***Spoiler alert: If you’re waiting for the DVD or NBC rebroadcast of the final season, skip ahead to the second paragraph.
Julie and Matt moved in together before they were married, Tim Riggins kept his long hair, and the man-of-the-house (Coach Taylor) gave in and let his wife’s career blossom over his -- all things that go against the ethos of smalltown Texas. Still, last night’s series finale of “Friday Night Lights” on DirecTV underlined everything that made the series one of the best things on TV over the past half-decade, and certainly the most underrated. It was wholesome, positive, Middle American, sentimental and refreshingly devoid of crime-scene investigations, laugh tracks and Candice Bergen guest appearances. And yet it was coolly written, mostly avoided small town cliches, had a realistic edge, appeased the manliest viewers with its thrilling football scenes and even had one of the hippest soundtracks around (last night’s finale included the Delta Spirit, Alec Ounsworth, Jonsi and, of course, Texas’ great Explosions in the Sky).
As someone who graduated high school in a Texas town very similar to Dillon – my senior year, I had to drop an obviously useful typing course and take a gym class to justify payrolling so many gym teachers (read: football coaches) – I can say with authority the show was authentic to the end. That really became the key element that made the series stand out. It was filmed almost entirely on location in and around Austin, Texas (even Matt’s unusually spacious Chicago apartment was clearly made of Texas limestone). It largely employed Texans for extras and bit roles, including such Austin deities as Dale Watson and Mack Brown. There’s little doubt the non-Hollywood address led to all the aforementioned qualities (including the good music). There’s also little doubt that its Texas setting and wholesome qualities led to the show being largely overlooked by East Coast and West Coast tastemakers.
“Friday Night Lights” should have won every cinematography award given out to TV shows in recent years, and a dozen or so writing awards, too. Its actors were also clearly shortchanged by the Emmys and Golden Globes, especially since those awards shows have been whiter than my backyard of late, and this show consistently had strong African American roles. All of the actors had a natural, non-showy quality that gave them genuine character. Never mind that they were also all ridiculously good-looking, from the guidance counselor who could guide me anywhere (Mrs. Taylor) on down to the high schoolers I think we adults can finally admit to liking now that the actors behind them are almost 30.
Adios, “FNL.” Now back to your regularly scheduled soulless entertainment with bad background music.