Ten years ago today – on star Michael B. Jordan’s birthday no less – the last episode of “Friday Night Lights” aired.
The series finale put everything on the line – marriages, friendships, jobs, careers, even the future of the football program – and delivered a near-perfect series finale.
In “Always” (original airdate Feb. 9, 2011), written by Jason Katims and directed by Michael Waxman, the East Dillon Lions are prepping for the state championship game.
This is the big game, but it will also be East Dillon’s final game: The football program is being dismantled and combined with West Dillon.
As the players try to figure out if there will be a place for them on this new “super-team,” they’re not sure if their beloved but intimidating Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) will be joining them. He’s been offered an enticing five-year contract but has yet to sign.
Maybe that has everything to do with the prestigious job offer wife Tami (Connie Britton) received from a college in Philadelphia. Maybe.
There’s more drama for the Taylors: Matt (Zach Gilford) proposes to Julie (Aimee Teegarden).
Coach is furious, promising Matt he’ll never give his approval.
“It’ll probably be ‘no’ until the sun burns out, is that clear?”
Meanwhile, newly paroled Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) considers a move to Alaska as friends and family circle warily.
For this viewer, there are two stand-out moments in an exceptional hour.
The first comes when Coach tracks down Tami at a mall where she’s getting a picture of youngest daughter Gracie with Santa.
“I turned the contract down. It’s your turn. I want to go to Philadelphia,” he says.
“Really, babe?” Tami asks, her eyes welling up.
“Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?” he says.
And this is why Eric and Tami Taylor are one of the best couples ever on TV.
Then there’s the moment before the big game when Coach tells his star quarterback Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), “You may never know how proud I am of you.”
“You changed my life, Coach,” Vince replies simply, yet with so much meaning.
Michael B. Jordan joined the show in the fourth season as Vince. In this fifth and final season, he owned the show as Vince tried to form a relationship with his manipulative ex-con father (played by “Black Lightning’s” Cress Williams), fell in love with coaching assistant Jess (Jurnee Smollett, “Lovecraft Country”), and dealt with the folly of his own ego.
Worth noting that this was Jordan’s first ongoing adult role.
FNL worked him, and he met the challenge. Watching him, the way he inhabited this headstrong young man, you knew he was headed for big things.
The episode’s last moments jump eight months into the lives of the characters. A decade later, I find myself wondering where everyone would be today. Did Vince ever make it to the NFL? Did Tim really put down roots in Dillon? Did Julie and Matt manage to make their marriage work?
Tami and Eric are still together. If they’re not, there’s no hope for any of us.
So many lesser TV shows have been rebooted or revived. Imagine the next chapter of “Friday Night Lights.” Imagine Jess returning to Dillon as as its first female coach. There’s still so much story to be told, in the right hands.
As packed as this finale is, nothing felt wrong or out of place. Every moment rang true. That was the power of “Friday Night Lights,” presenting relatable people trying to make better lives for themselves, sometimes screwing up, but knowing their teammates and family would get them through.
“Friday Night Lights” set the bar so high, a decade later, no other series has come close to its authenticity.