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Series / Friday Night Lights

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Kid: Mr. Street, do you think God loves football?
Jason: I think that everybody loves football.
— from the pilot episode

Clear eyes... full hearts... CAN'T LOSE!

In 1988, the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas, had a football season. And it was good. Then Buzz Bissinger wrote a book about it in 1990, and everyone could read about how it was good. Then in 2004, The Film of the Book Based on a True Story, Friday Night Lights, was brought to us by Peter Berg. And we could all see that it was good.

And in 2006, because the movie was far too short a window into what was good, Berg made Friday Night Lights: The Series. Where the previous were merely Based on a True Story, the series has essentially all new characters with familiar problems in a fictional Texas town called Dillon, for maximum storytelling flexibility.

Because of the show's large, constantly rotating ensemble, it's difficult to give a summary of the show that does it justice. It starts as the story of the Dillon Panthers, a very successful football team in a town with little else to talk about. At the center of the Panthers (and the show), is Coach Eric Taylor. Coach Taylor attempts to shepherd his players to success while raising a daughter and dealing with the demands of the school, the booster club, and the rest of the town. He wouldn't be anywhere without his wife Tami, the school's guidance counselor who later becomes the principal.

At the end of the show's third season, Coach Taylor is forced out of his job. He is hired as the football coach of the newly-reopened East Dillon High. Unlike the Panthers, the East Dillon Lions have the bare minimum of facilities, equipment, or a budget. Coach Taylor is faced with the challenge of building a football team from scratch. Unlike the championship-focused Panthers, the Lions are happy just to win single games.

The series has completed its broadcast on both Direct TV and network television and been released on DVD. Starting with the third season, it was subject to an unusual licensing agreement where each season would be exclusive to Direct TV for the fall, and then aired on NBC the following spring.

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Clear eyes. Trope list. CAN'T LOSE.

  • Aborted Arc: The show managed to be great television despite having a lot of this.
    • Early in season 1, Tammy is invited by the mayor to work on her re-election campaign. Also, the mayor is a lesbian, in conservative small town Texas. After that episode, it's never brought up again, though the mayor still appears throughout the show's run.
    • Waverly disappears without explanation after Season One, with her mental health storyline unresolved.
  • Abusive Parents: Quite a few versions appear. Both of Matt's parents left him at certain points. His dad joined the army and left him to take care of his grandmother and his mother was practically a stranger to him for much of his life. Tim's deadbeat father abandoned him and his brother. Lyla's father cheated on her mother and squandered her college funds in shady business deals. J.D. McCoy's takes the cake as he is emotionally and physically abusive to his son, pushing him relentlessly to succeed, controlling every aspect of his life from his relationships to how he plays football and beats him when he tries to stand up for himself.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Type E, Coach Taylor calls Landry ''Lance'' more often then not.
  • Back for the Finale: Tim Riggins in the last three episodes, Tyra, Matt, and Grandma Saracen in the last two and Landry and Becky's mom in the finale.
  • Betty and Veronica: Non-romantic example. Coach has to choose between Matt, who is a likable team player, and Voodoo, who is an asshole with a ton of talent, for his quarterback. He chooses Voodoo, but flips his opinion mid-game.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The series finale, and it leans more to the sweet side.
    • The East Dillon Lions are no more, but they end their final season with a state championship. Some of the Lions including Vince Howard, Buddy Garrity Jr., and Dallas Tinker are folded into a new Panthers super team.
    • Save for Julie, the Taylors move to Philadelphia where Tami lands her dream job as a Dean of Admissions, while Eric continues to coach high school football, albeit without the same pageantry back in Texas.
      • Julie accepts Matt Saracen’s marriage proposal and the two live happily together in Chicago.
    • Having mended their brotherhood, Tim and Billy Riggins build a house together. The latter is a Panthers coach and he and Mindy are about to have twins. It’s possible that Tim and Tyra could wind up together some day.
    • It’s implied Vince’s relationship with his father could get better. His relationship status with Jess is left up in the air since she moved to Dallas. She is also an assistant football coach there, having broken through the gender barrier to do so.
    • Buddy Garrity is head of the Panthers booster club again, and he intends to make the Panthers an organization Eric Taylor would be proud of.
    • Luke Cafferty joins the Army, but he leaves his state title ring with Becky, which likely means she’ll wait for him.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: When Tami decides to reallocate football booster money for a JumboTron to the school's facilities fund. She points out that the school is desperately in need of funds in order to provide the students with adequate educations and buying a JumboTron is frivolous. Buddy Garrity argues that the only reason the boosters donated their personal income to the fund in the first place was because they were told it would be used to buy a JumboTron. Therefore, they deserve to get it.
  • Broken Pedestal: After Coach Taylor accepts a job at TMU, Matt, who had started to look up to him as a father figure, feels betrayed and still harbors some resentment over it even after he comes back to the Panthers.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Tami: And so Gracie Belle Taylor was born. GenderFlipped with Jason Street, who likewise thought he was infertile.
  • Boring Failure Hero: Unlike the football powerhouse Panthers, the Lions stink. They're almost always guaranteed a loss on any given game, but the trick is spotting how much fight they give on any given game. However, this is later averted. The Lions manage to defeat the Panthers and deny them the path to the playoffs they assumed was theirs. In season five it pretty much becomes Invincible Hero; the Lions decide they want to go to State, and apparently nothing can slow them down.
  • Broad Strokes: After season 2 was cut short by the writer's strike, season 3 opens with a quick summary of some of the plans for the rest of it, before plowing ahead with its own stories. It also does some obvious fudging of the characters' ages so that the team can all graduate together.
  • Casting Gag: Connie Britton played the same role in the movie as she does in the show.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rather obviously, despite the inter-seasonal Time Skip: Smash's girlfriend Waverly from Season One, Santiago (Buddy Garrity's ward, sorta) from Season Two and Skeeter, Tim Riggins' dog from Season Four.
    • JD McCoy is not mentioned at all in Season Five, leaving his character development dangling. His father got a token acknowledgment in the series finale by way of the fact that he's not with the Panthers anymore, and his mother apparently left them sometime before Season Four.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The plot machinations at the end of season 3 to send Taylor to the East Dillon Lions make very little sense. Apparently Dillon is suddenly twice as big as before, with hundreds and hundreds of people everyone just simply forgot about until now, who all live in a crime-ridden hellhole slum worthy of The Wirenote . This is all so another school with a competing football team can be created. And then to get Taylor there, Joe McCoy is somehow able to get the very popular and successful coach fired in just a single meeting. Apparently a high school football coach with a state championship win and two playoff appearances in three years has no other job prospects.
  • Cry into Chest: Lyla does this into Julie's chest at the end of the pilot episode, after Jason's injury.
  • Dad the Veteran: Subverted by Matt Saracen's dad. When he's on leave, it's clear he is more comfortable being a soldier to a father, leading to a Disappeared Dad.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Billy Riggins shows shades of this as a football coach when he's put in charge of special teams. He directly insults them and then encourages them to picture the opposing players as him.
  • Expy: Some of the characters are very similar to the ones in the 2004 Film. Matt Saracen is Mike Winchell (Woobie's with mentally ill guardians, abandoned by parents, views the coach as a father figure), Smash Williams is Boobie Miles (Insufferably cocky demeanour, career destroying injury, hopes of saving his family), etc. In Matt and Mike's case, the two actors even look pretty alike.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Subverted. Coach Taylor throws a drunk and Heroic BSoD-ing Matt Saracen under a cold shower in season two and castigates him for being selfish, but then realizes how hurt the kid really is.
    • Tim gets one from Eric as well when he tells him that Jason's injury was not his fault and that Tim needs to stop blaming himself.
    Eric: You were on the other side of the field, it wouldn't have mattered. It was an accident, it was not your fault. Listen to me, son, I need you to let yourself off the hook, I want you to let yourself off the hook.
    Tim: (Tearfully) Yes, sir.
    Eric: Be smart.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Subverted. Becky goes through with hers in Season 4, and because this trope seems to be the mindset of most of Dillon, Tami is fired from her job as principal for supporting her choice.
  • Happily Married: Eric and Tami. Yes, they have their fights (like most real couples), but it's obvious how much they truly love, care for, and support each other. In some ways, it's the centerpiece of the show, as both Eric and Tami serve as moral compasses for the other characters and share the role of Only Sane Person
  • Heel–Face Turn: In season 4, the Panthers were portrayed as Jerk Jocks and elitists to contrast with the ragtag and working class Lions. In season 5 , JD and his father disappeared and the Panthers became more sympathetic, so that the Lion's unsportsmanlike trouncing of them would come across as morally ambiguous rather than justified retribution
  • Heroic Sacrifice: An unusual non-death variant in season 4. Tim Riggins takes all of the blame for the chop shop he ran with Billy, going to prison so that Billy can be a father to his child.
  • I Have This Friend: Subverted; when Landry tries to tell Tami about a friend of his who was attacked, she assumes it's him, but he reveals it's actually Tyra he's talking about.
  • Ironic Echo: When Jason has trouble getting past Lyla's betrayal, Tami tells him "there's no weakness in forgiveness". He later repeats these exact same words to Lyla when she tells him about her anger at her father for being unfaithful to her mother.
  • I Will Wait for You Becky to Luke in the final minutes of the finale where he goes off to serve in the army.
  • Jenny's Number: In "Wind Sprints", Jason Street's hospital room has a dry erase board with the number 867-5309.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Julie got grounded every other episode, but it never seemed to stop her from going wherever and doing whatever she wanted. All she had to do was cry a little bit and her parents completely let up.
    • Guy the ferret-owning meth dealer, who Tim inexplicably never turns in to the cops even after he's no longer dependent on him.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The school board unjustly fired Coach Taylor from his job, due to petty small town politics. It comes back to haunt them whey the new coach isn't up to the scratch and they decided to offer Taylor his old job back. Naturally he refuses and he and his family start a new life in Philadelphia
  • Mood Whiplash: If you go straight to season 4 after finishing season 3, then the warm and fuzzy scene of Tim becoming the first person in the family to go to college is immediately followed by his dropping out after one class. Which is played for laughs.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Tim Riggins. In Season One, Riggins sleeps with roughly half of the female characters over the course of the season.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tami with the whole redistricting plot. It's never really evident that East Dillon High got noticeably better because of it, and it seems like the only thing that came out of it was Joe McCoy became an even bigger Jerkass.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: While there is an actual Dillon, Texas, the town of Dillon in the show is more of a stand-in for Odessa. Furthermore, it was filmed in Austin and Pflugerville.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: In the first season, Jason Street was explicitly a senior and Matt Saracen explicitly a sophomore, and the series mostly stuck to that, but it seems their closest friends were all freshman because they all lasted in high school for three to four seasons.
  • Only Sane People: The Taylors are the only ones who understand that the town's obsession with the team is ridiculous and detrimental to everyone's lives.
  • Opposing Sports Team:
    • A nastily racist team is the Panthers' opponent at the end of a racism-based two-parter plot, who then attempt to sic cops on one of the Panthers' black players for a brawl they'd instigated. In a more typical and unintentionally hilarious example, the other finalist team in "State," having recruited the talented not-a-team-player Tatum, appear to offer Smash some kind of Deal with the Devil to join them, or something.
    • The Panthers themselves become one in seasons 4 and 5 once the focus switches to the Lions.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: Twice, both times involving Julie and Matt. The first time, in Season 1, Coach Taylor persists on disturbing the two of them even though they're only watching TV. His attempts to justify it do not help.
    Eric: They had a *blanket*.
    • Played for drama in Season 3, however, when Coach walks in on Julie and Matt having sex, and they, along with Tami, spend most of the rest of the episode dealing with that.
    • Also happens with Tim during his stay at the Taylors' house. After Julie gets drunk one night at a party, Tim takes her home, takes off her shoes, and puts Julie in her bed. Somehow, Julie ends up wrapping her arms around Tim's neck; Coach walks in and misinterprets this as Tim and Julie getting intimate. Coach then angrily kicks Tim out of the house.
  • Practical Voiceover: As in the movie, a guy called Slammin' Sammy has a radio show that exposits 24/7 about the prospects of the Panthers on "Panther Radio," ideal for listening to in those tense driving-your-car scenes. Even when you're rooting for the Lions.
  • Product Placement: The Local Hangout is an Applebee's, for starters. It's both realistic and a subtle commentary on rural corporatization as well as a blatant money-maker.
  • Put on a Bus: Matt's grandma's in-home nurse Carlotta had some conspicuously vague family obligation that sent her out of the country forever.
    • Also, Ray "Big Merry" Merriweather (Jess's dad) between Seasons 4 and 5.
    • All of the kids who graduated and went to college are Put on a Bus, and for all but Smash The Bus Came Back.
  • The Quarterback:
    • Jason Street — Talented and beloved player with a promising career before he becomes paralysed, dating possibly the only nice cheerleader in school, who is also his coach's daughter, and still rallies school spirit whilst becoming humble.
    • Matt Saracen — originally QB 2, and many doubted his abilities as a leader upon promotion because of his sweet personality. However, he proved to be both a commanding leader of the team with skills improving through S1, and a good leader among friends.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Matt and Landry slur their words, stutter, repeat themselves and generally speak the way you'd expect awkward teenager to speak, however, almost everyone else speaks in clear, rehearsed sentences.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: A good number of songs from the broadcast version were replaced with other songs that convey similar moods (when necessary) on the DVD and iTunes releases. One of the more notable changes is at the end of "A Sort of Homecoming," where Jose Gonzalez's cover of "Teardrop" is replaced with a noticeable soundalike; usually, though, the replacements are fairly effectively blended in.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: In-Universe. In "El Accidente", defensive tackle Bobbie Reyes viciously beats up a boy who makes a slightly snide comment about the team. Once the truth about this comes out near the end of the episode, Taylor drops him from the team and tells him to get counselling for his anger issues.
  • Romantic False Lead: Jean for Landry unfortunately fell into the trap of being too likable, until many fans started preferring her to Tyra. It didn't help that Tyra literally asked Landry out in the middle of a date with Jean.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Mama Williams if you disrespect her/are screwing her son in her house. Jess is this during the fourth and fifth season. Both are portrayed as positive sassy characters and not caricatures.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Averted with Grandma Saracen. She's old and has some outbursts, but she might be one of the most polite characters on the show, always offering food to Coach Taylor when he comes to visit.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: The series ends with the Taylors finally getting fed up with how the townspeople treat them like dirt despite how much they've given to help Dillon, and they leave the town to move Philadelphia.
  • Series Fauxnale: Because the show's fate was typically uncertain (the only time they knew they were coming back for another season was when they were picked up for two remaining seasons after the Season Three finale), we have two of these:
    • "State," Season 1, in which the Panthers win State, Tami discovers she's pregnant again, and it ends on Coach standing before the Panthers in the fieldhouse, the TMU decision suddenly not definitive.
    • "Tomorrow Blues," Season 3, where the Panthers lose State despite a fantastic comeback; Billy and Mindy get married; Saracen, Riggins, Lyla, and Tyra get their happy endings; and Coach and Tami stand on the field of the East Dillon Lions, ready to start anew.
  • Shirtless Scene: In the second season, apparently having realized where their true demographic is, the frequency of these has exploded. In particular, Panther-ama involves the team putting on effectively a surprise striptease dance for the school.
  • Super Ringer: Deconstructed with Ray "Voodoo" Tatum. After the Panthers lose their first game without Street, Buddy Garrity recruits Voodoo, a Hurricane Katrina refugee who quarterbacked his hometown team to a state title, to pick up the slack at QB. However, even though he's highly skilled, he's also an arrogant jerk who feels no loyalty to the Panthers program and is just waiting until his school in Louisiana reopens. As a result, he refuses to listen to Coach Taylor and antagonizes the other players to the point where everyone would rather have Matt start even though he's not as talented. Additionally, it's discovered that his recruiting was illegal and so the Panthers are forced to forfeit the only game he plays in.
  • Two-Timing with the Bestie: Jason Street and Lyla Garrity are a long-time couple, planning to marry once Jason finishes college and is recruited to the NFL. When Jason is permanently paralyzed from the neck down by a freak accident during a game, Lyla and Jason's best friend, Tim Riggins, spend a lot of time together trying to figure out how to cope with Street's injuries and help him feel better. This eventually leads to sex. Jason discovers their duplicity when he sees them kissing from the window of his hospital room.
  • Undisclosed Funds: First season: Jason Street's lawsuit against Eric is seeking undisclosed funds; it gets a counteroffer of undisclosed funds; it's ultimately settled for undisclosed funds.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted. Tim and Lyla have an affair while Jason, who was his best friend and her boyfriend, is in hospital and dealing with paralysis. When Jason finds out, he's understandably infuriated with both of them, and every other character is disgusted. Lyla is treated far worse for her infidelity than Tim by the school, to the point where hate sites pop up dedicated to bashing her. While Lyla is treated sympathetically, the overall view is that she's the one who screwed up and has to accept responsibility for her actions, while the majority of sympathy is definitely with Jason.
  • Ungrateful Bastards: The townspeople (under Joe McCoy's influence) pressure the school board into not renewing Coach Taylor's contract even though he lead the team to three straight playoff appearances and a state championship.
  • Very Special Episode: The Very Special Two-Parter "Blinders"/"Black Eyes & Broken Hearts" is triggered by an offhand racist remark by Mac involving an analogy to a "junkyard dog."
  • We Can Rule Together: Before the final game in season 1, Voodoo pulls Smash aside and tells him that he could be living a lot more comfortably if Smash would transfer over to the Mustangs, and the two of them could be an unstoppable duo.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pretty much an underlying theme in 5x08, "Gut Check." Most notably, Jess dresses down Vince for his ever-growing head and breaks up with him and Matt calls Julie out on her running away from problems, as evidenced by the fact that she's in Chicago.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: East Dillon, although it is a more positive portrayal than most, as the people are shown to have a strong sense of community and civic pride once the Lions start gaining momentum.