Due mostly to the presence of Billy Bob Thornton, I’ve never seen the original film version of Friday Night Lights (or gotten through Buzz Bissinger’s book). I have read that infamous GQ article about Bissinger’s shopping habits, however, which is why I think he’d appreciate that I became a fan of the TV show Friday Night Lights after a marathon on, of all places, Bravo. The marathon was either during or just after the first season, and since Bravo was part of the Universal family and hadn’t yet amassed hours of Real Housewives to fill the endless hours of their weekend schedule, they showed the highlights of FNL season one instead, and I got hooked.
Due to all the hype, I’d seen the pilot when it first aired, but something about the show, maybe all the Jesus-y stuff in it, didn’t click with me. Of course, most people you meet who are fans of the show marvel at how so many of the show’s central elements—from the pre-game prayer/church scenes to Texas to football itself and sports in general—are things they’d hate in any other context. FNL attracts fans with a The Wire-like level of devotion, the kind of people who not only love it but hate that you haven’t seen it yet and insist you lock yourself in a room and watch the whole thing ASAP (with a spiel about how to deal with the second season).
While I don’t hate sports, football is certainly my least favorite of the big four; as much as it pains me to quote George Will, he did once say, “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” I’m also not so fond of Texas, or really any state that will bend over backwards to deprive its women of affordable, accessible health care and decide that all crimes short of jaywalking should be punishable by the death penalty.
That said, I love Friday Night Lights, not just for all the reasons TV nerds do (the fly-on-the-wall shooting style, Explosions in the Sky-soaked atmospheric soundtrack, the perfect marriage of Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach), but because it translates the fan experience better than any movie or TV before or since. You can walk away from a sports movie caring a bit about the team involved, or at least a central victory, but because FNL is a much more immersive experience— five season filled with characters you grow to care about (and lust for, Tim Riggins)—falling in love with the show makes you fall in love with the show’s football team, the Dillon Panthers. No matter how much you hate sports, if you love this show, you become a sports fan, and there’s no better understanding of fandom than that.
I could go on about how much I love and miss so many of the characters (Riggins), and how more wedding toasts should end with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” and how Connie Britton could rule the world if she put her mind to it, but like all other superfans of the show, and as a sports fan who’d like you to feel my pain, I’d prefer you just watch.