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'Friday Night Lights' pilot recap: Winning isn't everything

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Oct 6, 2006

Hey, y’all!

Welcome (back) to Dillon, Texas! For those of you on your maiden voyage to Panther Country, I am so excited to be with you on this incredible journey (and I’m SO envious that you get to experience all the glory of FNL for the first time). For those of you returning for a stroll down this magical memory lane, thanks so much for joining me as I look back at some of the greatest characters and stories of all time. First up: the pilot!

As I watched the first episode of Friday Night Lights for the first time in several years, I was immediately struck by one thing: the constant talk of expectations. Win, win, win. It is clear from the get-go that football means everything to this town—the football coach is a more revered local figure than the mayor. But as I watched with the clarity of hindsight, I was nauseated by the fact that it never dawned on anybody, in those days leading up to Friday night, that there was anything more important than beating Westerby. The tragedy of what happens to Jason Street is set up so painfully by the perceived invincibility that seems to cloak every person in Dillon. From Slammin’ Sammy Meade on the radio to Jason Street himself, everyone agrees that the worst possible outcome of the game is a loss. The fact that the Panthers win the game but suffer such a horrific loss is a gut-wrenching kind of irony.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the big game on Friday night, we have four days to get to know the coach, his family and his players. We learn that, though Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been a quarterback coach for some time, this season is the first year he’ll be filling the head coach position. He has been working with his star player, QB Jason Street (Scott Porter), for several years, and they both feel it is fortuitous that Coach Taylor was promoted to lead the team as Jason is stepping into his senior year. Jason Street is the ultimate All-American boy. He is a handsome, kind, Christian quarterback. He is humble. He is faithful to his girlfriend, Lyla (Minka Kelly). All he wants to do is make his parents, his coach and his community proud.

Other members of the team include Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), a sweet, shy boy who splits his time going to school, attending football practice, and taking care of his grandmother. Matt appears to be the kind of kid who is uncomfortable in his own skin, barely capable of speaking without tripping over his words. He spends all of his time with his one friend, Landry (Jesse Plemons), whose social awkwardness does not help ease Matt’s discomfort in social situations. Though Matt is officially on the football team, as the backup quarterback to the legendary Jason Street, he spends most of his time (all of it, really) on the bench. Matt, we discover, has a slight crush on Coach Taylor’s daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), though approaching her at the local burger joint is a step he’s not ready to take. With Landry basically pulling him by the arm, Matt stumbles through a conversation, only to learn she has no interest in associating with anyone on the football team, even someone who never plays.

Drawing a sharp contrast to Matt’s timidness and Jason’s humility is running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles). Smash is loud and obnoxious, and has an ego the size of a planet (telltale signs of an oversize ego: talking about oneself in the third person and putting the word “the” before one’s own nickname). Smash seems even more certain of his future football success than Jason, though it is Jason whom scouts have confirmed is one of the best they’ve ever seen. People, for the most part, put up with Smash and his loud mouth, likely because he performs on the field. The only person who openly can’t stand him is …

… Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). Full disclosure, folks: The heart of this recapper has, and will forever, belong to Tim Riggins. It may be difficult to understand why at this juncture. Currently, our #33 fullback is nothing more than a drunken mess who can barely stand up, let alone make it through practice. But there is something refreshing about seeing someone call Smash out on his blathering. And you have to figure Tim has some redeeming qualities to have Jason Street as a best friend. One of the best moments of the pilot episode is Jason, Tim and Lyla sitting around, drinking beer, reflecting on the dream future they are sure to have. Tim tells Jason he’s perfectly happy to do nothing more than he is doing at this very moment—just as long as Jason passes on 1 percent of each NFL paycheck. They are young; they are hopeful. They have their whole lives ahead of them and there are wonderful things on the horizon.

Since the focus of the pilot is football—win, win, win—and the people who play football, the characters we learn less about are the ladies. Tami (“Mrs. Coach”) Taylor (Connie Britton) dreams of moving to Alaska, where they can live a much more relaxing lifestyle. Or, short of that, to a bigger house, particularly one with his-and-hers closets! Lyla is the perfect girl to match Jason Street’s perfect boy; in all of Jason’s plans for his future success, Lyla is standing by his side. Julie is Coach Taylor’s daughter and the object of Matt Saracen’s affection, but she does not like football players. And Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) is Tim’s girlfriend; she has no problem flirting with Smash even though she knows how much Tim hates him. Mark my words, these women are important and multidimensional, and as the season goes on, we will get a chance to explore each of them further.

As Friday night approaches, the energy in Dillon is, as Sammy Meade exclaims, electric. The whole town is fired up, ready to see their team destroy the competition. With their new coach at the helm and their prize QB on the field, it is a new dawn for Panther football. No one is expecting Westerby to put up a fight, but when they head into halftime tied 14-14, people are starting to worry. Jason, for the first time, seems shaky. Whatever pep talks happen in the locker room fail to turn things around as the Panthers give up 10 more unanswered points to Westerby in the second half. As the time is winding down on the clock, the misery in the stadium is palpable. “This can’t be happening,” the collective Panther fans seem to be thinking. “We can’t lose this game.” And then, as so many quarterbacks in desperate situations do, Jason throws an interception. Should the Westerby defender run the ball in for a touchdown, the game is as good as over. Jason can’t let that happen. He’s the only one in a position to make the tackle. He runs toward the ball. He collides hard with the Westerby player. He’s down on the ground. And then, as an entire stadium looks on, he doesn’t get up. He doesn’t move. Suddenly, Win win win isn’t the most important refrain; it’s Get up, get up, get up.

But he doesn’t. The trainers come out; Jason is loaded onto a stretcher. He arrives at the hospital and is brought directly to an operating room. As we watch the surgeons cut off his helmet with a saw, we realize that back at the field, the game must go on.

So Matt Saracen steps in, taking his first snap in the history of his Panther career. The pressure that’s been building leading up to this game now rests squarely on the shoulders of someone who has no business carrying it. First down, he botches the play. Second down, he throws the football directly into someone’s helmet. Third down, shovel pass to Smash, first down! Panthers still alive! There are 57 seconds left to play. Pitch to Smash … Touchdown Williams! Onside kick … recovered by … Riggins! Saracen has one final chance to make a play for the win. He fakes a handoff to Smash then throws a bomb toward the end zone. It’s caught! He’s in. Panthers WIN!! Panthers WIN!!

And this moment, this win, which everyone has been salivating over all week, barely has time to sink in before the town of Dillon is on its knees in prayer. Smash Williams, who thinks of nothing but himself, leads them all, asking the Lord to make Jason OK. The celebratory parties are traded in for a team trip to the hospital. Smash and Riggins shake hands, united in their shared horror. Lyla sobs in the hallway and finds comfort in Julie, a virtual stranger. In his hospital room, Jason is recovering from spinal surgery, with a traction device immobilizing his neck. The future that moments ago looked bright and definite has come crashing down into the bleakest darkness. No one in Dillon is untouched by this.

Where do they go from here? How does each of these characters respond in the aftermath of Jason’s accident? Let’s find out when we chat about episode 2 next week! And in case you’re not incredibly pumped up already, here’s the FNL theme song, composed by W.G. Snuffy Walden, which does not play in the pilot. But knowing how iconic this music is to the Friday Night Lights experience, I wanted to leave you with it. It never fails to give me goosebumps.

Tell me your thoughts! Leave a comment below—but no spoilers, please!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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