Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Stage Editor
Ten years ago today we learned the meaning of “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose” when Friday Night Lights first premiered on NBC. In its five season run, Friday Night Lights became one of the most beloved dramas in TV history. Fans fell head-over-heels in love with Eric and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and the entire culture of Texas high school football.
Based on the 1990 best selling novel by H.G Bissinger, Friday Night Lights was first adapted to a film in 2004. The hit TV show developed by Peter Berg and executive produced by Jason Katims (Parenthood). Friday Night Lights would go onto change the face of TV dramas.
Set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, Friday Night Lights tells the story of a small, close-knit community in rural Texas. The series follows Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his family as he coaches the elite Dillon high school football team: The Panthers. The show beautifully uses the small town as a backdrop to address many issues facing contemporary American culture. From family values to school funding to racism and drugs, Friday Night Lights tackles it all.
Friday Night Lights originally ran for two season on NBC. Despite passionate fans and critical acclaim, the show was in threat of cancellation until DirecTV struck a deal with NBC to co-produce the last three season. Although low ratings ultimately led to the series cancellation, the critical acclaim consistently followed the show. In 2011, Chandler won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Katims also won for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the series finale, “Always.” He beat critically acclaimed shows such as Mad Men and Game of Thrones.
Ten years later, thanks to the power of Netflix, more and more people are traveling to Dillon and falling in love with Friday Night Lights. In honor of this incredible drama’s tenth anniversary, executive stage editor Nora Dominick lists her top ten favorite episodes to celebrate!
Beware, some spoilers ahead!
10. “Wind Sprints” (1×03)
Only beings the third episode of Friday Night Lights, this episode holds several iconic moments in its history. After suffering a humiliating loss and dealing with all sorts of tension with the team, Coach Taylor decides an evening practice is the best solution. With rain coming down in buckets, the Panthers run wind sprints up and down a daunting hill screaming “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.” The image of Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) motivating the entire team is a site to behold. This episode also features Coach Taylor telling Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) Jason Street’s accident was not his fault. As we would go onto learn, Coach Taylor and Tim in the rain is a site to witness.
9. “Mudbowl” (1×20)
After an entire season of growing, The Panthers can see State in their future. It all comes down to a crucial Semi-Final game against the Brant Vikings. The only issue? A massive chemical spill causes Coach Taylor to look for another location for the game. What makes this episode so special? The Panthers build a football field as part of Coach’s plan to instill the love of the game back in his players. The homemade field makes this football game stand out amongst the rest as the Panthers fight to make it to State. Also, another game in the rain? Sign us up!
8. “New York, New York” (3×08)
One of the most emotional episodes in Friday Night Lights history, Jason Street (Scott Porter) decides to move to New York City in order to provide for his family. Accompanied by Tim, Jason quickly realizes NYC is very different from Dillon, Texas. The episode gives us one of Kitsch and Porter’s best performances when Jason decides to stay in NYC. The moment Tim and Jason say “Texas Forever” outside of the taxi is forever ingrained in fans minds. Friday Night Lights solidifies Tim and Jason as one of the best friendships on TV in this singular episode.
7. “Pilot” (1×01)
One of the best pilot episodes of any series, Friday Night Lights manages to make you care about every single character from the first moment they step on screen. The pilot shows Coach Taylor’s first week leading the elite Panthers. When QB extraordinare Jason Street is injured during the game, it’s time for back-up QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) to step up and lead the team. The pilot has everything you want: unconditional love, unbearable loss and strength. The pilot introduces us to Coach Taylor’s iconic, inspirational half-time speeches and definitely puts a dent in a box of tissues.
6. “State” (1×22)
Following an entire season of defying the odds with new QB Matt Saracen, The Panthers have finally made it to State. Facing off against the formidable West Cambria Mustangs and ex-Panther Ray “Voodoo” Tatum (Aldis Hodge), The Panthers claw their way through the game of their lives. Complete with screaming fans, some animosity from Saracen towards Coach and enough adorable moments from Coach and Tami to last a lifetime, “State” will make you jump up and down from beginning to end. If you weren’t a football fan before, this episode of Friday Night Lights will change that in two seconds. Also, who doesn’t love seeing The Collette Family, Lyla (Minka Kelly) and Grandma Saracen (Louanne Stephens) road tripping together?
5. “Thanksgiving” (4×13)
Season four is filled with change for every character on Friday Night Lights as Dillon High is split in half. After being run out of the Panther program, Coach Taylor ends up taking the head coach job for the East Dillon Lions. This season, fans meet new characters to fall in love with like Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) and Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria). This episode has the big Thanksgiving game vs. The Panthers as a backdrop, but so much more happens. From Tami possibly losing her principal job to Tim and Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips) being investigated for running a chop shop, emotions are running very high. This episode showcases every single character and is one of the best season finales for Friday Night Lights.
4. “Tomorrow Blues” (3×13)
Following the State Championship, season three shows all the characters as they decide what their post graduation plans are. Tim, surprisingly, has decided to go to college, Lyla struggles to find the finances to attend Vanderbilt and Matt plans to attend art school in Chicago. Meanwhile, Tyra grows increasingly worried college might not be in the cards for her. All of this happens while Tami and Eric must deal with the possibility of redistricting. This episode allows each character to shine in their respective storylines. Friday Night Lights is the epitome of an ensemble show and this episode proves why it does it best.
3. “Underdogs” (3×12)
Season three is definitely a love letter for longtime Friday Night Lights fans. It’s the last season the original characters are altogether and it’s a good one. From Tim and Lyla finally getting together to Smash struggling to attain his college football dreams, this season has it all. The season also features Matt getting benched for J.D McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), a move fans haven’t quite forgiven Coach for. The entire football season comes to a head in this episode as The Panthers strive for a State Championship.
Although the high-stakes game is great, it’s Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) writing her college essay that solidifies this episode as one of the greatest. In voiceover, Palicki delivers the powerful essay saying, “Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting…” A monumental moment for Tyra as her character arc comes to a complete close.
2. “The Son” (4×05)
You should always have a box of tissues handy when watching Friday Night Lights, but this episode requires at least two boxes. Nominated for a 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, “The Son” is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. Just as the East Dillon Lions begin performing as a team, the entire town is rocked when Matt goes through a family crisis. Landry (Jesse Plemons), Tim and the rest all rally to help Matt, but ultimate he can only help himself. This episode has a stand-out, career defining performance from Zach Gilford that will have you blubbering like a baby. Try getting through this episode without crying, I dare you.
1. “Always” (5×13)
In order to encapsulate such an incredible series, Friday Night Lights needed to deliver a spectacular finale and they did just that. “Always” centers on the possibility of the East Dillon Football program ending even with the State Championship approaching. Every character comes full circle for this finale and it’s arguably one of the best TV series finales ever. After five seasons, Friday Night Lights went out in the best way possible. This episode won for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and received critical acclaim across the board. By the end of the episode fans will no doubt be crying and chanting “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose” forever. Thank you Friday Night Lights.