Best of the Small Screen, Dramas No. 4

Over the next 4 weeks I'll be taking a look at some of my favorite TV series, broken down into three groups (Limited Run Series, Comedies, and Dramas). In my post on March 1 I laid out the ground rules for these categories and this exploration, the biggest of which is no series that are currently airing. To read the whole thing, check out the post "Best of the Small Screen" from March 1.

Today I continue my countdown with a beloved sports-related drama.

Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Numbers of Seasons/Episodes: 5/76
Network: NBC/DirecTV
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Zach Gilford, Aimee Teegarden, Jesse Plemmons, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Scott Porter, and Gaius Charles
Creator: Peter Berg
Favorite Season/Episodes: Season 1, 1.01 "Pilot," 1.20 "Mud Bowl," 2.14 "Leave No One Behind," 3.12 "Underdogs," 4.05 "The Son," and 5.13 "Always"
About: "Texas Forever!" That was in honor of Tim Riggins (Kitsch), and was a phrase commonly heard on the series. So, too, was coach Eric Taylor's (Chandler) mantra, "Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose." It's been 11 years since the show debuted in the fall of 2006, and it still remains a vibrant part of our pop culture landscape. That's a testament to the enduring power of the show, which was about football, in part, but was really about life. It was about love, relationships, friendships and featured one of the most beautifully honest depictions of marriage on TV. Those are just some of the reasons I loved this show. But that, of course, came as somewhat of a surprise to me. The series shares the same name and concept as a feature film starring Billy Bob Thornton and Britton that was released in 2004. I liked that movie OK (and I do own it) but it wasn't really a favorite. And for that reason, I wasn't that excited about the show. Still, I tuned into the pilot and, 60 minutes later, I was wiping tears from my eyes and I was in love. And while it's true I love football, that wasn't the reason I was in love with the show (or at least the sole reason). It was the heart. And the pilot remains on the list of the best episodes of all time. This was a show that was never afraid to boldly be itself. I remember during the premier episode of season four, in the background during a tense scene, the show played the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." It was something I'd never seen, and something that made me tear up. I have never forgotten that episode or sequence. The same is true for the beautiful episodes on this list. I always loved the relationship between coach Taylor and Matt Saracen (Gilford), and that's a lot of these, too. They have some moving scenes in "Leave No One Behind," which is a fascinating episode at the end of season two, and in the moving "The Son," from season four. There are great game-related episodes in "Mud Bowl" and "Underdogs." I particularly loved "Underdogs" because of the way it steers into a sports cliche (the big comeback in the title game) then surprises everyone with the ending. And, finally, few series have ended as well as "Friday Night Lights" did with "Always." Even if you don't love or even like football, this is a series worth watching. Chandler and Britton are phenomenal and worth the effort alone.


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