The series finale of Friday Night Lights airs tonight on DirecTV, and the critics' darling is bowing out in the same way it premiered five years ago: quietly, with grace and heart, and amidst a showering of praise.
Beyond the series' numerous emotional triumphs, the constant highlight of FNL has been the way marriage is portrayed by leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach and Tami Taylor. "The relationship between the Taylors reminds many of the best parts of marriage," David Carr wrote in The New York Times, "In which the injury to the one is felt by both, and victories, sweet and fleeting, are held in common." It's a direct result of the actors behind the relationship; Britton has gone on record saying she and Chandler "agreed that we did not want this to be a marriage where we ultimately were addressing infidelity or whatever" because "we really wanted to deal with the authenticity of what it is to try to make a marriage work."
Now that the series is airing its swan song, Chandler and Britton are making the press rounds to promote it. The topic journalists keep coming back to: What goes in to creating the most daringly realistic portrait of a marriage on television? Here, they recall their initial chemistry:
Britton: We just got really lucky. That first day, we were kind of cracking jokes and making each other laugh at the goofiest, dorkiest things, which we then proceeded to do for the next five years. We just kind of instantly got each other and sort of shared the same values about how we wanted to play that marriage and who we each wanted to be in it.
Chandler: I think throughout most of the show, it always ended up that Eric's wife was right in the long run. [Laughs.] What I liked were the scenes that they shared silence, where they were feeling the other out or discussing the family moving or money or loss, and they do their talking by just looking at one another. There aren't many shows that I've done that allow you that silence on screen, and it wound up being so powerful. These are two people with history. They know each other that well.
Chandler claims his inspiration for the Taylor's rock-solid marriage is his grandmother:
"My grandmother who died at 99 used to say that marriage was a business," Chandler said. "That's not to say that it doesn't come with all the other trappings. But it's a business and a friendship, and Connie and I didn't want them to get divorced or have alcohol problems or sleep with other people because when that happens in the story of a marriage, you're limited. Once that trust and faith is broken, the magic is gone, and the audience doesn't care."
It also takes work. Britton recounts how after receiving each script, she and Chandler would dissect each line over coffee at an Austin diner:
It's a great combination of both. Kyle and I would typically get our script and we'd get together at our favorite coffee place and talk it over and go through every scene, and say "Okay, here's what we want to be happening in this scene." And so we'd do that, and sort of get a sense for how we wanted it to be. Then once we'd get on the set, we would know what the idea of the scene was, and then we'd get into the situation on the set—we don't really usually rehearse, we'd kind of just drop into it—and then we'd let the scene happen and see what ended up happening. Sometimes we would do the scene verbatim, and sometimes we would say, "Here's what's really happening, here's what needs to be communicated in this scene," and we would just let it roll and see what happened.
The finale of Friday Night Lights airs tonight at 9 pm ET on DirecTV's Channel 101. Season five begins on NBC on Friday, April 15.