Why You Should Watch Friday Night Lights

I was born and raised on the banks of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a sandy and humid spot to grow up—full of pecan trees and azaleas and armadillos. People were nice, and most everyone seemed to be working hard to support their families and maybe earn enough to put in a below-ground pool. And football was huge. From elementary school on up, it was the thing to do.

I remember some great Friday nights when I was about 10, watching our local high school team (the Jenks Trojans) playing at their stadium across the bridge, on the other side of the river. On Fridays at school, everyone wore school colors (maroon), and there were occasionally pep rallies. Sometimes the high school players would come in their jerseys and make an appearance at an elementary school assembly. We all thought that was pretty cool.

Looking back on it now, it’s all pretty distant and quaint. Like all memories of childhood, it occupies a place that is equal parts nostalgia, wonder, and elegy. I think it was the hope of those days—the excitement of the “big kids” and how one day I would be that old too—that lingers so pleasantly and so tenderly in my mind. Knowing what I know now, however—that I am that old, that those high school days have come and gone with furious expediency, that my schoolmates are now married and fathers and soldiers and doctors and grad students—I can’t help but to see it all through a bittersweet lens.

Things change. We grow up. The glory days of youth live for the majority of our lives in our memory.

For all these reasons, but chiefly because it is just an amazingly well done piece of art, the show Friday Night Lights (season 3 premiering on NBC, Friday night 9/8pm) has become my favorite show on television. By a long shot.

It’s a show that is about life, and growth, and how each of us copes with the challenges and setbacks and everyday things that define the duration of existence. I could go on and on about its technical merits, the impressive talents of its cast, the caliber of the writing, and so on, but I’ve written about all that stuff before and so have others. My friend David Kern summed it up nicely on his blog recently.

When I think about Friday Night Lights, I think about my memories, and I think about my hopes. But I also think of Thomas Hart Benton, the plains, adolescence, Aaron Copland, thunderstorms, Dairy Queen, and struggle. Not many T.V. shows (or anything really) stir up such a complex array of emotions or feel so utterly relatable.

Tonight I will be watching the season finale of FNL’s DirecTV season 3 run. But starting Friday, I’ll also be watching it on NBC. Season 3 is phenomenal. If you have never seen the show, you should set your DVRs now. If you have been watching seasons 1 and 2, your DVRs are doubtless already set. I don’t know what else I can say to get you to watch this Peabody Award-winning show. I can say “it’s not about football!” fifty times or throw down 500 more words about how eloquent, earnest, good-hearted, perceptive and shockingly subtle it all is.

But I don’t want to cram it down your throat. You can just know that you’re missing out.