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The Top 10 Characters of Friday Night Lights (Only Kinda Premature Edition, Pt. 2)

A little more than a month ago I wrote the first half of this post, shortly after I finished watching season three of the great show Friday Night Lights on Nerdflix, with the intent that I would write part two not much longer thereafter. Well, some personal thangs came up and I never got around to it. Finally coming back to the world of FNL this week, after watching season four in a flurry the weekend after writing said post, and now in giddy anticipation of the season five premiere on NBC tomorrow night at 7pm CST, I can't believe I was without the new characters of East Dillon for a whopping three seasons. I remember being unable to contain my joys over season three the night the post linked above was written, ranking my ten favorite characters and discussing numbers 6-10 with myself in a gleeful haze, unable to fathom a future where other characters mattered equally or possibly more than the personalities and misadventures of Jason Street or Brian 'Smash' Williams. Well it's true, so below you will find my original choices listed first, but with an and/or caveat for a season four character whose importance I cannot wait to see expanded even further in what is sadly FNL's final season. Here they be...

5) Eric Taylor and/or Vernon Merriweather: Being #5 on this list really shouldn't be an insult to the mastery that is Eric Taylor's persona or Kyle Chandler's performance. Really I think the only thing keeping him from taking one of the top spots, if not the top spot (if the ensemble show has a main protagonist it's him after all), is how reserved and slight his character is, especially in the context of television. I honestly can't think of a single other central figure in a TV show that both has an incredibly strong resolve and value set and communicates it all through facial tics, style of stride, and succinct no-frills monologues that never feel like a chore to listen to. On the flip side, some of my favorite scenes of Coach in season four were him interacting with Vernon Merriweather, played by The Practice's great Steve Harris. The two have similar ways of dealing with things and I only hope that the Lion-cum-BBQer gets more deeply developed this season. Highlight Reel: Coach scrubbing the grill while telling Matt in no uncertain terms what he will do if he treats Julie poorly, Vernon showing his only moment of genuine happiness when he finally gives in to give his kid pointers on the pee-wee field.

4) Jason Street and/or Becky Sproles: This is how awesome Jason Street is - I didn't realize that he was "the wheelchair character" until he disappeared from the show for the first four episodes of season three. What I mean by that is when I watched, for instance, Extreme Ghostbusters as a kid (aka the reason why the one based on the movie franchise had to be called The Real Ghostbusters) features a paraplegic character and it was shoved in my face constantly that he was in wheelchair and that it was okay because he was a person too. Even as an eight-year-old, I didn't like pedantic television. But from the very first episode on through to his journey to NYC, I only ever realized that his presence on any other show would be a PC choice, not a specific choice to make an interesting and vital character, when he wasn't on the screen. Scott Porter is a beast, even when he's throwing some pro-life mumbo jumbo at a waitress he had a one-night stand with. Likewise, I should hate Becky Sproles, the young thing that is involved in a weird Freudian will-they-won't-they with Tim Riggins, but Madison Burge plays it so genuine and immersive that I don't even notice. Highlight Reel: Jason sweating and yelling "I'm crippled and just want to listen to Nirvana!" and then wheeling himself however many miles to the record store to buy a new copy of Nevermind, Becky putting so much faith in Tim Riggins as a good man only to be tricked into thinking he's just like every other guy in her life

3) Landry Clarke and/or Jess Merriweather: Okay, so I have a feeling Landry gets a bad rap because of that murder plot in season two. But here's the thing - with any other character or actor thrust into that ridiculousness, we might not even be here enjoying a fifth (what scripted network TV gets five seasons nowadays?) season of FNL. Jesse Plemons kills it in every single scene he's in, whether comedic, dramatic, or bordering somewhere between the two. Yet it's not that simple. Here's a character that's become a trope far too often nowadays (Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, ad nauseum) and gee willickers, I'd say that Plemons outdoes his more hipster-ish counterparts in this kind of role without even trying, plus he friggin' MURDERS someone and we all still love his nerdy disposition and awkward dialogue. That, my friends, is talent. Likewise, with Tyra gone, you know it took the producers a while to find someone like Jurnee Smollett to play Jess and be able to run lines and bat eyelashes toe to toe with Landry Mothereffing Clarke, and while I was skeptical at first, the two slid into harmony so well together within a few eps that I was hardly remembering the best teen romance ever on screen that didn't involve Kristen Bell, aka Landry and Tyra. Highlight Reel: Besides anything with Crucifictorious - Landry calling Tyra at college on top of the Landrymobile in the middle of nowhere while the sun sets and leaving her a voicemail about why he shouldn't have to continue waiting for her, Jess reacting to Landry's parents asking her what she thinks of Obama "so far"

2) Matt Saracen and/or Luke Cafferty: Now if you think I oversold Landry, here's his best friend one spot up from him on the list. And I tell you what - if it weren't for the episode "The Son" he may not even be in the top five. Matt burying his father was the first time TV made me cry that hard since Randy yelled at Sgt. Carver after getting his house burned down on The Wire. And that's the troof, Roof. I gripped the blankets on my couch so tight as I yell-cried with anger and kicked the cushions like I was having a guldarn temper tantrum. That ish was real. Zach Gilford's mannerisms and reactions to everything and everyone during that whole episode was spot-on grief for the introspective type, and it felt like I was reliving the death of every loved one I'd ever experienced just by seeing Saracen close the door in the McCoys faces and not say a word to anyone unless he had something to blow up about. Now with Matt healing by his lonesome in Chicago (total dick move by the way to leave Julie like that, but dude's a doer, not a talker - I get that), I'm looking to the capable Matt Lauria to expand in season five and break my heart if not as well as Saracen did, then at least half as well. His family's farm life and failed golden boy status is ripe with tragic potential. Highlight Reel: Matt getting shoved into the shower by Coach when he says he feels like everyone's leaving him and taking it with red eyes and a full heart, Luke being super courteous to Coach even when he gets put on a team he really doesn't want to be on

1) Tami Taylor and/or Vince Howard: And so here we are, ladies and germs. What is there to say? If you don't understand why Tami Taylor is at the top of this list, I must think we haven't been watching the same show. Connie Britton is far and away the most down-to-earth but also rousingly emotional actress on TV today, and that's just facts. Not even my opinion yet. No - my opinion is that if it weren't for Mrs. Coach, this show would be in such lopsided macho BS disarray that I don't think any of us could honestly watch it and feel fully satisfied. Tami is what balances the show's depressed brooding types from those that actually want to get ish done. And you know Eric would be just moping on his own, making those maybe-I'm-chewing-gum-or-maybe-I'm-grinding-my-teeth faces and never actually accomplishing anything. She's the true backbone of the Taylor household, Dillon High, and the show itself. She brings levity, honest mistakes, and proactive realism to a downtrodden atmosphere, lifting up all the mena around her and looking way hot doing so all the while. Vince has all the makings of a characters that could totally shift the power structure for the better and/or worse at East Dillon and so he's by far my favorite of the newbies, but I feel like the fourth season was all a set up for what he's about to pull off in this final run of eps. And I can't wait, y'all! Highlight Reel: Any conversation between Mrs. Coach and Coach - preferably one that's both funny and moving at once (oh wait that's all of them!), Vince walking away from his gangbanger buddies once and for all regardless of consequences

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 11:07 AM |  

    Will she ever stop hugging him!?

    My fave Coach/Mrs. Coach scene is from the first season, where they're in the cow pasture, he's trying to convince her that playing the game there is a good idea, and he says something about the vacant-eyed cow being more supportive than she's being.

    Sad news for you about Vernon Merriweather, but, for whatever reason, he's only mentioned in passing in the fifth season.

  2. Blogger qualler | 11:13 AM |  

    I think you are spot-on with this entire top five, Chris. Tami Taylor rawks hard. I am now glad that I waited until now to watch the final season cuuzzz...GOOD STUFF TO WATCH ON THE TV NOW!!!

    My fave Becky moment in S4 was when she was talking to stupid Lyla and saying "You're so lucky...and so pretty..." and Lyla friggin' LOOKS AT HER AND JUST WALKS AWAY. What the eff, Lyla? That pissed me off, hard, Lyla. But it was a good scene.

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