Sports dramas have become increasingly popular over the years and found success on streaming platforms including Netflix, Hulu, Peacock and Apple TV. Whether the series is fictional as Cobra Kai, All American, GLOW, Where Ted Lasso; or a documentary series like The Last Dance, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Where Buying Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, there is a lot to be valued in the range that these programs can cover. Even though it didn’t receive top ratings when it hit the airwaves, Friday night lights is one of the best sports series ever made.
In 2006, Friday night lights premiered on NBC. The series was inspired by the 1990 novel, Friday Night Lights: a city, a team and a dream which was also the subject of the 2004 film Friday night lights, which starred Billy Bob Thornton, Garrett Hedlund, Jay Hernandez, Derek Luke, Lucas Black and Tim McGraw. Peter Berg directed and co-wrote the 2004 film, then created the 2006 series.
The show’s first season introduced the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and the pride it has for its high school football team: the Dillon Panthers. The drama series follows Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) in his first year as head coach of the Dillon Panthers. With the town’s dedication to the sport and the team, Eric’s career and family depend on him to take the team to the state championship. He encounters many difficulties with his new team, including team boosters, led by an overly enthusiastic Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), and drama between his players. Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) and Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) are among Eric’s most troublesome players, but he always finds promising qualities in them and puts them on the right track. Eric’s toughest task comes in the team’s first game of the season, where star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) takes a hit that leaves him paralyzed.
Eric is then given the task of coaching Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and given the responsibility of taking the team to the state championship. Matt has lived in Jason’s shadow throughout his high school career and has very little experience with playing time, running plays, and bonding with teammates, which severely affects his confidence. His friendship with Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), his budding relationship with Eric’s daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), and his grandmother’s encouragement are what keep Matt grounded. Tami (Connie Britton), Eric’s wife, helps keep him grounded during the season and its unfortunate conflicts. She begins working at Dillon High as a guidance counselor, which begins to introduce new problems for her and Eric’s marriage.
Besides its impressive cast which also includes Adrianne Palicki, Minka Kelly, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett, Matt Lauria and Derek Phillips, Friday night lights addresses many real-world themes. The injury that Jason Street suffers at the start of Friday night lights sets the tone for the rest of the series and is inspired by David Edwards’ football accident in 2003. He took a hit during a high school football game that left him paralyzed, and subsequently , he became a motivational speaker. Jason follows an equally inspiring path on the show, and the struggles he and his family face after his injury are telling. They struggle to pay the cost of her medical care and treatment, putting her parents’ relationship on ice. Jason’s relationship with his friends and girlfriend is strained, and those who once adored him as a football star now pity him.
Matt himself has a difficult background. He is the primary caregiver for his dementia-stricken grandmother and struggles in the absence of his father who is drafted into the US Army. He comes to terms with the loss and struggles to overcome that grief and balance all of his obligations in light of it. Friday night lights also tackles the difficult topics of aggression, drug use, alcoholism, abusive family situations, racism and teenage pregnancy. These topics are woven into the pressures of student-athletes, their families, and making plans for their future that may or may not involve football. They allow these characters to explore their own identities, allowing them to step into their own coming-of-age stories.
The stars of Friday night lights are still spotted across Hollywood today. Palicki appeared in Marvel Agents of SHIELD and the science fiction series Orville. Kelly has recently been featured on HBO shows Euphoria and appeared in the crime drama Lansky in 2021. Gilford became a frequent collaborator with horror director Mike Flanagan, first leading role in Midnight Mass. He will also appear in Flanagan’s upcoming projects. The Midnight Club and The Fall of House Usher. Last season’s additions Michael B. Jordan and Jurnee Smollett were involved in a number of projects, including Black Panther, Creed, Lovecraft Country and Birds of Prey. Both Chandler and Britton had illustrious careers before joining Friday night lights, and after their stints on the show, nothing has slowed them down.
Despite Friday night lights initial reception throughout its original airing period, the show established a strong fan base and garnered critical acclaim. After her final in 2011, Chandler won a Primetime Emmy for her role as Coach Taylor. Jason Katims won an Emmy at the same ceremony for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for the series finale, “Always.” Since its conclusion, Friday night lights found additional fans in its availability on streaming platforms, allowing a new generation of viewers to enjoy the characters the series has to offer, and its refusal to shy away from themes that high schoolers and student-athletes often encounter .
Friday night lights is now streaming on Netflix.
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