Texas Forever: An Analysis of the Friday Night Lights Pilot

I know little-to-nothing about Friday Night Lights and even less about football. Consider yourself lucky that I don’t, otherwise you would have to prepare yourself for an onslaught of football puns. Most of you know I moved to East Texas in January. I’ll joke with my friends that I’m going to pick an arbitrary football team and follow it obsessively come fall. That’s still my plan, so I thought Friday Night Lights would make a fine summer primer. I won’t be reviewing every episode, but I’ll probably review it every so often just for kicks.*

So…pilot analysis. A good pilot has to grant you access to the characters’ lives and set the tone for the rest of the season. An outstanding pilot has to garner your commit for the next 22 episodes, if not the duration of the entire series. And does Friday Night Lights accomplish either of those? Let’s find out. FNL opens over a small Texas town and a screenshot telling us that it’s Monday. You can guess from the show title that the episode will take us through the whole week. (Question: Is this the same for every episode?) I like it for the pilot because it builds anticipation the closer you get to Friday night.

For being set in a sparse and not terribly appealing town, one of the first things I noticed was how the show relies heavily on visual cues. In a matter of minutes the viewer knows the various economic situations of the main cast, the general outlook of the town as a whole, and the visual excitement that goes hand-in-hand with football. The sets are muted, but I remember that the Panthers’ colors are a bright blue and yellow. One annoying pilot quirk is that they use radio “sports talk” voiceovers to do the explaining instead of letting the story speak for itself. Also, they do news interviews with the players as it’s the beginning of the football season. That one didn’t bug me quite as much because it felt authentic and set up some good character rivalry. And don’t worry, they drive the point home a bajillion times that football is god to these people, maybe more so than God Himself.

The introduction of characters is accomplished quietly. We hear other characters talk about them or we see them pound one of those “I’m a football player!” signs into their yard (as is the case with Saracen). Early moments define how we perceive the characters and how we’re supposed to feel about them. Some are more blatant–Tim Riggins is a slacker and Tyra is a bit of a slut. You get the sense that “Smash” is 100% deserving of his nickname and that Jason Street is a good, old-fashioned, homespun boy. I don’t believe that this is all these characters will ever be, however for the sake of introduction, it works. The Taylors, new to the town, are more inscrutable. Smart move, leaving their characters on the vague side (at least to begin with) allows us to connect with them because we’re also new to this town. We see Dillon as the Taylors see Dillon–skeptical, maybe a tad judgmental, and wanting to learn how to love it. (My favorite character at the end of the episode is the coach’s daughter, Julie Taylor, because she’s snarky and likes to read and doesn’t believe that football is the end-all-be-all to life itself. I guess what I’m saying is…I can relate.)

Story-wise, the episode is weak. Hmm, maybe not weak. The story is simple. This is acceptable for a pilot because you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but I’m saying that in faith, believing the story will improve. Dillon High School is the #1 team in Texas and they’ve got a reputation to uphold. With a new coach in town, well, who knows what could happen? (I do. I know what could happen because I have watched sports movies and I’m not an idiot. So there.) Long story short, it’s the first game of the season and they better win it or else! In my notes I have written “Prediction: QB gets hurt and 2nd QB has to stand in. They win the game.” Later in my notes: “Nailed it.” Keeping it predictable like that is a risky move–the reward at the end better be worth the fact that you just watched the condensed version of Remember The Titans and the soundtrack was not near as catchy. It got a little heavy-handed near the middle and the football scenes didn’t hold my attention, but boy am I glad I pulled through. The triumph at the end was fairly exhilarating and got me just the teensiest bit choked up. This is what happens whenever I make the mistake of watching a sports movie, like Miracle or Ice Princess.

At the end of the game, Coach Taylor and his wife give each other a look that indicates, “Okay, we’re committed to this town. Let’s do this.” and that’s when I realized that I was committed, too. The football team itself does not represent the underdogs that we so love to cheer for, but the individual characters find themselves in underdog situations. That’s something worth rooting for. The folks of Dillon care about football, but do they care about each other? That’s an intriguing enough question that I’m willing to stick it out and I’m hoping for a touchdown.**

Grade: B+

*Not intended to be a football pun.
**Couldn’t help myself.

6 Responses to “Texas Forever: An Analysis of the Friday Night Lights Pilot”
  1. Ashley says:

    I don’t want to read this right now because it will spoil me, but I fully plan on reading it when I eventually sit down to watch the series. Who knows when that will be.

  2. allthewine says:

    i am incapable of speaking objectively about this show because I believe it is the best show that proposes to be about football but in actually is not at all about football TO EVER BE CREATED.

    You hit the nail on the head – its’ about characters, and you will see. The sports-talk guy sometimes give exposition about what’s happened since the last episode, but he’s not so annoying (in fact at the moment I can’t remember his name… Sammy something, yes?)

    I’m trying to think back to the pilot (fondly) and if I’m right it’s more closely based on the book/movie. The series really takes off half-way through season 1 so you are in for a doozy.

    As a analysis though, this is spot on. I can’t wait to follow your FNL journey (be it on twitter or here… I’ll follow it anywhere!!)

    Sammy Meade! The sports-talk guy is slammin’ sammy meade. you’ll be surprised who grows on you. I can’t wait til you analyze the relationship between Coach and Mrs. Coach! Oh, so many wonderful things await you. (I said I couldn’t be objective)

  3. Jennie says:

    I’m (I think?) halfway through season 2 of this show and I was absolutely floored by how much I love it. I FREAKING LOVE THIS SHOW. I started watching it because A) everyone on Pajiba is always talking about how awesome it is and B) it’s now on Netflix Instant. I didn’t think I’d get so into a show about football, but yeah, it’s not REALLY about football.

    Also, I have an inappropriate crush on Coach Taylor.

    PS: I’m interested to see if your opinion of Julie Taylor changes. I liked her a lot in the beginning. That’s all I will say for now.

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