Greg and Zanna play catch-up on one of the greatest series of the 2000s.
Absurdity of casting: 5
Hotness of cast: 5
Hookedness of reviewers: 5
The number of conversations Greg and I have had
recently that centre around the lives of teenage characters in the 15-year-old television series Friday Night Lights should be embarrassing to us. We have become so addicted to this show there is absolutely no reason you should take our critique of it seriously. We are junkies selling crack.
The first season of FNL has 22 episodes - a preposterously high number that was commonplace for network television at the time but is almost three times longer than most high-end series now. We demolished it at a perverse rate. It's set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, a place powered by its high school football team. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) are at the heart of the show along with a motley group of high school students so obviously played by actors in their mid-twenties that the single teenage cast member, Aimee Teegarden, looks like a preschooler next to her "peers".
Casting absurdities aside, this show is the perfect combination of family drama, sports film and teen soap. The pilot episode sees the Panthers play their first game under Coach Taylor, which ends in the star quarterback suffering a devastating injury that leaves him paralysed. Suddenly the "it" couple's dreams are shattered, the painfully shy second-string quarterback is shoved into the spotlight and the coach has the entire town of Dillon breathing down his neck. It's just an impeccable set-up for hours and hours of riveting television.
Created by Peter Berg, the series is inspired by Buzz Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream. Unlike the book, this story is entirely fictionalised but it's shot with a fly-on-the-wall documentary-like visual style using real locations around Austin, Texas. And though I've never been to Texas, nor an American football game, it feels authentic. That's in no small part due to the chemistry between Chandler and Britton, who inhabit their roles to perfection. The stability of their marriage, characterised by an unwavering love and shared sense of humour, isn't typical of a drama, and provides a comforting anchor point around which chaos swirls.
I could write whole tomes on Matt and Julie's break-up, Lyla Garrity's spiral into Christian radio hosting, the unlikely pairing of nerdy Landry with top-tier hottie Tyra, the murder subplot misstep or Riggins' unsurvivable smile - shows like this are why people once had blogs. But it's probably better kept for pillow talk with my husband – Friday Night Lights is currently anchoring this marriage, amid the swirling chaos outside.
As with anything good, it's the characters. The show's about football and teen sex and Christianity and whatever, but don't worry about all that. What matters is the characters, who are exactly the sort of people you want to spend a lot of time with in a long lockdown, because they're hot. So many attractive people squeezed into such a small space, with such extreme close-ups. We don't get to see any of the reasonably extensive sex, and not even much of the pashing, but there's a lot of smouldering and also quite a bit of simpering: Riggins, Lyla, Tyra, Smash, Coach, Mrs Coach and the others. Earlier this week, I told Zanna I'd had a dream that she and I were out somewhere when an American man started talking to us, and I became insanely jealous, suspecting that she was into him. She said, "Well, if he looked like Riggins, I definitely would have been."
We have watched the first two seasons, 37 episodes, in the last three to four weeks. For a while we interspersed it with other shows, but about a fortnight ago, I said to Zanna: "Is it my night to choose what to watch?" and she replied "Yes, so long as it's what I want to watch" and we looked meaningfully at each other and knew we had married correctly.
Whenever there's a silence in our house, no matter the activity we're engaged in, or the preceding topic of conversation, it will be broken with a question or comment regarding Friday Night Lights. There are other things going on in our lives but, were you to walk into our house at any randomly selected hour of the day or night, you would not think so. We are an art installation that asks the question: "What happens when you pass your country's longest-ever lockdown by ceasing to care about anything other than the lives of hot 25-year-olds pretending to be teenagers?"
Whenever this lockdown has felt too much for me, I have at least known that at the end of the day, there will be Friday Night Lights. In a year or two, when the pandemic is over and the climate crisis has regained its rightful place as the key driver of my pathological anxiety, hopefully what I'll remember of this time is not my kids repeatedly telling me, "You're not my teacher," but the sleek-jawed Coach Taylor leaning in to one of his players, pointing at them meaningfully, chewing the inside of his bottom lip and saying, "I'm gonna tell you something," and knowing that what came next would be the truth.
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Friday Night Lights is now streaming on Neon.