Since watching the first episode of Friday Night Lights on Sky Atlantic last Tuesday night I have gone on to finish the first series, all 23 episodes and 966 minutes of it. I've squeezed them in before work in the morning, watched half-episodes on my lunch and even took my laptop and a couple of beers into the bath on Saturday afternoon to watch an episode. For an American TV junkie, this is no surprise, but FNL just doesn’t fit the profile of a show I thought I’d get addicted to, it's not Deadwood, Justified or Breaking Bad for a start.
For the uninitiated, Friday Night Lights (of which there was a film version starring Billy Bob Thornton in 2004) is a fictionalised version of the factual book of the same name released in 1990. The basic premise is that it chronicles the fortunes of a High School American Football team called the Dillon Panthers. Dillon, a fictional town in Southwest Texas is an ex oil town that has very little in the way of opportunity for its residents. Jobs are hard to come by, people smile politely in that Southern way then kill you the moment your back is turned and all that really matters to the town as a collective is the fortunes of the Panthers.
And I suppose this is what first gripped me. It paints a picture of something we simply don’t understand. We love football but never to the point that the whole town closes down on a Friday so that everyone can go to the game. The players, aged 15, 16 and 17 are heroes, able to buy booze, sleep with whom they want and steal homework off cheerleaders without an eyebrow being raised.
It doesn’t ask too much of you but it gives you a lot back
By the end of the first 42 minutes I had nearly (ok, there was a stray tear) cried twice, laughed, thought and succumbed to huge Goosebumps (and a semi from the appearance of Lyla Garrity, see below). At first, I wanted to carry on watching to see what happened to The Panthers and a couple of the characters, by the end of the second episode I was hooked, desperate to know what happens to everyone.
And this is the genius. Although at times it seems like they are just knocking over social issues – from unemployment to teenage alcoholism, via pregnancy, steroid abuse and adultery – the quality of the writing and the believability of the characters pushes the cynic inside away and allows you to enjoy it.
You root for the rookies, feel empathy for the shite Dads and useless Mums, fancy the cheerleaders and silently wish you were the blokes. FNL, which started in 2006 and finished last year after 76 episodes spanning 5 seasons, is wish-fulfillment television. It doesn’t ask too much of you but it gives you a lot back, which might not appeal to people only looking for the next gritty show, but simply makes it a great series to watch. The American Football never confuses or jars, the awkward moments are funny and the interaction between characters is real. I’ll shut up now before I ruin it, but here are a few of the characters to whet your whistle.
Head Coach of the Dillon Panthers, Taylor is a bloke you’d love to have a beer with. Hard when he needs to be but a softie at heart, his coal black eyes pierce into players and his coaching methods make him the American Mourinho. A hero.
Larger than life car dealer who loves the Panthers, himself and his family in that order. Flashes his state championship ring with alarming regularity, and is the most Machiavellian character of the cast who sticks his nose in wherever he wants. Why? Because he’s Buddy Garrity.
Taylor’s prodigy, star quarterback Street is destined for the very top. Good looking, talented and seemingly vacuous, his story becomes one of the most gripping.
Street’s girlfriend and head cheerleader, the wet-eyed Garrity is the poster girl for the American Dream. Obviously, that poster crumples, but I’m saying nothing else.
Street’s best mate, the hard-drinking, hard-tackling Riggins is the James Dean of the picture whose parents have deserted him. Lives with his elder brother, tackles like a bastard and drives a truck.
Riggins’ missus, Colette is the trashy bird who doesn’t wear enough clothes or do enough work.
Reserve Quarterback who is as far removed from the archetypal jock as you could imagine. Loves Dylan, drawing and his Grandma.
The star running back, he’d give Narcissus a run for his money. Talks about himself in the third person and is under massive pressure to get a scholarship and turn pro to support his Mother and two sisters.
Friday Night Lights is on Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays at 8pm.
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