“Hi Smash! Sorry, what’s your real name? I don’t even know!” a blond fan gushed at the actor Gaius Charles after waiting in a long line of women with smartphones. “But I just love the show. This is Tyler,” the girl said introducing her brunette friend. “And this is Ruby” she cooed. Smash looked to his left. “No this, my dog,” she said directing Smash’s eyes down toward her elbow, over which a parched terrier-like dog hung with its tongue out.
The Austin Television Festival, which was billed the first festival devoted to television’s history and future, opened on June 1 in Austin. And on Saturday, in the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose (one of the festival’s sponsors), the finale of Friday Night Lights, the brilliant drama about West Texas high school football, was screened in the company of some of its cast. Landry Clarke, Jason Street, Grandma, and “Everybody-loves-the-Smash!” Williams roamed around smiling. Smash beat the heat with a cup of Amy’s ice cream. Grandma sat in a lawn chair, and in cropped jeans and shimmery lipstick, she looked twenty years younger than her character. It was the kind of low-key event where people could introduce television stars to their dogs.
The actors were instantly recognizable, even if they were from the last couple of seasons, because they looked, as Lorrie Moore wrote in the pages of the New York Review of Books, like they’d come “straight out of a Beverly Hills casting agency”—“disconcertingly attractive young people with pink wavy mouths.” And, of course, they were flanked by fans with phones. Jesse Plemons’s band, Cowboy and Indian, a spin-off from the one his character Landry Clarke has in the show, played to some intrepid dancers, swaying and nodding in the ninety degrees.
Before the big screen lit up, the cast gathered up front and were introduced one by one. Grandma, or Louanne Stephens, a Dallas resident and Odell native, delightfully scored the most whoops. (Although Smash, in a black shirt, jeans and Converse, likely scored the most Instagrams.) Stephens told the audience how nice head writer and executive producer Jason Katims is, how he and the writers let the actors have their characters and how the writers even seemed, by the end, to write for their actors.
Fans spread blankets and towels across the hot concrete, and sipped Modelo and Lone Star to watch the finale, but the crowd at the screening and at a panel on the show earlier in the day confirmed that the appetite for the show continues.
“I wouldn’t be anything without Friday Night Lights,” Scott Porter, who played the original “QB1,” Jason Street, said at the panel at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental. “So glad to be back.”
Grandma Saracen talked about how the show gave its actors extraordinay freedom with their dialogue, which meant she didn’t have to worry about memorizing every line exactly right. “I could just be Grandma Saracen.”
Nearly everyone in the room confirmed how unique this was, including Porter, who recently spent two seasons on The Good Wife. “I couldn’t change a word, man,” he said.
Actor Matt Lauria, who played Luke Cafferty in the show’s final two seasons, was especially excited to be in the room with Gaius Charles, who left the show after season three.
“I never met ‘Smash’ Williams before!” Lauria enthused. “I gave him this long hug. I said to my wife afterwards, ‘that was bit of a long hug, wasn’t it?'”
Lauria also showed himself to be as big a Boy Scout as his character, getting up to remove one chair from the crowded platform after music supervisor Liza Richardson’s seat almost toppled off the edge.
“I’m Jason Katims, I played Coach Eric Taylor,” was how executive producer Jason Katims, the show’s primary creative force along with Peter Berg, jokingly introduced himself.
During a question about football, Michael B. Jordan (who played quarterback Vince Howard) said he was a New York Giants fan, which prompted one tiny little boo from someone in the crowd. “What’s wrong?,” Jordan said with mock arrogance. “What? What?”