The second season of Friday Night Lights is not very good television. In fact, it’s downright awful. Whatever your favorite memories of the show—the fatherly tone of Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor, the cool-mom approachability of Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor, the smoldering bad-boy gaze of Taylor Kitsch’s Tim Riggins, the awkward affability of Jesse Plemons’s Landry, or the wounded masculinity of Michael B. Jordan’s Vince Howard—they probably don’t involve the plot points of season two.
That season of television was uniquely bad for a few reasons, but chief among them was the fact that it was cut short by the strike action taken by the Writers Guild of America, which participated in total work stoppage from November 2007 to February 2008. For the first time in fifteen years, the guild is once again on strike after negotiations broke down over issues ranging from residual payments to the role of AI in writing scripts. As a result of the ’07 strike, the season went from a planned 22-episode arc to a truncated 15-episode fart.
Those fifteen episodes were bad on their own merits. Here’s a sampling of events: high school teen Matt Saracen begins a relationship with his grandmother’s adult caregiver; team booster Buddy Garrity essentially adopts a teenage linebacker; and some random lifeguard, called the Swede for some reason (played by Austin Americana artist Shakey Graves), steals Julie Taylor’s heart. Oh, and Landry and Tyra kill a guy.
Landry and Tyra kill that guy in the season premiere, which aired on October 5, 2007—exactly one month before the strike began. However, 22-episode network television shows such as Friday Night Lights are usually still being written—or rewritten—as the season unfolds on the air. That means that writers are able to recognize when subplots aren’t working and can step in to course-correct. With the second season of Friday Night Lights, though, it was pencils down after episode five aired. That gave the show time to at least identify that the murder subplot was universally loathed and offer a first-draft attempt to wrap it up, more or less (Landry goes to the police to confess in episode nine; they let him get away with it, and it’s never brought up again). The rest of the season remained fairly off the rails.
None of those are well-liked plotlines on a show that, in its breakout first season, was dazzling not for its soapy plot elements but its handheld, intimate approach to storytelling. Friday Night Lights was critically beloved for its veracity, heart, and willingness to deal with real-world situations in a way that felt authentic, not because it put its characters in improbable situations. The stakes of the show at its best were “Will this kid with absent parents pull himself together with the help of an avuncular coach?,” not “Where are Landry and Tyra going to hide the body?” Would the second season have been better with seven extra episodes, shot with writers working throughout the duration of the season? Almost certainly; there’s a reason, after all, that network television is written in media res.
With the WGA once more on strike, though, it’s worth revisiting who won the battle and who won the war, when it comes to Friday Night Lights. The strike-shortened season is a bummer, but the extended gap between seasons two and three gave the series the opportunity to retool. Did Tyra and Landry really kill a guy? They exhibit no signs of trauma from it ever again! Tami Taylor goes from being the school’s guidance counselor to its principal, a pull toward centrality for one of the show’s best characters that would have made sense from the beginning. Buddy Garrity’s adopted son, Santiago, vanishes as though he never existed. Carlotta, the grown adult woman with whom high school junior Matt Saracen enters into a sexual relationship, leaves the country. A handful of pivotal, but boring and grim, subplots involving major characters are wrapped up as cleanly and quickly as possible before those characters are shoved out the door. Jason Street, the aimless former quarterback who struggles to rebuild his life after being disabled during an on-field tackle? He’s gone by episode eight, off to pursue an exciting career opportunity! Out: all the bad, annoying things. In: a better, streamlined show, built much more like the sort of prestige streaming series that would explode following the end of the 2008 writers’ strike.
Gone are the 22-episode seasons that leave so much time to fill that, whoops, occasionally two of your characters will randomly kill a guy. Instead, Friday Night Lights was trimmed down to 13 tightly structured episodes as part of a coproduction deal struck between NBC and DirecTV to continue the show for three more seasons. Much of what the post-strike television landscape developed into looked a lot like those last three seasons of the show.
As the 2023 writers’ strike gets underway, there’s likely to be a lot of bad television. We’ll cross our fingers that none of our favorites end up quite as bad as season two of Friday Night Lights, but even if they do—sometimes the disruption that comes from rethinking the business of entertainment can lead to better creative places. Let’s hope for the same result for the 2023 strike—and never speak of the time Landry and Tyra killed a guy ever again.