Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Mon Oct 21 2013

Family and football rule all

When people say they love Friday Night Lights, they generally mean the TV show. FNL, if you’re in the know. Dillon, Texas. Go Panthers. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

fridaynightlights

Since I tend to resist things that are hugely hyped, I avoided FNL for a long, long time. Finally, the dust settled — to the point that I forgot about the show entirely, in fact, until a friend brought it up in book club last year. Then, thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch all 5 seasons of what I can now say is one of my all-time favorite TV series.

Why do I (and millions of others) love FNL so much?

Coach and Mrs. Coach

Contrary to the popular belief that marriages make for boring television, the Taylors serve as the backbone for FNL and all its drama. But they are not the source of drama, usually. They love, respect, and support one another, even when they completely disagree. And through 5 seasons, there are no affairs, no big deceits. Coach and Mrs. Coach tackle a lot of problems over the years, but always as a team. In a world full of adultery and backstabbing, both on screen and in real life, that is so, so refreshing.

Eric: “You know who I miss? I miss the Coach’s wife.”
Tami: “You know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.”
Eric: “Touché.”

Underdogs

From the very first episode, this show is about people that no one believes in. No one thinks that Coach Taylor can take the Dillon Panthers to the state championship. No one thinks that Saracen can hack it as a quarterback. No one thinks that Riggins or Tyra (or, like, half a dozen other kids) will escape the chains of their broken homes. And later on, no one thinks that East Dillon’s ragtag football team can amount to much of anything.

I won’t give away who succeeds and who fails, but I will say that FNL takes you on one heck of an emotional roller coaster to find out.

Shades of gray

Black-or-white morality tales are for kids. Real life — and therefore, good stories — live in the gray. It’s not about “good” versus “evil” — but rather, a bunch of flawed human beings doing their best. Each character is just fumbling toward their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and making mistakes along the way.

Example: Tim Riggins, everyone’s favorite bad boy. He feels guilty for not protecting his best friend. Anguished about loving a girl he can’t have. Ashamed of his drunkard father and loser brother, and even more ashamed of how much he takes after them both. He’s a playboy with a good heart and a lot of talent. He wants to be better than the path he’s on.

Or: Buddy Garrity, the former Big Man on Campus, the hotshot, the hypocrite. He’s a lousy husband, and not much better as a father, but he loves Dillon and he loves the Panthers. He’d do anything for his team — even if it’s a little shady.

Characters like these (and oh so many more FNL favorites) are the reason I read and write.

Crossover appeal

Something FNL does exceptionally well is flip between the adults and the teens. Most stories let one or the other be props. I mean, there are a lot of orphans in YA lit, and a lot of kids taking care of themselves off-screen in television and movies.

But in Dillon, TX, we get to see things from both sides. Student or teacher, player or coach, child or parent — every character is nuanced, everyone gets treated as real and worthy of our attention. This means the storylines appeal across a wide age range. We get to see things from multiple sides. And we get deeper, more genuine relationships.

And more

There are probably a dozen other things I could point out that make FNL great and set it apart from most other TV shows, but I think you get the point.

(Also, FYI: you really don’t have to like football, or even understand it, to enjoy the show.)

Part of the reason I’m picking FNL apart today is to remember and share what the series taught me as a writer. Another reason is that all these elements are on my “wishlist” as a reader and viewer — they’re what I want to see more of in the stories that I consume — and there was a big discussion about that on Twitter today. You can check out #RBWL (reader/blogger wishlist) for more.

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12 Comments
  1. mandy says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 8:41 AM

    I just started watching this and so far I really enjoy it, too. I resisted it for a long time because I’m not that big into football, but like The League, it’s a show where you don’t have to be super into sports to appreciate it (although I’m sure it helps).

    It’s pretty nostalgic for me, since high school football was a HUGE deal in my hometown. Fridays were like holidays at school because everyone was wearing jerseys and getting ready for the pep rally, plus I got out of class to go wave my flag around :) always fun.

    I also love your shades of gray analogy, that’s a really good point. Things don’t always have to be on one end of the extreme or the other in order to be entertaining.

  2. Kristan says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Yay, so glad you’re enjoying FNL! Kind of funny: I grew up in TX, but football was *not* a huge deal at my school. We were kind of terrible because we were nerdy. :P But we did play *against* some really good, hardcore football teams…

  3. Jonathan says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 10:01 PM

    OK, I have to check out this show. I need something to watch after Breaking Bad ended!

  4. Kristan says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 10:29 PM

    Hope you enjoy it! And I’d definitely be curious to see your take on it.

  5. jkftravel says:
    Tue Oct 22 2013 at 11:57 PM

    I love this show. I’ve watched all five seasons twice now. You’re right that it is nuanced, and human, and nobody is completely 2 dimensional. Not only is the writing excellent, but it well directed and well acted. Plus, I have a huge, silly crush on Kyle Chandler.

  6. Kristan says:
    Wed Oct 23 2013 at 8:26 AM

    Nothing silly about that crush! ;P But haha I’m so glad to hear that you like it as much as I do. I’m sure it’s one I’ll rewatch a few times, much like one of my other favorites, Battlestar Galactica. Totally different feel (gritty scifi vs. realistic small town contemp) but similar in many storytelling ways.

  7. Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) says:
    Wed Oct 23 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Ok, this is going to sound overly dramatic, but I don’t care. FNL is one of those rare shows that I was truly sad to see end…like on a deep, omg I’m going to miss these people so much level. Now anytime I happen to hear the first notes of the theme song or anything by Explosions in the Sky, it pulls on my heartstrings like no other show ever has.

    And like you, I was very hesitant to watch it because of the hype. Now I try to get everyone I know to watch it because it’s such beautiful storytelling.

  8. Kristan says:
    Thu Oct 24 2013 at 8:34 AM

    Oohh, you followed it live? I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be part of that phenomenon. (That’s the downside to being anti-hype: I miss out on good stuff sometimes!) YES the opening song totally gets me, and I too try to get everyone to watch.

  9. Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) says:
    Thu Oct 24 2013 at 11:30 PM

    Unfortunately, I didn’t follow it live, but I watched it in 2011 when it was on Netflix and had already ended. I WISH I’d listened to the hype and watched it live. I remember when they were still filming in Austin and I’d see calls for extras on craigslist and I’d think, who has time for that?! ::kicks herself, very hard, for that::

  10. Kristan says:
    Fri Oct 25 2013 at 7:47 AM

    LOL oh man, being an extra would have been SO. AWESOME!

  11. Shannon Wixom says:
    Thu Oct 31 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Great post. I stumbled upon FNL long after the show wrapped up too. And you touched on all the reasons I adored it! I loved studying the characters and their motivations to improve the characters in my stories.

  12. Kristan says:
    Thu Oct 31 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Yes, ditto studying FNL to improve my own work. In fact, I have on occasion let FNL (or Battlestar Galactica) play in the background while I work. Learning by osmosis, right? ;)

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