Had I seen Friday Night Lights (the movie) first, I probably would not have had any interest in watching the series.
Not that the film isn’t spectacular. The film only brushes the surface of the characters’ emotions and backstories. Of course a 22-episode season is more conducive to delving into these people’s lives than a 118-minute movie. Still, the movie left me unaffected by the film’s outcome. It just flew by, one touchdown, sack and tackle after the next, showing us the outcome of the games on and off the field, but never really letting us feel them. We never get to know the Permian High Panthers.
Time constraints. I know! The series was developed for television by Peter Berg, who adapted the H. G. Bissinger book into the film, which Berg also directed. There are quite a bit of differences between the show and the film (the show follows the Dillon Panthers in modern day, whereas the film is set in the late ’80s, the Panthers’ coach (Taylor, portrayed by the amazing Kyle Chandler) on television just joined the team, whereas in the film (Gaines, portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton) he is coaching the team for the second year), but few matter more than the roles of the women in the stories. To start, the women in the show have more than just a few minutes of screen time. They are more than just cheerleaders, fan girls and supportive (but mostly silent) wives. They are protagonists. They are strong, feisty, independent and smart.
The brilliant Connie Britton portrays the coach’s wife in the film and the series and it is a crime that she only had about two minutes of screen time in the movie. Tami Taylor is the coach’s rock and we quickly realize her support is what keeps Coach Taylor motivated and going. Of course a series has many more opportunities to develop stories, story arcs, characters and relationships, but the film minimized her importance in the life of the coach (and therefore the team).
The series was a hit with most critics but never managed to find a sizeable audience. Some reports suggest the show averaged around six million viewers in its first two seasons, and it was downhill from there. The show’s fifth and final season aired on NBC last year. I just finished watching the first season and I really think there is something for everyone. Friday Night Lights has the heart of a Disney movie, the morals of an after school special, the drama of a CW series (and the attractive cast, too), as well as the sophisticated and smart writing of a good, old-fashioned drama. It also has football and some of the most inspirational and encouraging speeches and words of wisdom from Coach Taylor. You know the show isn’t popular when none of your Facebook friends are quoting Taylor (“Clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose!”).
What it all comes down to is this: Friday Night Lights is a football movie. Friday Night Lights is a show about football.