Friday Night Lights “Pilot” Review (1×01)

19 Nov


“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

So begins the story of the Dillon Panthers. It’s week one of the new football season, and the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. There’s a new coach in town and a quarterback phenom, both ready to anchor a team expected to win the State Championship. There’s a coach’s wife, a hard-working second string quarterback, a loud-mouthed running back, and a slacker fullback. There’s a bunch of characters that can’t really be defined in one word like I’ve done above, because all of them are unique in their own way. Yes, that sounds cheesy, but it’s true; what the pilot does so well is establish each of their relationships, each of their mindsets, and each of their places in Dillon.

It’s a hard task to accomplish, but this episode essentially pulls it off in the first five minutes. The camera work conveys so much about Dillon in a few tracking shots, later leading into a quick catch up with all the characters; it feels like a catch up rather than an introduction because we’ve already been thrown into the world, feeling very much a part of this intimate town. This is a show about that intimacy, that sense of community built up around one thing: football. When everyone gathers at Buddy Garrity’s car dealership to celebrate the upcoming season, the show reminds us exactly how much influence the sport has. It has to be both liberating and terrifying to be a new coach here, both welcomed and burdened with massive expectations. Everyone raising their championship rings serves to support Coach, but also exerts power and influence over him.

Coach deals with it all with extreme poise and confidence, but he’s also honest and realistic. He doesn’t just put on a brave face for his players; he believes in that brave face. He can understand the difficulty of high expectations heaped upon the struggles of supporting his family in a new environment, but he also has hope that it’ll all turn out fine. Kyle Chandler and his awesome face convey this perfectly, and Mrs. Coach’s first scene with him is a thing of beauty (and oh God, Connie Britton. I adore this woman); she takes a genuine interest in his game film, then recognizes the stress in his shoulders and helps to alleviate it. This is a marriage in which both partners truly understand each other, and the Taylor family is a family that I so desperately would like to live with. I can sleep outside if necessary…what’s that, Coach? You believe in me and you would like to have me? Aw, thanks.

The pilot also does a fantastic job of adding character moments rather than burning through plot. Over the course of the 45 minutes, we get a sense of who each one is. We know that Matt’s the intelligent kid that wants to play football under those lights, but he misses the mark more often than not. We know that Tyra’s the sassy, assertive woman that wants to escape the monotony of her life. We know that Tim’s the “seemingly a cliche jock but is actually much more complicated than that” guy that uses football as an escape from his life. We know that Jason’s the star quarterback with aspirations of the NFL and something other than Dillon.

Going off that last point, the final sequence of the game is one of the most devastating and thrilling things I’ve seen on TV. We barely even know the guy, but Street’s injury hurts like hell. Much like Julie, who wants to break away from being tied to her father, Mrs. Coach, who wants to move to a bigger house, or Tyra, who just wants to get away, Jason has desires. All those dreams are crushed in one moment, pushing Matt Saracen into the spotlight. It’s the classic “second string dude helps team mount an incredible comeback” scenario, but the show is able to spin it into something better. The episode circles back around to that sense of community as the team stands together in the hospital, praying for the QB that represented their desires and futures. This team now has to believe in Matt Saracen and and Eric Taylor, and for now, that belief is intact as they listen to their coach:

“Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”



-If you don’t like football, that’s absolutely not a problem. I know people that have even found the football sequences in the show to be thrilling, but even if you don’t, the show’s less about football than the idea of football.
-I really like Julie.
-Whenever I watch that last sequence, I get chills. Ahem, it’s a little dusty in here.
-…but seriously, for a pilot to make you tear up? Damn impressive.
-There’s a lot of nice foreshadowing in this episode, all the more noticeable on rewatch.
-Hey, it’s Todd!
-We get the first “Texas Forever” here.
-I love that short scene between Matt and Lorraine, where Matt sees her tapping her foot. It’s a nice subtle moment that establishes the relationship effectively.
-“Do you think that God likes football?” “I think everyone likes football.” Nice reiteration of themes there.
-Riggins is pretty awesome.
-I didn’t really mention Smash or Lyla. I enjoy them both, although not as much as the rest.
-I don’t know…do I want to have a relationship like Coach and Mrs. Coach’s or be a part of their family? Both?
-Stop trying to get Mrs. Coach to join your stupid book club, random women. She’s better than that.
-The dealership scene is also pretty hilarious, most notable with Riggins getting hit on.

-Welcome to my season 1 coverage of Friday Night Lights. I won’t be covering each episode in depth, but I’ll do it for certain key episodes. Enjoy.

Credit to NBC and Friday Night Lights for all pictures. I own nothing.


8 Responses to “Friday Night Lights “Pilot” Review (1×01)”

  1. iseebeautyallaroundbyrobpaine November 19, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    great review, and I agree, you do not have to be a football fan to enjoy this show, it is that good!

  2. louisoc April 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Just watched this so I can follow along with the AV Club’s coverage and holy fuck was that an impressive pilot, I can already tell that this is going to be an emotional ride.

  3. amnesiadream75 July 6, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    I finished watching Starz’ Spartacus series today, and I was antsy for more good TV so I gave the pilot of FNL a shot. I think I made the right call. Glad to hear others say that the show is worth watching – I think Sepinwall even devoted a chapter to it in his 2012 book. Clear schedule, full Netflix library, can’t lose!

    • polarbears16 July 6, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

      Nice! I hope you enjoy FNL; I’m making my way through the final season right now, and I’m going to miss it.

      As for Spartacus, it’s plain brilliant. That finale was one of the most stunning things I’ve seen on TV, and it’s impressive how the show managed to constantly produce stuff at that caliber on such a low budget.

      • amnesiadream75 July 6, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

        For sure. Spartacus (along with Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, BB, The Shield, and Angel) has one of the all-time great series finales. Sums up everything that came before it, and surpasses it all seemingly without effort. *That’s* how you end a series, stupid Showtime writers.

      • polarbears16 July 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

        I’m getting close to the series finale of The Shield. I’ve heard it’s a masterpiece.

      • amnesiadream75 July 6, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

        Oh, awesome! Believe me, even coming in with high expectations won’t diminish it.

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