Friday Night Lights (FNL) was, by far, one of the greatest shows in the history of television (critics agree with me). As I wrote in a recent Re:commends, “It’s not just about football. It’s about life, love, growing up, and dealing with the things life throws at you. While over-dramatic at times (duh), it is still one of the most realistic and gritty portrayals of life you’ll ever see on the small screen. Stellar acting, writing, and real characters bring the show to life. I cry almost every episode (that’s a good thing).”
This show is not just television at its finest. It (honestly) has a lot to teach us about life. And unlike most TV shows, it doesn’t just show us what not to do. Like us, the FNL characters all fail– sometimes miserably. But also like us, sometimes they get things right. There are moments of true-to-life triumph throughout the series– not the triumph of perfection, but the redemptive triumph of overcoming or coming out on the other side of our obstacles, fears, and mistakes.
In light of that kind of triumph, there are many good lessons we can take away from FNL, but these are a few of the ones that stand out to me:
[Minor Spoiler Alert]
1. Always listen to the Coach (or the Coach’s wife).
Eric and Tami Taylor were two of the absolute best and most realistic characters on TV… maybe even on film in general. They made their share of mistakes in the course of the show, but they were always on a mission to help people and to do what was right. To be quite honest, they remind me a little of my own parents.
The Taylors, with Eric being the football coach and Tami serving as guidance counselor and principal at the high school, spent a lot of time investing in teenagers. I don’t think there was an episode where one or both of them weren’t directly, one-on-one, seeking to inspire or help a teenager. They knew what they were talking about, and almost 90% of the time, they were right. They used their words and actions to be there for kids who had no one, to motivate kids who had no hope, to protect kids who were vulnerable, to humble kids who were full of themselves, and to show every kid their value as an individual (and of course, as part of the team). Most of the times that the teens on FNL made huge mistakes, it was for lack of heeding what Coach or Tami said.
God has placed people in each of our lives (parents, teachers, pastors, friends) who are wise and who have gone a round or two with life. They have our best interest at heart and they can help us– if we let them. In an individualistic society like ours, sometimes it’s tough to be dependent on someone else. It’s seen as weak or unconventional. But God uses us to inspire, comfort, and bless one another, with both our words and actions. We should listen to the counsel of others, test it with God’s truth, and follow it if it holds up.
The Ultimate Coach Taylor Pep Talk:
2. You don’t always know what someone is going through.
The characters on FNL went through a lot of crap. Like we are, they were often quick to judge, assume, blame, and attack. As viewers, we knew what was really going on in each respective character’s life, but they didn’t. Jumping the gun didn’t usually turn out well for them, and it doesn’t usually turn out well for us. Patience with each other, listening to each other, opening up to each other, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt can save us a lot of heartache and broken relationships.
3. Being abandoned doesn’t lower your worth.
Many of the kids on FNL had been abandoned by parents or other important figures in their lives. And I believe, to some degree, we all feel abandoned or let down at some point in our lives. When that happens, we tend to equate our value as people with who left us– if we aren’t worth them sticking around, we must not be worth much at all.
That’s a lie.
One of the most powerful scenes in the whole series is one between Coach and his quarterback, Matt Saracen. Matt, in particular, is abandoned by many significant people in his young life. At some point, the pain of it all was bound to overtake his usually calm demeanor. It gets me every time:
4. When one dream is dying, it’s ok to get a new one.
A lot of characters in FNL don’t get what they wanted or planned. Dreams can die in an instant, or over time. They’re often tough to let go of. But there are other dreams to go after, and many of the characters make the switch and come out better because of it. The same thing happens to us. When our dreams die, we don’t meet our goals, or our plans are rearranged, we can’t spend our time mourning for what could have been. Instead, we pick up the pieces and go after something new– whatever God has planned for us next.
5. You don’t have to take the life that’s been handed to you. You can change it.
Tyra Collette is the best example of this. With a promiscuous mother and a sister who’s a stripper, not to mention living without a father, Tyra is from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s slid by on her looks most of her life, but that doesn’t mean her life is easy. There is so much more to her, and she obviously wants more for herself than the same life as her mother and sister. But when Tami shows her there’s a way for her to make a better future for herself, she works her butt off to get it– but not without a few screw-ups along the way.
A lot of people feel stuck. No matter what culture says about “being anything you want to be,” it still imposes boundaries on us. School, college, 9-5 job, house, family, retirement. We’re supposed to follow the plan of the American dream. When people don’t follow the plan, things get messy. But those are also usually the people who really get to live. And here’s a secret: anybody can be one of those people. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the plan– if that’s where God wants you. But I have a feeling he doesn’t want all of us there. And we can change that– by following hard after him.
6. People come and go, but they help shape who we are.
True to the ways of real-life high schools, there is plenty of character turnover in FNL as the seasons progress. But the characters are shaped by those around them– there are no truly static characters on this show. The ones we see all the way to the end– we can look back and see how many people have affected them and how they are different because of it. That’s real stuff, right there.
People will hurt you or leave you; sometimes that’s unavoidable. There are different people for different seasons in each of our lives. And we should cherish them and make the most of them while we can. But the ones who stick with you through the good and bad times are worth holding onto.
Matt and Julie’s epic relationship, set to the amazing song “Ships in the Night” by Mat Kearney:
COMMENT: Have you watched Friday Night Lights? Who were your favorite characters? What life lessons from this show stand out to you?