, but the actual words alone sold me on it. Tyra’s hope for wanting something more and the possibilities that college would open up to her could have bordered on cliche, but instead they were simple and honest, in Tyra’s own voice. This episode best demonstrates the powerful writing that Friday Night Lights had week after week.
2. “The Son” (Season 4, Episode 5)
“The Son” highlights this show’s ability to tackle (no pun intended) just about any issue. The topic of death is nothing new, but there’s something about this portrayal of a son losing a father. It’s not just about Matt’s reaction to loss, it’s just as much about how others respond. I know I haven’t talked about Coach Taylor that much, but he’s a complex character. There are times when I loved him and there are times when I hated him. To say that “The Son” proves Coach Taylor is an alright guy is an incredible understatement. Both Zach Gilford and Kyle Chandler are at their absolute finest in this episode. For a complex portrayal of grief, just re-watch the dinner scene between Matt and the Taylors. It’s simultaneously devastating and hopeful.
1. “State” (Season 1, Episode 22)
I know, I know, it seems like I’m really privileging season one, but I swear, it’s not intentional. One of the things that makes Friday Night Lights such a difficult show to write about is that there are so many characters. Some come and some go, but most leave such a lasting impact. One of the characters that is often ignored is the town of Dillon, Texas itself. The show brings such authenticity to the small-town experience that the town is all but impossible to ignore. Few episodes bring Dillon and all of its citizens together so simply and beautifully as the film’s use of the song “Devil Town” sung by Tony Lucca. It pretty much became the show’s anthem after that moment and considering what it does to bring out the way of life of Dillon, it’s no surprise.