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Kid: Mr. Street, do you think God 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 a guy 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 Direc 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 Direc TV for the fall, and then aired on NBC the following spring.
- Abusive Parents: 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. His dad also was described as very angry and tempermental and was willing to uproot Matt's life for his military career.
- Adorkable: Matt.
- Ambiguously Gay: Hastings during the fifth season according to this article.
- Autobots Rock Out: Whenever the team is about to turn the tide, the electric guitars start up.
- 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.
- Badasslonghair: Tim Riggins.
- Big Game: Because Dillon is fanatic about football, EVERY game is a Big Game.
- But I Can't Be Pregnant: Tami: And so Gracie Belle Taylor was born. Later sorta-GenderFlipped with Jason Street, who likewise thought he was infertile.
- Brother Chuck: 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 hasn't been mentioned at all in season 5. 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 4, but otherwise the parents haven't had much mention either.
- 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 spectacularly 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 Boring Invincible Hero; the Lions decide they want to go to State, and apparently nothing can slow them down.
- However, this is later spectacularly averted. The Lions manage to defeat the Panthers and deny them the path to the playoffs they assumed was theirs.
- Break the Cutie: So much.
- Break the Haughty: Buddy Garrity. And most people in-universe and out tend to believe that it was much-needed.
- Children Raise You: Coach Taylor has a speech about this, saying he learns as much from his players as they do from him.
- 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.
- Disappeared Dad: Smash Williams (dead), Matt Saracen (in Iraq), Tim and Billy Riggins (Corpus Christi), Becky Sproles (on the road), Vince Howard (in jail)
- Down to the Last Play: With the twist that, since there's more than just one Big Game, sometimes they actually lose. Generally, games that don't come Down to the Last Play are only mentioned offscreen.
- Dawson Casting: with the exceptions of Julie and Landry.
- This is unintentionally Lampshaded when the black students boycott the team, forcing Coach Taylor to draw on the JV. The JV players, played by actually age-appropriate 14-15 year olds, look horribly young and miniscule next to the main cast, some of whom begin teasing the JV players mercilessly, possibly as a bit of Lampshade Hanging.
- Dying Town: Dillon
- Dysfunction Junction: The Garritys, the Rigginses, the Saracens, the Howards, the Sproleses...
- Earn Your Happy Marriage: The Taylors may be the only nondysfunctional married couple in Dillon, and the show lets us know just how much work goes into maintaining that balance.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Kind of the whole point of the show.
- Estrogen Brigade Bait: Tim Riggins. In Season One, Riggins sleeps with roughly half of the female characters over the course of the season.
- Executive Meddling: A reason for most of the sensationalist story lines during the second season.
- 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.
- A Father to His Men: Non-military, but Coach Taylor qualifies easily, especially with the boys from broken families.
- Five-Man Band:
- Friday Night Death Slot: Survived surprisingly long there, appropriately for the title. It helped that NBC timed the episodes so as not to coincide with high school football season.
- 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.
- "Glad to Be Alive" Sex: Tyra and Landry after her would-be-rapist's murder.
- Gretzky Has the Ball: Like anyone watching cares about the football, anyway.
- 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
- 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.
- Hey, It's That Guy!
- Hospital Hottie: Carlotta.
- I Coulda Been a Contender: Jason Street, in the accident that starts off the series. Eventually he manages to get his happy ending, though, happily married with a son and job as a sports agent.
- I Will Wait for You Becky to Luke in the final minutes of the finale where he goes off to serve in the army.
- Jerkass: Joe McCoy. So much. His son JD doesn't start out this way, but becomes one in Season 4.
- Jittercam: And oops-gotta-refocus-cam.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: There were exactly three known virgins on the show; season two was quick to make sure the two boys didn't qualify anymore.
- Miracle Rally
- Missing Mom: Matt Saracen's in Oklahoma.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Type E, Coach Taylor calls Landry Lance more often then not
- Nakama: Forged in the third episode of the series with The Panthers. A new Nakama is forged during Coach Taylor's time at the Lions.
- Name's the Same:
- The team's called the Panthers and the school colors are blue and gold, just like Degrassi.
- Also, Berg's very short-lived show from 2000, "Wonderland," also featured a Lyla Garrity. He stated in an interview that both characters were named after his first crush, who was his dentist's daughter.
- In the Real vs. Fictional category, NBC Television Show Character Brian "Smash" Williams should not be confused with NBC News Anchor Brian Williams.
- New Old Flame: Tami's high school ex-boyfriend, played by director Peter Berg. And so the jealous male bitchfest commenced.
- 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.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted with Mayor Rodell and her unnamed partner.
- Oedipus Rex: Matt Saracen has his distant Dad stationed in Iraq. Tim Riggins's father left, leaving him in the care of his brother. Both come back to live with their kid for a few episodes, and neither ends well.
- Only Barely Renewed: Twice. Fans have blamed the Dork Age on Executive Meddling related to the show's poor ratings. The third season explored premium cable and syndication as a way to make the show profitable.
- 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.
- Overprotective Dad: If your QB1 had designs on your daughter, you'd probably be a bit wary, too.
- Mostly subverted with Eric Taylor because Tami will put him in his place before he becomes the Overprotective Dad.
Eric: Ima have me a Matt chat.
- However, do not visit his daughter at his home when you made her a pariah at college while he is making a tricycle for his three year-old. He will run you out, using the pink handlebars like a baseball bat.
- Papa Wolf: Coach Taylor, not just to Julie but to his team too.
- Portmanteau Couple Name: Invoked in-show with "The Waverlash."
- Practical Voice Over: 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. If you're charitable, it's both realistic and a subtle commentary on rural corporatization as well as a blatant money-maker.
- Under Armour, anyone?
- Promotion to Parent: Tim's equally-shiftless brother Billy is still an improvement over their dad.
- Put Me in Coach
- 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.
- Rousing Speech: Before every game, and sometimes afterwards, unless Coach is really pissed.
- Running Gag: Maybe Coach honestly thinks Landry's name is "Lance."
- 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 a 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. Played straight with Landry however.
- 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, and
- "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.
- Season 2 didn't get a Series Fauxnale due to the Writers' Strike.:
- Serious Business: Truth in Television: American football is serious business.
- 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.
- Spell My Name with a "The": The Smash likes to talk about himself in The Third Person.
- Team Mom / Team Dad: One of the more literal versions of this trope when it comes to Tami and Eric. See also A Father to His Men
- Team Spirit
- Their First Time: The first season episode "I Think We Should Have Sex" (talk about it) and the third season episode "It Ain't Easy Being J.D. McCoy" (actually did it).
- The Danza: Lamarcus Tinker as Dallas Tinker, Aaron Spivey-Sorrells as Coach Spivey, Timothy F. Crowley as Coach Crowley.
- The Rival: Smash to Tim in the early episodes of Season 1, Voodoo to Matt and Smash in Season 1, and J.D. to Matt in Season 3. The Lions to the Panthers in the last two seasons
- Suspiciously Similar Song: The Dillon Panthers' fight song sounds a lot like Notre Dame's fight song
- Troubled but Cute: Tim Riggins
- Turn Out Like His Father: Vince fights this successfully in the fourth season.
- Underdogs Never Lose: Played straight, contrary to the movie. But between seasons two and three, it was apparently averted offscreen.
- Undisclosed Funds: First season: The lawsuit is seeking Undisclosed Funds; it gets a counteroffer of Undisclosed Funds; it's ultimately settled for Undisclosed Funds...
- Unnecessary Roughness
- Very Special Episode: The Very Special Two-Parter "Blinders"/"Black Eyes & Broken Hearts" is triggered by an offhand racist remark by a coach 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.
- Where Are They Now: The final episode ends showing us the fates of the characters eight months after the East Dillon Lions' final game.
- Written in Infirmity: Landry's second-season leg injury that put a hold on his football-playing subplot; appropriately enough, Jesse Plemons had actually injured himself in a pick-up game of football.