Last Friday marked the debut of the final season of NBC’s high school football drama Friday Night Lights. The show has a rocky past, from its spectacular first season, its struggles to stay on the air in its second, and a landmark deal with DirecTV that kept the show alive for three more glorious seasons in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. Loyal fans may have already seen the show on DirecTV in the fall, but now is your best chance to catch the end of a show that rings eerily true on contemporary family, economic, community and athletic themes. Here are the top five reasons to tune in:
5. The greatest television marriage ever. Period.
Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton have been criminally under-appreciated as Eric and Tami Taylor, with the both of them receiving their first Emmy nominations this past year. While other iconic television marriages like Homer and Marge Simpson or Al and Peggy Bundy from Married…with Children make caricatures out of their central partnership, Coach and Mrs. Taylor have been pillars of fortitude, two masts keeping the show afloat in a sea of confusion and turmoil for the high school football players. Add to that the fact that they have intelligent and mature discussions about their marital issues and come across incredibly loving, and you have the most honest portrayal of a successful marriage ever broadcast on the small screen.
4. The most compelling players since season one
The biggest problem Friday Night Lights ever faced was how to replace the departures of season one players Jason Street, Brian “Smash” Williams, and the incredible Evanston hometown hero Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen, who delivered the performance of the series in the season four episode “The Son.” Now, after last season’s introduction of The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan and The Chicago Code’s Matt Lauria as Vince Howard and Luke Cafferty, respectively, the show finally has a cast of actors to rival the first season. Rounding out the high schoolers are Madison Burge as Becky, who gets far more to do this year, Jurnee Smollett as Jess, Vince’s girlfriend and team manager, and Grey Damon as the basketball player-turned-wide receiver Hastings Ruckle.
3. No unbelievable side plots
Ask anyone who ever watched Friday Night Lights into its second season, and they should be able to tell you the biggest mistake the show ever made. It was so catastrophic that the Onion A.V. Club dubbed it the “Very Big Mistake” and referred to the VBM constantly whenever anything went wrong up until now. There have been missteps, such as last season’s abortion debacle, and characters have appeared only to go missing the very next season due to unpopularity, but thankfully this season has very few of those problems. Vince’s father returns to echo the scandals of Cam Newton’s father from last season in college football, Julie Taylor deals with college, and the town of Dillon confronts budget cuts in education affecting the town’s two football teams. All of it is pulled off with deft precision.
2. Thirteen episodes is best for a drama
British television has had this narrative structure down for a while now, but it’s become increasingly more popular for more experimental shows, especially dramas, to produce a 13-episode season that cuts out a lot of filler material created by the 20-24 episode model networks use to broadcast shows in spurts from early September until late May. Friday Night Lights has stuck to a 13-episode structure since its third season, and it makes it so the show condenses a football season to the best moments, instead of drawing things out and leaving episodes with no game to play. HBO, Showtime, and the pay cable stations adopted this model years ago. It’s been a cable staple with Mad Men and critical darling Terriers, and network television is just starting to pick up on the trend that lends itself to better narrative drama on television. Friday Night Lights milks that structure for all it’s worth.
1. It’s the best damn show on television
Mad Men isn’t coming back until 2012. Season three of Breaking Bad doesn’t start until July. Parks and Recreation, Community, and The Office are all coming to a close. Glee and Modern Family are struggling through growing pains in their second seasons. The “Best Show on TV” baton just got passed to Friday Night Lights to take it home into the summer repeats. Each episode builds on the last, character relationships deepen and everything pays off in a fashion that never seems too easy and takes no easy way out. If you’ve never watched the show, now is the time to get an introduction. Every episode of seasons one through four are available on Netflix Watch Instantly. Get caught up soon, or you’ll miss out on experiencing one of the greatest examples of what can be done with the television storytelling medium.
Clear eyes. Full heart. Can’t lose.