'Friday Night Lights' series finale review: We've reached the end. 'Coach, you changed my life.'

Friday Night Lights wrapped up its season and the entire series on DirecTV on Wednesday night. If I told you how many times my eyes welled up watching the finale, you’d think I was a terrible pushover. But man, that was one fine, emotional, intelligent, and satisfying ending.

It was Christmastime in Dillon, Texas, and Eric and Tami Taylor were still fighting over their conflicting job offers.


At the same time, Dillon’s always surprisingly numerous, active local media were hounding the East Dillon Lions for comments regarding the dissolution of the team due to budget cuts, and the possible formation of a “super-team” — “the best of the Lions, the best of the Panthers” — for the next football season.

Right from the start, we had two plots that formed the bivalve heart of Friday Night Lights: marriage (family) and football (friendship, spirit). Many of us have said that the reason FNL was never a ratings hit was because it was too real, not escapist enough, for a viewer who just wanted to sit back and be amused. But I think the real reason was because the two elements that made this a great, unique series had not been yoked together in this way before on TV. Purist sports fans found the depictions of the games too brief and technically not very believable. Family-TV seekers were put off by the moral complexity of the show. And, overriding all of this: FNL never had the aura of being cool or gritty or groundbreaking; it didn’t court a cult following like Lost or Buffy did; it didn’t often try to test the limits of TV standards and storytelling the way The Shield or name-your-favorite-HBO-show did. Season after season, it fell between the genre cracks, admired only by those of us who loved – loved – its lack of irony and sarcasm and hip knowingness. (The one time the show attempted anything resembling conventional “daring” TV — season 2’s woeful rape-and-murder plot — was its weakest season, generating howls of disappointment by its fans.)

Watching the final episode, I came once again to the conclusion that this was the best portrait of a marriage I’ve ever seen on television. The way Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton choreographed their squabbles, their intimate moments, their partnership as parents — they and the writers helped to elevate ordinary lives to the grand status at which we all know they, and we, live.

I also came to believe more firmly than ever that Tim Riggins was the great lost soul of the series, the character who carried so much emotional weight so lightly so well. His scenes in the finale, no matter how occasionally funny or frequently wordless they were, were the ones that I found most moving. When he and Tyra, Matt and Julie, danced in the bar to the strains of Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin'” — well, it was a small moment that was sweepingly romantic. When Tim and Tyra professed their love for each other even as Tyra pulled away from him, their brief exchange (her: “I got plans”; him: “I don’t”) took on the weight of tragedy. And when they sat side-by-side on Tim’s farmland, having discussed Tyra’s plans to go into politics, the scene was alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. That wonderful exchange when Tyra said she was “thinkin’ of politics; don’t laugh”: Tim said, “You mean like Sarah Palin kinda stuff?” and Tyra slapped him softly, snapping “No, you ass! Out of all the people, I mean really!”

In the many pairings in this extra-large edition of the show, Matt paid a visit to Julie, bringing a ring and proposing marriage. Surprised? You bet I — I mean Julie — was. Matt decided that Julie’s trip to Chicago “felt right,” and so why not? Eric Taylor vehemently told him why not, when Matt did the backwards-etiquette thing of asking Julie first (she said “yes”) and then went to Eric to ask the father’s blessing. Eric did not give it: “‘No’ today, ‘no’ tomorrow, ‘no’ till the sun burns out,” said Eric, which is pretty final, don’t you think? Even in the midst of their own squabble, Eric and Tami agreed that Matt and Julie were too young to get hitched.

FNL did right by Michael B. Jordan’s Vince and Jurnee Smollett’s Jess, taking two fairly recently introduced characters and bringing their characters’ arcs to satisfying resolutions. The series left open the implication that while, as Vince said to Eric, “Coach, you changed my life,” his road ahead with his past and in particular with his parents will still be a difficult one.

What did you think of Eric’s decision to move to Philadelphia for Tami’s new job? I decided that Tami was right — that if Eric had stayed, he really would have been working for the same people who drove this taciturn, honorable man crazy quite regularly. I felt as though Tami had reached the point in her life where she felt as trapped in Dillon as any of the show’s teenagers had: She had to get out of that place.

The final game for state championship attained an elegiac feeling for being shown mostly in silence until the very end, with the delayed reveal about whether the Lions won both a device for suspense and for delivering the message that on some level, it didn’t matter whether they won or lost: It was the trip the Lions had taken with their new coach that counted.

I’d love to hear what you thought about the final montage, updating everyone “eight months later.” Some of the outcomes were surprising (Luke enlisting?), some were tied-up-bows of satisfaction (Brad Leland’s Buddy Garrity back in his element, overseeing the erection of a new “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” sign). Speaking of which, watching Eric conduct a practice with his new Philadelphia team and out of habit seeking to rev up some team spirit by saying “Clear eyes, full hearts… ” and being met with silence from his baffled players unfamiliar with the concluding phrase was another teary moment. For me, not Coach — we got a final close-up of that great, pained Kyle Chandler squint as he concluded, “Aww, we’ll deal with that later.”

But of course, we won’t. Game over.

What are your thoughts? Will you be watching again, or for the first time, when this season of Friday Night Lights starts airing on NBC on April 15? I will be reprinting and expanding these recaps at that time. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll post your comments on the final show, and the entire series; thanks.

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (269 total) Add your comment
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  • couchgrouch

    along with The Shield and Buffy, FNL is up there with the great one hour shows in tv history. plots, character development, dialogue…each ep had it all. viewers are often cheated out of great shows like My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks because of low ratings. FNL was one time when the tv fates smiled on us and kept it on the air. in the glut of NCIS/CSI/Law and Orders and reality garbage, it’ll be missed. a rarity indeed.

    • Growler

      I didn’t get to see the very end!! My TiVO cut it off exactly at 1am — BEFORE the episode was over!
      And the DirecTV program guide, itself, did not account for the overrun! I am amazed no one else has reported this problem! Or — kudos to the rest of you for watching it as it aired!
      The one saving grace, for me — DirecTV will repeat the finale… on Friday Night!

      • joblo

        My DirecTV DVR recorded the entire episode. And it was truly a fitting end to what ended up as one of the greatest shows on TV. So compelling in spite of being so real and “ordinary” in its storytelling. FNL, you will be missed.

      • jwaugh60

        sorry you missed ending…my directv dvr somehow automatically added 10 additional minutes. not to worry, direct will be showing finale all week. good luck

      • GirlieQ

        My DirecTV DVR somehow did record the whole thing. I am sure they will show it again this weekend. Make sure you get the extra 10 mins!

      • Growler

        Well a follow up.. tonight we watched the entire 70 minutes! I noticed the DirecTV program guide was fixed, as well as the TiVo guide. Glad I got to see the entire ending… it was fantastic!

  • Jaime

    I am saddend to see this show end. It was the best on tv and my husband and I loved it to the end. We both cried last night, it felt as if we were losing family. It will take a lot for any other show to come close to this one. The cast was outstanding. I think they did a great job in wrapping up the story lines and making you feel good about the people we came to love. Great job FNL. Clear eyes, Full heart….

    • ChrisB

      Ditto. My wife and two kids watched the final episode.

    • A-train

      No clear eyes while watching that, and a hole in my heart the next day! I truly felt like we lost family members. That was the best show on TV, my wife and I will really miss it. There has never been a show on that enjoyable and never will be. We could hardly wait until the next weeks episode. I do have to disagree with Ken on it not being a Family show, it did have a little moral complexity, but a lot cleaner than all the other garbage on TV now. Thanks to all the cast, writers and crew for 5 seasons.

  • CBR

    I laughed, I cried, I loved these people. This final episode was like saying goodbye to friends. Every note rang true, every character, except perhaps Landry, got a resolution. I don’t think there has been a better more true-to-life drama on television. Kudos to the writers and the cast for taking it out with grace and class.

    • ac

      I agree with Ken’s assessment that ratings were affected becuase this show was so real and didn’t go for the over the top shock value. It was for those reasons people loved it, and if this show came out in a different era when family values still had some relevance on tv, I believe it would have been a much bigger hit.

      It is unbelievable that another show about high school and football became such a huge ratings success, and this gem was left in its dust. Glee does not hold a candle to this show, and I for one will miss the quality and integrity of this show and its characters.

      • Erica Cukierman

        Well said “ac”,
        My husband and I decided to give glee a try to see what all the hype was about…we did not get it. how does a show like Friday Night Lights have to end and glee go on? I’m baffled by this. In any case, FI have to thank everyone involved in the production of this show. Never in my years of watching tv have I been able to relate to such a show and its characters. Truly amazing, being that I have not been in high school in years, nor have I ever visited Texas. I still felt like I knew every character like a friend. This show will be sadly missed by me and my husband. N

    • Ryan

      I really wish that they would have been able to bring Smash’s college career into the final season the way that they brought Jason Street’s success as an agent in.

  • Christina

    If NBC had have given this show the chance it deserved and the writers strike hadn’t have messed up a very critical season, I think given the chance this show would’ve broken records and gone in the TV history books as one of the best hour dramas of all time. It is a show I will enjoy watching on DVD for a very long time!

  • DL

    I think I’ve decided this is my favorite show of all time. No other characters on TV resounded with me as much as these. I cried nonstop the last twenty minutes of last night’s finale. I didn’t think it was the show’s best hour, but it was certainly up there. I wish it would have had a bigger following, but I’m at least glad that I got to share five years with these incredible actors and storytellers. I will miss this show dearly. Thanks for recapping it each week for us few but faithful fans.

    Oh, and I kind of hoped to see Smash again and more of Landry. Oh well. I guess you can’t have it all. At least Grandma Saracen got some love.

    • raprilc

      Yeah, I was hoping Smash might come back for one scene.

      • Tami

        TV guide did a thing of where are they now for FNL and said Gaius Charles joined the semenary. I guess that’s why we got that shot of him playing on TV and no in person visit.

    • Ellen

      I’m with you, DL. FNL has steadily become my favorite show of all time. I can’t imagine any show that I could possibly love more than this one. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

  • TDub

    I love this show, and thought the finale was a fitting end. Goodbye, FNL, you will be missed.

  • Peter

    Yup. I definitely teared up. Gorgeous series coming to an end. I couldn’t believe it. Thanks FNL for all the memories… Clear eyes, full heart…

  • caroline

    Friday Night Lights was such a gift and the ending was so great and so beautiful. This show will never be forgotten and it will be missed.

    • Ellen

      As I was watching the finale, I was thinking about it being a Christmas episode and how the whole series has been a gift to us.

      • Steve Randy

        A wonderful show, always looked forwarded to the next episode. It left us with an appropriate ending and an ending with class but sorry to see it go.

  • Robyn Guedel

    Best finale ever! I cried the whole episode. I was so glad that Eric came to his senses and told Tami to take the job. What an amazing couple! The writers did an amazing job.

    • bbc

      Very sad to see it go, but at the same time, it WAS time. To go any longer would be running the risk of regurgitating the same story lines over and over. The ending felt very organic, which is about the best that you can ask out of one of your favorite TV shows of all time. FNL went out the same way it came in and maintained… with class.

  • J Van Hook

    The final episode was nothing short of brilliant. The transition between the ball flying in the championship game to Coach’s practice with his new Philly team was such an appropriate and powerful way to show that life moves on whether in Philly, Dillon, Dallas (Jess) or Chicago (Matt and Julie). The viewer did not even need to know if the Lions won, although the focus on Vince’s and Luke championship rings was fitting. It was great to see Landry back as well for his short cameo. I also liked the commentary by many of the major characters at the end but was disappointed we did not hear from Kyle Chandler himself. It was a perfect way to end a great show.

    • AgGirl

      I’m so glad someone else thought it was disappointing not to hear from Kyle Chandler at the end! I absolutely loved the finale, but I’ve loved this show from the first second I watched it. I was one of those folks who came in later b/c I thought it was about football. When I heard someone talk about it, I gave it a chance and never looked back. I don’t normally care what actors have to say about a series when it’s done, but I truly enjoyed hearing all of the comments at the end. It was disappointing to not hear from KC or Landry. And I wondered why Layla (sp?) didn’t make a return, although I never cared for her character.

      Most of all, I just can’t believe they ended a series that got better and better with each passing season. Yes, the kids got older and situations changed, but I would love to see a series on what happens in the adult lives of the characters who grew up on the show, as well as with Tami and Eric.

  • Amy

    I thought the final was wonderful and had all the elements that made FNL the show we love so much. It was understate and real with the message that even though we won’t be there to witness it, their lives will go on as will football in Dillion. Even though the montage wrapped up the series it left the viewers with the knowledge that this is not a happily ever after like most montages are, but with the sense their lives (as in real life) will be both joyful and difficult. Eric and Tami Taylor will always, always be the standard by which marriage is portrayed on television. FNL will be missed and I hope that many people will discover this wonderful show in the years that come.

  • BESS

    Although I am sad to see the conclusion of FNL I thought this was the best finale of a series in TV history. It was beautifully done.

    • Tami

      I was thinking the exact same thing as I was watching it. I couldn’t have thought of a better, more satisfying way to wrap up a brilliant show. It was amazing.

  • annie

    if this season doesn’t win emmys, i call shenanigans. such a satisfying, moving show, season, finale. oof. now i have to go have a regular day??

    • Nicotine

      The Emmys would be stupid not to reward this show in it’s final season. They did it for shows like Boston Legal when they didn’t deserve it.

      FNL deserves everything it gets and I am so grateful to DirecTV for airing these last three seasons. I’m gonna miss this show so much. I wish another show on television had the heart and soul FNL portrayed so poignantly, but I doubt there ever will be.

      I wish all the actors/actresses luck in their next ventures and I will be watching. They all have a fan for life, especially Kyle Chandler & Connie Britton!!

  • awesome

    So very sad that the show has come to an end. I kept looking at the clock wishing that time would stop because I knew that very soon, it would all be over. Possibly the very best show that no one (besides us with good taste) ever watched. It was a very appropriate ending to an excellent five years.

  • Dave

    Best series ever! My wife and I were glued to the tv for the last 5 years for this show. It left us saddened last night and hopefully, we’ll see this director and writers working their magic soon again!

    • Kathy

      I am waiting to see FNL when it airs on NBC. I have seen enough promos for the new season to know that I will need a box of tissues. Don’t know what else to say but: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t lose!”

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