This week’s mud-bowl episode of Friday Night Lights — in which a local environmental hazard in rural Dillon, Texas, requires the high school football team to improvise a crucial home-advantage playoff game — was stirringly emblematic of this wonderful series’ strengths, from its ability to wed an off-the-cuff indie filmmaking style with prime-time drama to its grand theme of the ways flawed but decent people react to pressure. I particularly loved the showdown between Dillon Panthers coach Eric Taylor and the Brant Vikings’ coach over the suitability of a cow pasture for a state semifinal. All season long we’ve seen Taylor grow increasingly dispirited with the amount of debilitating hype and moneyed coercion surrounding his players’ expectations as foregone champions. So his stern defense of reclaiming the sport as literally a ground-up phenomenon — by eschewing a high-tech, out-of-town stadium in favor of transforming a local barren pasture into a regulation gridiron — was truly exciting.
And does anything more need to be said about the quietly galvanizing brilliance of Kyle Chandler’s Emmy-worthy performance as Coach Taylor? Physically he’s got the hands-on-hips, take-no-shit swagger of a teen-athlete wrangler down pat, but also the bewildered-by-females hesitation of a husband and father too. He’s a guy who enjoys his authority — sometimes even petulantly — and will fight for every scrap of it on the field and at home, but he respects what his position entails, what managing people means, and he knows when to compromise. And as a portrait of a Texas leader, it’s a far cry from what the nightly news reports to us from Washington, D.C., where our Lone Star coach-in-chief doesn’t even know the playbook. Let’s hope Eric Taylor and Friday Night Lights, still on the bubble for a second season, outlast that guy.