I taught at a Florida high school that took two state championships in seven years, and believe me, I know how seriously these schools take their football. I’m told Texas treats high school football as something sacred to be worshipped, and church meets every Friday night during the fall season. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine a series capturing the emotion that goes into one of these programs as well as Friday Night Lights has. Taken from the film of the same name, the series is even better. So many things about this freshman show impressed me throughout its season run. The cast of relative unknowns, except for Kyle Chandler and perhaps Connie Britton, morph into their characters so well you might never know that a good many of them are performing in their first show. This cast gives new meaning to the term ensemble cast. To pick out any one or two examples would be so unfair to the rest of this talented group. The stories are also well written enough that combined with these wonderful performances you quickly believe what you see. The fictional community of Dillon, Texas comes alive in ways even well-known metropolises never do on far more seasoned programs. The stories don’t shy away from the controversies of programs like Dillon’s. Issues of race, drugs, teenage sex, and even the life-changing paralysis of a young talent are dealt with, not as simple inferences, but as major plot arcs that dominate several episodes and then never go away. Certainly we’re invited to cheer along with Dillon, but we’re openly shown the flaws of each of these people we’re called on to support. Friday Night Lights is about so much more than a high school football team under pressure to succeed at a state level. It’s about facing our shortcomings and overcoming them along with whatever other obstacles might be thrown our way. If you’re looking for an emotional show, this is about as good as they get.
There are several important story arcs that dominate the series. The obvious story concerns a young coach Taylor (Chandler) given the chance of a life time to coach a hugely successful high school football team. He gets the break because he has been a coach and mentor to the team’s expected NFL star in quarterback Jason Street (Porter). When Jason suffers permanent paralysis in the first game, Taylor must trust in an unproven and unconfident Matt Saracen (Gilford). Matt’s story of maturity becomes another important cog in this giant wheel of Friday Night Lights. Taylor begins to feel a stranglehold of pressure, not helped any when another star player running back Smash Williams (Charles) makes accusations of racial bigotry about one of the assistant coaches while all the while using steroids to impress college scouts. There’s running back Tim Riggins, played by Taylor Kitsch, who has had a few big-budget films under his belt since the series ended. Riggins is a high school kid who has to pretty much be an adult. He’s on his own with his brother and struggles with a drinking problem.And in case you think this is just a guy-heavy series, there are plenty of strong women with impressive story arcs as well. Jason’s girlfriend, Lyla (Kelly) is trying to cope with his condition and falls to temptation with his best friend Tim. Taylor also has a wife and daughter who have prominent storylines as well. If this is all sounding a little too soap-opera for you, trust me, there is nothing of the sort to be found on Friday Night Lights. The show handles these problems with a gritty realism, allowing them to progress naturally around the main story of playing football.
It is important to note that these discs, while on Blu-ray are essentially the DVD transfers at a higher bit rate. They are not in an AVC codec, but rather a DVD MPEG-2 format. The audio is standard Dolby Digital 5.1 and is not in an uncompressed format. There is some compression artifact on the image presentation. If you have all of the DVD’s, this is not a significant upgrade, and the extras from those discs have not been ported over.
Friday Night Lights was one of the best shows on television during its run. First on network television then picked up by DirecTV. This is also one of those shows that will play out better on home video than it did in broadcast. The intricate threads of the story play out in such a way that if you missed an episode you could have quickly felt too much like an outsider and given up on the show. These Blu-rays allow you to experience the entire series at your own pace (mine is pretty accelerated) without fear of missing one because your Tivo messed up or the network changed the day and time on you again. With actual football becoming so political, people are demanding and getting refunds for their Sunday Ticket package. This series intertwines football and real life in a wonderful and compelling drama. You won’t need that refund information, because win or lose on the field, Friday Night Lights is a winner you won’t be sending back. “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”