I took an unconventional approach to watching the last two seasons of Friday Night Lights. I watched the first half of the fourth season and then stopped. Then I watched the second half of season 4 and most of season 5 in a week. Then it took me a month or so to bring myself to watch the last two episodes. This reluctance to watch isn’t because it’s bad, but completely the opposite. I had to stop watching season 4 because I read a spoiler of what happened to one of my favourite characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to watch that happen on screen. Then within sight of the ending, I realised that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and if I didn’t watch the finale, maybe it didn’t happen.
Eventually I just had to suck it up and watch though, driven predominantly by the fact that if I didn’t see it, I couldn’t include it on my end of year awards and I didn’t want to deprive it the opportunity. Suffice to say that not only will it be certain to appear on that list, but it maintains its second place on my TV of the decade list and would place similarly highly in a best show of all time list.
It’s hard to find anything to add to reviews of previous seasons, to find anything new to say about how a show that on paper is about football and small towns in Texas can be such a spectacular look at the lives of a group of fantastic characters. How boundaries were pushed on network television for what issues will be addressed. How beautiful direction combined loose and open documentary styles with breathtaking sports sequences. How actors like Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kitsch and Zach Gilford did so much while saying so little, while actors like Connie Britton and Adrianne Palicki were so subtle while shouting out loud.
There was a relatively smooth transition from the original Panther team to the Lions team of the last couple of seasons but unfortunately I never really bonded with the new kids as much as I loved Saracen, Riggins, Street, Smash and Landry. Seeing the other side of Dillon, the massively underprivileged Lions fighting for every penny and every bit of respect highlighted how easy the original team had it in many ways. Watching characters like Vince, Jess and Becky fight for every opportunity, particularly in the last few episodes was inspiring and heartbreaking.
I felt some of the plots of the final season floundered a bit. I never really liked Julie Taylor much and was a bit frustrated that while other people left high school and left the series, she lingered around making her usual poor choices. I also found the storyline that saw the Taylors’ fighting over their future very troublesome. It didn’t feel realistic to me that they’d be so unable to communicate, that they would come so close to letting themselves be pulled apart. But I find myself unable to make an accurate, unemotional assessment; I want so much to say that this was bad writing, engineering a crisis that the characters wouldn’t really have allowed happen, but is that purely my love of the characters speaking? Just like I was so mad at the show for having Tim Riggins screw up his life so badly, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t entirely consistent in how the character would behave in that situation.
I always had to struggle to watch this show, I was so emotionally invested in every game, every relationship, every character, every choice… every single scene… it was exhausting. I worked my way steadily through half a box of tissues in the final episode alone, but alternated every tissue with laughing out loud. As a critic, I felt the finale was a bit willowy as it showed all the characters getting happy endings and lacking the grittiness of previous storylines – but as a fan, I would have been devastated if it had finished any differently.
Clear eyes, full hearts…