BEST EPISODE: Friday Night Lights

We live in the golden age of television, and never has TV been more important in our culture.

Over five weeks we’ll be exploring the absolute best TV has to offer. Every Wednesday, contributor Jeremy Koffsky will delve into the “best” episode from a certain show.

By Jeremy Koffsky

This Week:
Friday Night Lights

[Season 1, Episode 1]

Friday Night Lights is an unforgettable drama series about a small town in Texas that revolves around high school football. Yet when researching this column, I was unable to find a “best episode.” Many scenes, moments, and stories came to mind, but it was difficult to nail down a specific hour from the five seasons as the top. Then it hit me. The best episode of Firday Night Lights is the one that started it all.

FNL’s pilot aired on NBC in 2006, and it perfectly set up the show. The best character arcs can all be traced back to the premiere. Viewers are immediately introduced to the town of Dillon and it’s charming obsession with football. The opening scene uses a voiceover from radio host Saammy Mead to set the atmosphere and establish a tone like nothing I had seen before.

The pilot also sets up dominos that will run throughout the entire show. Writer and director Peter Berg puts the duality of his characters under close examination. For the first 20 minutes here, Tim Riggins comes off as a drunken lowlife, unmotivated to show up to practice and mean to his brother. Later, at the actual game, we see him being lively and charismatic with Lyla and Jason. Brian “Smash” Williams is charming and confident at the car dealership and in his TV interview, but at the same time obnoxious, hot-headed, and vulnerable about his father.

Jason Street’s scenes in this episode are fascinating to return to after watching the complete series. He will go from superstar to nothing. From all-star quarterback to just crippled man. We also get great subtle introductions to Lyla, Buddy, Tami, Julie, Matt, Tyra, and Landry. I like Matt’s because seeing him accept his spot as a backup is a nice way to start and it helps dramatize his arc this season of becoming the starter and taking the reigns of quarterback.

Additionally, the pilot also contains charming moments and a crash course in Friday Night Lights’ editing style. All the sequences of practice, interviews, and the game are uniquely shot and add a lot of drama to the events unfolding. Add that to one of the foremost “twists” in the series, in which Jason becomes paralyzed, and this is the best episode. Not only will Jason be sent on the most compelling arc in the show’s run, but this event shakes the whole and puts our protagonist, Coach Eric Taylor, in a tough spot.

In 45 short minutes, Friday Night Lights gets me attached to a game, characters, and an entire town. Nothing short of incredible.