Great News. There Won’t Be a Friday Night Lights Movie.
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Let’s get this out of the way: We all love Friday Night Lights. The book, the movie, and especially the five-season TV series. The show made us wish we had a Coach Taylor in our lives to motivate us, be proud of us when we did something noteworthy, and be disappointed in us when we needed to understand that we could do better; that made a generation of children from broken homes believe that marriage could work based on the example of Eric and Tami Taylor; that briefly even convinced the world that an actor as one-note as Taylor friggin’ Kitsch could actually be a leading-man movie star.
So with that said, it’s time to accept that the Friday Night Lights movie is not happening. The show’s creator Peter Berg, speaking to Collider about his new film, Lone Survivor (which tells the story of Afghanistan vet and Texas native Marcus Luttrell), revealed over the weekend that the plans had hit the bench like J.D. McCoy in the state championship game.
“There’s not gonna be a movie. We talked about it, some people thought it was a good idea, some didn’t; I’ve come to believe it’s probably not a good idea and I seriously doubt it’s gonna happen.”
To put it plainly, the people who didn’t think it was a good idea—a group which seems to include Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Taylor, and Kitsch, who stars in Lone Survivor—are right, and we should be glad to see that they won.
As much as we think we’d love the chance to see how the Taylors are doing in Philadelphia, where they settled at the end of the series’ note-perfect finale, we don’t actually want to see them for more than thirty seconds, just to see that everything’s fine and that Coach is teaching a new generation of boys (and the occasional girl) how to be men (and women). We don’t need to see that Vince Howard is the starting quarterback at Auburn and is about to declare for the NFL draft his junior year to buy his mom a nice house, or that Matt Saracen’s art career is starting to garner notice from galleries and dealers.
The reason is that the more we see of the Friday Night Lights characters we’ve loved, the more the show’s constant ability to stay just on the right side of the line between being genuinely inspiring and just being emotionally manipulative (how many championships can one team win at the very last second?) would be likely to fail. But the alternative—if the movie stars a failed Smash Williams as he’s pushing thirty, working at the Alamo Freeze with a bitter, burnt-out Matt Saracen—would be so much worse.
The fact is Friday Night Lights ended perfectly. As beloved as the characters on the show are, they’re fictional creations, and generally the thing that defines fictional creations is that, at some point, their stories stop being told. That the show ended in such a way to make us want a Friday Night Lights movie is proof that there shouldn’t be one: Very few people would mind if they made The Further Adventures of Hurley and Ben on the Island as a sequel to Lost, but given how unhappy the world was with the show’s ending, most people wouldn’t actually want to see it, either. Stories that end well are rare, and the art of closing a narrative well is increasingly a lost one. All of the tension about whether or not Breaking Bad would stick its landing was about our collective desire to see a story told with a beginning, middle, and end. When a story does end well, it’s best to let it rest there. That way, we won’t be manipulated by filmmakers who know that we’ve all got some vague FNL fan-fiction in our heads about what might have happened to the characters.
In fact, the only way another Friday Night Lights could possibly work without invalidating the ending the show earned wouldn’t be a follow-up: It would be a reboot. And while there are a few reasons why a reboot is unlikely (the version of Friday Night Lights that had a near-perfect set of characters and actors was never exactly a commercial success, for one), it’s also not something the people who want to see Friday Night Lights return would probably be interested in.
It’s true that the canvas of small-town Texas, boys becoming men, and the culture of football and its role in shaping lives and communities is a vast one, and there are an infinite number of stories to be told there. It’s a lens through which anything can be examined, from how a community copes with a disaster to the excesses of a sports-obsessed culture to the disparity between the risks wealthy people and poor people allow their children to take. All of those stories are fascinating, and you don’t need the Dillon Panthers, the East Dillon Lions, Coach Taylor, or Tim Riggins to tell them.
And while, speaking as someone whose job involves thinking a lot about all of those things, I would watch, I suspect it’d be a challenge to get people who never got into the much-beloved version of Friday Night Lights to give an untested version a shot—and the people who tuned in to see how Principal Taylor (not “Mrs. Coach”—never “Mrs. Coach”) and her husband would help shape the young people in their charge would probably feel betrayed to see those roles suddenly taken over by Coy and Vance.
Ultimately, Friday Night Lights is as fine an example of a television drama as you’re liable to find. The missteps got glided over smoothly (Landry never killed that guy, okay?) and the show managed to transition one class of students for another in ways that were entirely satisfying. When the show did dip into the sort of fan-service that a movie follow-up would entail—like when a TV commentator talks about how well Smash Williams was doing at A&M after he graduated—it did so subtly, in ways that a movie never could. Its ending is possibly the most satisfying of any show from television’s so-called “golden age,” without the maddening-for-some ambiguity of The Sopranos or the contrivances of Breaking Bad. Learning how to embrace that all things end, and that it’s what you take from those experiences after they’ve passed, is the show’s most satisfying lesson: the fact that there won’t be a movie just proves that they learned it.