Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: Why was Friday Night Lights So Good?

Posted: March 14, 2012 in Football, Television

Panthers or Lions…Friday Night Lights was an adaptation of the film made for a television audience. The series focused on the town of Dillon and the Panthers of Dillion High School. Over the course of five seasons, the Taylor family and the notable people of Dillon go through moments of glory, shame and heartbreak. There are championships and tragic defeats. The town unites around football but divides after a dramatic decision.

Leading the way through the seasons is Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) as the coach of the Dillon Panthers. He has all the talent in the world as a coach and gets recognized for every success and defeat through his 5 years in Dillon, Texas. His wife, Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), is a strong-willed woman who starts as the counselor for Dillon High, rises to the status of principal, gets caught up in controversy, returns to being a counselor and gets the opportunity of a lifetime as a Dean of Admissions. Julie Taylor  (Amiee Teegarden) goes through a transformation from rebellious teenager to confident young woman. Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) hangs onto the thread of his football glory but finds himself fighting between his big heart and his poor judgment. Matt Sarasen (Zach Gilford) never imagined he would rise to high school football glory, but struggles to find himself through the challenges of caring for his grandmother and figuring out his uncertain future. Buddy Garity (Brad Leland) is the leader of the booster who is a rather confused businessman and his obsession with football is unmatched by anyone in the town. Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) comes from a troubled family but never gives up his hope that his mother will get clean or that he can make something of himself. Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) struggles with getting stripped from the Panthers but becomes a leader for the Lions.

Supporting the main cast are a number of integral members of the story. Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) serves partially as Matt’s best friend but also the quintessential punching bag for several of the significant female characters. Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) never seems to maintain success but has a big heart similar to his brother. Smash Williams (Gaius Charles) is the bigheaded high school star who is brought down to earth by an injury and learns how to truly work for what he wants. Jason Street (Scott Porter) has his life change when a spinal injury ruins his chance to be a football star, but he learns how to find himself after he realizes the importance of surrounding himself with people for which he truly loves. Lyla Garity (Minka Kelly) starts as a rather devout Christian, but her struggles with caring for Jason and a confusing relationship with Tim broaden her understanding of self. Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) comes from a struggling family but slowly finds the courage to make something of her life. JD McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) is the phenom who gets corrupted by success and praise. His father, Joe McCoy (DW Moffett), is the overbearing father who tries to control more than just his son’s life. Jess Merriweather (Jurrnee Smollett) struggles with her feelings between Landry and Vince but explores her passion for football while serving as a student coach for the East Dillon Lions. Becky Sproles (Dora Madison Burge) is a young and spunky high-schooler who develops a strong attraction to Tim as both a love interest and an older brother. Mrs. Sarasen (Louanne Stephens) is the sweet grandmother of Matt but slowly deteriorates with dementia.

Now with a feel for the characters, there are a significant number of moments that make this show fantastic. Here are some of the best of the best…

  • “The Son” – When Matt loses his father, he travels through the 5 stages of grief in a way that finally gets him to release so much of the anger and frustration that had been plaguing him for a long time. When he goes to the funeral home and sees the remains of his father, there is a moment that rocks him to the core and allows him the chance to reevaluate his life. His speech at the funeral represents his transition to acceptance of his father’s shortcomings.
  • “Pilot” – Jason Street, the star of the Dillon Panthers, gets injured in the most difficult way for a rising talent. His spinal injury rocks the team to its core and inspires a fantastic speech by Coach Taylor to bring perspective to the team with a combination of realism and hope.
  • “The Giving Tree” – When Julie has sex for the first time with Matt, neither Eric nor Tami know what to say to her. Eric has a moment when he asks his wife what she is going to say and she just sits down without a single bit of confidence of what to do. When she finally gets Julie to sit down for a conversation, she simply says, “I wanted you to wait.”
  • “Tomorrow Blues” – After Joe McCoy did everything in his power to get rid of Eric, the coach has one last chance to fight for his job. He simply shows up to the meeting and delivers a short but power statement. Though he loses his job, he becomes the head coach for the East Dillon Lions and later learns that he never was supposed to take the job. He of course proves everyone wrong after going through his rebuilding year.
  • “Leave No One Behind” – Matt Sarasen has a number of truly difficult moments, but late in season 2, he gets to one of the lowest points of the series. Unable to reconcile his ability to lead the team and his struggles with having everyone leave him, he gets thrown in the shower by Coach Taylor and screams, “What’s wrong with me?!?” Quietly, the coach tries to help him understand that he has been dealt a tough hand.
  • “New York New York” – While Jason Street struggled to find himself after the accident, he finds something to strive for while searching for a chance to be with his love and his child. Going to New York, he is able to get a friend to sign with a small-time agent and goes to Erin’s house. Proclaiming his love for her and their daughter, he convinces her to accept him back into her life while he says goodbye to his best friend, Tim.
  • “Underdogs” – Though the team won the state championship in the first season, the third season was so much meaningful. With some of the main players graduating (Matt and Tim), this game becomes bigger than the actual contest. Tim walks out onto the field after coming up just short of victory and soaks in his last moments as a high school football player for the Dillon Panthers. Placing his shoes on the field, he symbolically leaves it all behind.
  • “Kingdom” – With so many of the moments of the show being so heavy, this is one of the humorous interactions that keeps the show in check of its dramatic roots. Vince, Luke and Hastings are out on the balcony chatting about an assortment of random topics in a moment of male bonding. With the coach secretly listening in, he finally feels like these players that were outcasts and delinquents are finally on the right track and gelling as a team.
  • “Hello Goodbye” – After all of the blood, sweat and tears, Smash Williams finally gets his big break. He was turned away after the injury, broken because of his failed dreams and worked hard to get back into shape for the recruiters. When he gets the call, he briefly jokes about it and then the moment of celebration arises. He stops by the coach’s house to thank him for never quitting on him.
  • “East of Dillon” – The aftermath of the splitting of Dillon leave Coach Taylor with a team and a school that are utterly broken. He challenges the players to leave if they do not want to play and ends up with only 18 guys remaining. The team plays hard the first half and sits in the locker room beaten and broken. Eric sees the team and does not feel comfortable putting them back on the field. Going out to the refs, he calls the game, leaving the town of Dillon confounded on his supposed abandonment of team.
  • “Texas Whatever” – In the series finale, the East Dillon Lions get to finish their existence on a high note with a state championship, but the team is set to merge back with West Dillon. In a series of flashes between characters, viewers are left with the transitions of each of the notable members of the Dillon family. Eric tells Vince that he is the star of the Panthers, reassuring him that his future is still in front of him. Luke heads off to join the army and is seen off by Becky. Tami’s demand of a new chapter leads to the family moving to Philadelphia and Eric coaching a small high school program.

All of these moments come together in a way that is just perfect television. Though this is a series that you just do not want to end, five seasons were perfect to keep the characters and storylines engaging from start to finish.



  1. This show is amazing my friend showed me this show and I right away fell in love. Tim Riggins, Jason Street, Brian Williams, known as the SMASH, and Matthew Serison are very good football players and any day I could meet them I would right away. Lyla Garidy is a very sweet girl and she is really pretty. I love this show so much and I will never forget it.

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