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Texas forever . . . and ever: Friday Night Lights is the show that never ends

By Matthew Singer 11/29/2012

I am not someone predisposed to enjoying primetime soap operas about feuding female country music stars — particularly not one starring Hayden Panettiere. But there is something addictively watchable about ABC’s Nashville, and I think I know what it is. It’s Tami Taylor. Yes, I know the name of the actress who plays the older, fading singer is Connie Britton. But in my subconscious, when I watch the show, I am watching an alternate-reality version of Friday Night Lights, where Coach Taylor’s wife is a chart-topping, stadium-filling country diva. The truth is, ever since I wrapped up all five seasons of the show earlier this year, that is how I watch anything featuring FNL alumni. In my head, the show didn’t end with the Taylors moving from their tiny, rural Texas town to Philadelphia. It’s continued on, the characters spreading out throughout the universe like dandelion spores.

I know this is the fate that befalls the actors of every popular television series. Once the show is finished, detaching from the character viewers devoted so much time getting to know is a difficult task. It’s the reason so many longtime TV performers flop when trying to transition to the big screen. But Friday Night Lights is a different phenomenon. It is to me, at least. I don’t have a problem accepting the cast in different roles. I just refuse to acknowledge that they’re not playing the same role. If anything, this is to their benefit, as it’ll make me watch almost anything they’re involved with, just to convince myself that FNL is not, in fact, over and done with, but an entity that will continue evolving in perpetuity — until all the cast members are dead, anyway.

That’s what happens when you’ve been part of a show that managed to create an intimate world, then had us live inside it for five years. For the uninitiated, Friday Night Lights followed the ups and downs of a scrappy high school football team in fictional Dillon, Texas. Characters came and went each season — to the point that, by its final season, it was almost an entirely different cast, with the connective thread being the family of Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). Other than a somewhat ridiculous second season (involving a murder coverup and a trip to Mexico for experimental spinal surgeries), the show was pretty much perfect. And like a lot of perfect shows, it’s been hard to let go of. That’s why, when I see Britton playing aging “Queen of Country” Rayna James, all I see is Tami. (It helps that both characters project strong-willed Southern warmth.)

It’s not just her, though. When Chandler briefly appeared in Argo, I thought, “Coach Taylor worked for the CIA in the ’70s?” In John Carter and Battleship, it was great to see underachieving hunk-with-a-heart-of-gold Tim Riggins finally applying himself in the fight against alien warmongers. When Landry shot a kid on Breaking Bad, I was disappointed but not surprised, considering he killed that rapist in Season 2. Even when I see old episodes of The Wire, I think, “Man, Vince really did have a rough upbringing.” Is that fair to the actors? Maybe not. But then, what other reason would I have to watch something like Nashville?

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.


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