Throughout the series Friday Night Lights, Coach Eric Taylor’s ignorance of the outside world is what ultimately brings about its characters’ demises in the town of Dillon, Texas. By having his life only revolve around football, Taylor ultimately hinders the futures of the people around him, and only the ones that suffer are the ones who truly transcend their high school bubble. It begins in the pilot episode, when hot-shot quarterback Jason Street of the Dillon Panthers loses his ability to walk. Afterward, the pressure on Coach Taylor increases ten-fold, as everyone in the small town feels like their opinions about the team matter and constantly harass him. This, essentially, is what the show is about – community.
The cast of Friday Night Lights are dimensionalities of Coach Taylor’s character. Each one, one way or another, adds pressure onto his flaw of life being only about football, the clearest example being his wife, Tammy Taylor. She is casted as the opposite of Eric Taylor as she is the central character that constantly goes at odds with him, fully aware that there are more important things in life than football. Second-string quarterback Matt Saracen would probably be the next opposite of Eric Taylor, given that his life was never about football at all. But when he’s suddenly summoned after Street is paralyzed, they must rely on him to get the job done. However, Saracen isn’t nearly as experience or dedicated to the game, thus adding more pressure onto Taylor. And his daughter, Julie, is as much of an opposite of her father as anyone else in the show, serving as another buckle of pressure requiring him to serve to familial needs.
This, in turn, go against the rules of Dillon, Texas. Since these characters have a greater world view, they eventually find their future outside of Dillon and the world of high school football. Tammy Taylor’s whole life revolved around football, but the narrative function of her character is to actively go against it and remind Coach Taylor that there’s more to life outside of football. As a result, she finds a future outside of Dillon in Philadelphia as Dean of Admissions at a university.
Matt Saracen’s life never revolved around football either. It was always secondary to him, and he was always fully aware of that, as well as Taylor, even if they didn’t want to admit it. His relationship with football has always been one foot in and one foot out. He was always fully aware that there was something bigger for him out there, eventually deciding to pursue a career as an artist. As a result, he finds a future in Chicago chasing a worldlier future.
However, if we take a look at the cast members who served as extreme versions of Coach Taylor’s flaw, we find a different story. Probably the clearest example is Buddy Garrity. Throughout the series, he is the one that dimensionalizes Coach Taylor, always putting him in his place. His life, too, is all about football, so much so that he constantly tries to give input thinking he knows what’s best for the Dillon Panthers. However, his destiny is forever grounded in Dillon because of this flaw. He loses grip on his marriage, his relationship with his children, and his car dealership. Buddy is the result of Coach Taylor’s obsession with football taken into an extreme direction.
Tim Riggins, the running back, is another embodiment of Taylor’s flaw taken in an extreme direction. He is the embodiment of Coach Taylor but in all the wrong ways: he slacks off on his schoolwork, drinks heavily, and doesn’t know what’s good for himself. So much so that he doesn’t even call people by their real names, only by their jersey numbers. Everyone is just a player to him. And, naturally, he is banished to Texas for the rest of his life, as proven by his go-to motto, “Texas forever.” To everyone else around him, Texas is just a state of mind. To him, it’s all he knows.
The one outlier though, and perhaps the catalyst of all of this, is Jason Street. At the start of the series, he is also an extreme of Coach Taylor – football is his life and he doesn’t know anything else. That is, until he is paralyzed. His career in sports is finished. However, what he gains in the long run is a greater outlook on life. By denying him his life’s passion, he is given greater opportunities, eventually also finding his way out of Dillon as a sports agent.
But perhaps the greatest character of the series is Dillon, Texas itself. The use of the vast Texas sky as a backdrop conveys the characters’ interiority and ignorance of the future. They’re so caught up in the minutiae of high school and small-town life, they’re not aware of the possibilities that lie ahead of them. Their mindset and worldview are reminiscent of their potentiality – as narrow as the road, but as wide as the sky.
The character dimensionalities of Friday Night Lights boil the show down to what it’s truly about – community, but also, reality. Coach Taylor rejects any outside forces and influences that don’t pertain to football. However, that mindset only leads to the demise of half of the show’s characters: some of us are born with open minds, and some of us need to lose something before we can put a value on it. To some, it’s not just a game: it’s a way of life.