'Friday Night Lights' series finale review: 'Clear eyes, full hearts'? More like teary eyes, broken hearts for fans

Friday Night Lights wrapped up its season and the entire series on Friday 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 the “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, try to rev up team spirit by saying “Clear eyes, full hearts… ” and being met with silence from his baffled players unfamiliar with the concluding phrase — that was another teary moment. I mean for me, not for Coach, of course — from him, we got a final close-up of that great, pained Kyle Chandler squint as he concluded, “Awww, we’ll deal with that later.”

But of course, we won’t. Game over. All that’s left is to hope that Kyle and Connie win their more-than-deserved Emmys.

Please feel free to post your farewell thoughts to this great series below; thanks.

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (387 total) Add your comment
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  • Jim

    Amazing way to end what was a amazing series.

    It had everything that FNL gave us week after week, you smiled, laughed and were moved to tears.

    I loved that we got one last Landry & Matt discussion.

    Thank you to everyone who had anything to do with FNL.

    • Chester

      I watched every episode of every season. I loved the show but let me be honest. It was mostly high class soap opera with a football background. I sometimes screamed at my TV, “stop the mush”, show the games!

      • Texas Forever

        I completely disagree. If that’s what you were mainly concerned with, you took misunderstood the entire concept of the show – that it was the game of football that defined these wonderfully drawn characters and the interactions between them. Showing the actual game is of such little importance in the realm of every other storyline.

      • Sam J

        Me Too! I wanted more and realistic football. I played HS football in the mid 90′s and we never had Rally girls. My CA politically correct school would never allow a HS football player to have a personal chearleader. And every character on that show was drinking alcohol since they were 16 apperently. How do HS kids drink in a bar?

      • Miffy

        Go back and read the original Friday Night Lights book, which is non-fiction. There really are “Rally Girls”; though in Odessa Permian (where the book is set), they are called “Pepettes”.

      • sxcxc

        My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire young man Ronald who is the CEO of a MNC !they met via ——–WeαlthyFlirt.ČoM- ..it is the largest and best club for wealthy people and their admirers to chat online. …you don’t have to be rich there ,but you can meet one ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !
        ——:)

      • Michael

        You people do not know Texas football AT ALL. This show captured the spirit and reality of Texas highschool football without overly relying on football sequences to do so.

      • Clear Eyes Full Hearts Texas Forever

        This show will go down as one of the greatest most underrated shows of all time. The lack of bad drama and depiction of life was beautiful, and the championship game – WOW, the last pass with 3 seconds left to go and then fast forward 8 months was brilliant. My heart was breaking as the show came to a close. This kind of quality tv just does not come around often enough.

      • mack

        wow… someone missed the whole point of the series, Chester!

      • Texas Forever!!

        @Sam J: I grew up in Austin, Texas (the Dillon Panthers actually played my high school team in one of the episodes). While our drill team members were not called “rally girls,” each girl WAS assigned a football player and would make them treats, decorate their locker, etc. We did the same for the other sports as well. I know it’s not PC, but this is Texas…Not California lol. (Of course, I graduated in 87, so things may have changed by now.)

      • Ronnie1

        Son…I live in Texas. I live and breathe football every year, worshipping the “holy trinity”: high school/college/pro football. I am a woman. This series, the original movie and the book were never “all about” football. The acting, writing and directing on this show were superb, FAR more substantial than the reality crap out there. Thank you, Peter Berg and Buzz Bissinger, for bringing this to the big and little screens!

      • Jerry

        I too disagree. This was the consistently best television I had the pleasure of watching, and I go back to the early 50′s. It was both gentle and powerful with great writing, direction and acting. I will miss it.

    • James

      More landry scenes.

      • Larinda

        Most overrated show in TV history.

      • brettb3

        Uh, no. More like most underrated.

      • J

        Most overrated is Mad men

      • Nelly

        Most overrated show is Buffy. Mad Men takes second place and this takes third.

      • kate middleton

        YES. Love Landry – so good to see him again.

      • Michelle

        Love Landry

    • Color Me Impressed

      I mean no offense to the fans of this show,; I’m sure its good, but I’m so sick of Ken Tucker shoving his obsession with this show down our thraots.

      • Color Me Impressed

        ahem *throats

      • Larinda

        Agreed. Tucker has turned into a tw@t.

      • brettb3

        And yet, you took the time to post a comment. If you don’t care, you have the option of not clicking on the story.

      • DeeW

        Well, then I guess you won’t have to worry about that anymore since this was the series finale; BTW, who is it that forces you to click on the recaps by Ken? That’s some powerful mojo they got goin on there! geez…

      • zakry

        Then why read it?

  • Texas Forever

    Thanks for this, Ken – and for all your recaps through FNL’s wonder years. I had to watch again tonight even though I’d already watched it on DVD. I’ll never forget watching an early screener of the pilot on a cross-country flight and struggling to hide my tears in my airline issue pillow. The series broke me at least once per episode. In the finale, it was three times. Oddly the first was when Riggins and Tyra clinked beer bottles – just an honest moment between friends captured with total perfection. And then of course, the long slow-mo State football montage, just the dance of emotions and action set to Snuffy Walden’s gorgeously moving score. If only all our lives could have that soundtrack, right? And then, when I saw Luke’s “fast forward” moment…I teared up one final time. Because yet again, this was a series that didn’t often give its characters the easy out. Jason Street broke his neck and wasn’t saved by a miracle. Matt’s grandma wasn’t going to get better. Riggins really had to go to jail. And for a guy like Luke, this was the choice he would make. The series rarely betrayed its characters and, in doing so, revealed an emotional truth in storytelling I’d never seen on television before. And I know it will be a long time before I see it again. The world is a little less of a nice place to be without “Friday Night Lights” in it.

    • Ellen

      Nicely said, “Texas Forever.”

      Teary eyes, full hearts… I think we all won.

    • Rob

      TEXAS FOREVER says it best… exactly the emotions I had about the series and the ending. Brilliant television from start to finish.

    • Monica

      Agree, Agree, Agree Texas Forever. I’m going to miss this show. I’m still an emotional wreck after watching the finale. Thanks FNL for 5 incredible years.

    • Kaci

      Agreed 100% with Texas Forever. Thank you, FNL!

    • Stacy

      It so nice to hear such great thoughts about this show. It truly feel like this group of actors made it seem so real. I’ll really miss this show.

    • Leslie Granston

      Texas Forever, you’ve said it beautifully. This show, episode after episode, year after year, without fanfare and the following it deserved, lifted ordinary life to a state of grace. I will mourn its loss for a long time, but am glad to have had the experience and the community of people who loved it, too. RIP, FNL. And thank you.

    • Dan

      Texas Forever, You said exactly what I was trying to put into words.

      • Toke

        Posted on Great post Sam.First step is to drop the Best Integrated Campaign’ category from advtneisirg awards ceremonies. Not a great example of integration as a verb’ to young planners out there.

    • zakry

      Yeah, CHESTER, pay attention to TEXAS FOREVER! He understood the show, you did not. You should be embarassed.

    • Drea

      I couldn’t have said it any better. You are 100% dead on. FNL will always be in the Top 5 Best Shows Ever.

    • Allison

      btw–that final play? The massive pass with 3 seconds left? Converse Judson High School, Converse Texas, 2002. That’s the play that won the State Championship. I KNEW that moment would appear in the series somewhere!!

      • Andrew Bodman

        Thanks Allison for the “local” insight. I wanted to think they won and the connection you made with the CJHS game makes me feel that its true.

    • TJ

      TF, you expressed my sentiments beautifully. I had the same experience while watching the final show. I didn’t even want to watch with anyone else, I felt the occassion warranted my solo viewing. I will dearly miss this series. Sigh.

    • Ronnie1

      Beautifully expressed thoughts, my friend. This is the “little show that could”…intelligent writing, superb acting…I will miss this show so much.

    • Sharon

      Texas forever you said it better than I ever could , thanks

    • Jeanne

      I DEARLY LOVE FNL AND WILL WATCH ALL OF IT AGAIN ON WHICHEVER STATION IS SMART ENOUGH TO BRING IT ON AGAIN…i KNOW SOMEONE WILL OR THE BEST SHOW EVER (FRIDAY NITE LIGHTS) WILL BE SORELY MISSED MY MILLIONS OF US THAT PATIENTLY WAITED TO SEE IT EVERY WEEK….THEY HAVE THE BEST OF THE BEST ACTORS AND I LOVE EVERYONE OF THEM…THE SHOW TAKES ME BACK TO MY HIGH SCHOOL DAYS AND MARCHING AT ALL THE GAMES… PLEASE DONT LET THIS ONE GO DOWN THE TUBES. THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND I WILL BE WAITING ANXIOUSLY. JEANNE

    • Patricia Kay

      Very nicely said. I loved loved loved this series and am so sad it’s over. I just hope these actors get the chance to show their stuff in more good projects, but I doubt they’ll ever find roles as good as the ones in FNL. Such a fine show . . .

  • brad

    Best show ever–sad to see it end.

  • Amy

    Brilliant finale. Sad it’s over.

  • Jose

    I missed it, I feel bad

    =(

    To hulu!

    • Richard

      Being from Texas I can only say that “Texas Forever” is the best compliment this show has given to the state of Texas. I tear up everytime I hear it. Thanks to all of the actors, directors, etc. for their amazingly wonderful depiction of our state, and for the wonderful world of Texas high school football.

    • Erin

      If you have on primarily on demand you can watch basically with almost no commercials

      • Erin

        Primetime on Demand*** sorry

      • Lence

        Hey guys, what’s up!?So I basically wnetad to take some second opinions, especially after watching the video above Pretty much, i’ve been wanting to get on this show FOREVER. Like you guys, i’m a huge fan that knows the show up and down like no other and i’ve been dying to get on, I don’t want to wait til i’m 21 to simply apply (and maybe not even get on).Soo problem. I’m 18 (would be 19 at the time of the show), but yeah, obviously it’s an issue.I was considering taking a risk anyway, going down to Yonkers in NY (conveniently also my homewtown) for the open casting call, also missing my college classes for the day in the process. But why not take a risk?Pretty much, I figure that way, they can’t just throw out my audition tape, and I can have the chance to possibly meet them in person and impress them.Anyways, I really just wnetad some second opinions on this. What do you guys think? Good idea, bad idea, horrible idea? Any feedback is appreciated!

  • Maculae

    I watched this when it aired on DirectTV and I had to watch it again. What a powerful and satisfying ending to the show.

  • Allison

    Actually liked the last couple episodes more than the finale, but it’s all relative – best show on TV, no question, and sad to see it go.

  • Trey

    I miss this show already :(

    Here’s to hoping they go through with the rumored movie!

    • Matthew

      please…no movie…the show was great, loved every second of it…but I don’t see how a movie can be done. There are two main elements…family and Texas…and now that the Taylor’s are in PA, any way that would bring them bac to Texas would feel contrived., and forced. It’s over, and it was phenomenal.

      • Poppy

        @Matthew – agreed. You cannot improve on perfection. Here’s hoping Kyle and Connie win those well-deserved Emmy’s, and I hope every actor on that show has a long and wonderful career.

  • Denise Duellman

    Perfect

  • jennifer

    I’ll miss you terribly, ‘Friday Night Lights’. Wonderful finale tonight….I watched through tears and smiles, especially during the locker room scene as Coach Taylor prayed before the game and at Eric’s decision to support his wife Tammy in her new job. My thanks to all involved who made FNL one of the best shows ever on television! May you win every Emmy that FNL is nominated for!

  • Dave

    Hard to believe it’s over. Glad it did last for 5 seasons. Hopefully, Emmy voters make up for ignoring it in the past by giving awards to the show, Kyle and Connie.

  • Paul

    From an acting-writing-directing paradigm, this show absolutely blows everything on television out of the water. Peter Berg is a masterful storyteller. It better win all 4 awards that its up for. Thanks for 5 unbelievable seasons. Clear Eyes…Full Hearts…Can’t Lose

  • mydove

    Yes, it was sad to see it go. FNL is undoubtedly one of the best dramas in TV history, in my opinion. I remember back in ’06 when I watched a marathon and after the sixth episode I said aloud to myself, “OK, I’m in.”

    As good as it was, I can’t help but feel that there are no more stories to tell, that life goes on. It’s so real that, like friends you move away from and don’t keep in touch with, your time together is done and enough. That’s how I feel about this show. It was great and special, I’m happy for this time we’ve had together, but it’s enough. I feel very satisfied.

    Thank you, again, FNL. Thank you so much. Thank you for showing me what a truly good marriage is all about and what I will strive for when I have my own. That’s the greatest lesson I will take from you.

    • Piper

      Well said, mydove. Although the show occasionally veered into soapland (the murder, Julie and her TA affair), the analogy of football=life always hit home for me. Sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose, but what’s important is dealing with it with dignity. That’s what Eric and Tami taught me, and the actors so beautifully portrayed: living life with honor, respect, and commitment. Amazing show.

      • gloria

        Piper, you say “soapland” like it’s a bad thing.

  • Leslie

    I am on one hand very happy witth the finale and how they tied uo all the loose ends, but I am also extremely sad that this incredible show has come to an end. Kyle Chandler(so subtle), Connie Britten(sublime)and Tim Riggins(triumphant..at last!). I am in awe of the talent of these actors, writers and directors. FNL you will be sorely missed!

    • Ugur

      My understanding is that this a cmpnaoy-wide project at F+W Media. We weren’t told if CBGXtra’s forums were specifically targeted or not, just that they would be taken down.In the meantime, enjoy Mr. Silver Age’s safe house here on the main website as well as the other content we’ll bring you in the coming days.

  • Donna Jones

    I loved the smaller parts like when Mindy got so emotional over Becky going back with her mom or the ending where it was still a little unclear if they won state until they started showing everyone’s rings. Vince at practice, Jess with the Dallas coach (love that Jess got a ring in the first place), Luke giving his ring to Becky and Coach with his on. Of course the best two moments were when Jess told Coach how much this year with the Lions was the best time of her life and Coach felt the same. Second was when Coach told Vince how he would never know how proud he was of him. I will really miss this show.

    • JB

      I really loved the scene between Becky and Mindy too.

      • zakry

        Like who won the game meant a damn thing.

    • LizzyA

      Somehow I totally missed the rings on each character you mentioned – thank you for letting me know who won the game :)

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