Friday Night Lights on NBC has had the dubious pleasure of being a show whose story parallels its existence as a TV show: a highly regarded, big-hearted, setback-plagued underdog fighting every week against the prospect of elimination and hoping some Hail Mary will save it. (Despite some encouraging hints, there’s been no word on whether the low-rated drama will be renewed, so you’ll forgive me if I slip into the past tense.)
The season finale airs tonight, with the Dillon Panthers going to the Texas state high school football championship, and I don’t want to take the slightest chance of spoiling anything for those few who have stuck with this great show all season. I’ll just say that the finale choked me up, that the producers clearly took care to make an episode that would be a great series as well as season finale if it comes to that, and that it hit so many of the notes that made its last year so memorable.
There’s a storyline between Coach and Tami Taylor that reminds you the show is, at heart, the story of a couple who are a team in every sense of the word, and that it understands how marriage is both sustaining and tremendous work. There is the show’s ability to capture the suffocation and supportiveness of small-town life, without romanticizing it or ironizing its deeply held values. There is a moving locker-room soliloquy explaining just what the team slogan–“Clear eyes/ Full hearts/ Can’t lose”–really means. And there are connections between characters you’d never expect to connect–until they do, and then it makes perfect sense.
There is, finally, a just-on-the-good-side-of-corny exchange between Taylor and his team as they arrive at the stadium for the big game:
TAYLOR: Does it get any better than this?
PANTHERS: [In unison] No, sir.
TAYLOR: No, hell, I don’t think it does. Let it soak in.
Let it soak in.