Ten years ago, one of the greatest TV series ever created premiered on NBC. Friday Night Lights — an adaptation of the 2004 movie and 1990 book of the same name — never quite found the legions of adoring fans that it deserved. But Peter Berg’s series, about a small Texas town and its high school football teams, inspired passionate devotion from fans and critics alike. That support kept the series afloat even after NBC pulled the plug. FNL found a second life on DirecTV, where it finished up its fifth season in 2011.
Even though Friday Night Lights was about football, it wasn’t just about football. It was full of complex characters and realistic stories about what it feels like to make mistakes, face the reality of trying to reach your goals, fall in and out of love, and grow up. It also featured a truly stellar team of actors. Many have gone on to find real and lasting success in film and TV. Others have struggled to keep their careers going since they left Dillon, Texas behind. Want to know what your favorite has been up to? Find out Where Are They Now? The Cast of NBC’s Friday Night Lights.
15. Kyle Chandler – Eric Taylor
When it comes to sports movies or TV shows, inspirational speeches are a time-honored tradition. Thanks to the majesty that is Kyle Chandler, Eric Taylor’s conversations with his team were more than just a pre-game formality — they were a work of art. He “clear eyes, full hearts”-ed his way into our hearts over five seasons on Friday Night Lights as the coach of the Dillon Panthers and, eventually, the East Dillon Lions. He scowled. He yelled. He made his players run drills in the pouring rain. But damn it, he loved them — even the one that ended up falling in love with his daughter.
Kyle Chandler flew under the radar for years before Friday Night Lights, so much so that he seemed absolutely stunned when he won an Emmy for his work on the series in 2011. Since the series ended, he still hasn’t quite achieved the level of fame he deserves, but he’s proven himself to be a huge asset in Hollywood. He’s done stellar supporting work in Oscar-nominated fare like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Wolf of Wall Street and Carol, and underrated gems like J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. He currently stars as a small town sheriff with a terrible family secret in Netflix’s moody, murky drama Bloodline, and we’ll see him in the acclaimed indie drama Manchester By the Sea when it hits theaters this fall.
14. Connie Britton – Tami Taylor
Wife, mother, guidance counselor, principal and white wine aficionado, she was everything the wife of a Texas high school football coach would have to be — but she was so much more, y’all.
If Coach Taylor was the soul of Friday Night Lights, then Mrs. Coach was the undisputed heart. Fiercely loyal and devoted to doing what was right, she stood her ground, even when it wasn’t popular, and often with a glass of white wine in her hand. With a less skilled actress, Tami Taylor could have easily been relegated to the ranks of single dimensional matriarchs, but Connie Britton’s fiery spirit made her a woman to be admired and a force to be reckoned with.
Since 2011, Britton has solidified herself as one of Hollywood’s most charismatic actresses. She’s appeared in seven films, including American Ultra and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. On TV, she starred as Vivien, the beleaguered owner of an incredibly haunted house in the first season of American Horror Story and had a cameo turn as Faye Resnick in American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. But she’s likely best known for her starring role as Rayna James, a country music superstar, on the recently cancelled Nashville, a series that, like a boss, she also co-executive produced.
13. Michael B. Jordan – Vince Howard
Many former Friday Night Lights cast members have gone on to find big success in highly acclaimed television series. Michael B. Jordan, on the other hand, has become a full-fledged movie star since he played Vince Howard in the series’ fourth and fifth seasons. Anyone who saw his courageous and nuanced performance as the de facto leader of the East Dillon Lions shouldn’t be surprised. Vince never had it easy — with an addict mother and father in jail, he battled poverty for years without support or guidance. Still, at his core he was a decent person — a young man who desperately wanted something more for his life. That’s part of what made his transformation from a potential convict to a championship football player so satisfying — it wasn’t just that he did it. It was that he deserved every ounce of his success.
The same can and should be said for Jordan, who has mostly enjoyed a tremendous career since FNL. He had a recurring role on Parenthood before making the leap to the big screen. A star-making turn in the indie hit Fruitvale Station led to roles in Chronicle and That Awkward Moment. Sure, he’s had a few clunkers — Red Tails was a disappointment, and The Fantastic Four was an outright embarrassment. But last year, he ignited his career and helped reinvigorate a classic franchise as Adonis in Creed — and we’ll see him in the wildly anticipated Black Panther when it hits theaters in 2018 (though we’re not sure who he’s playing yet).
12. Taylor Kitsch – Tim Riggins
Tim Riggins was probably the dreamiest alcoholic high school football player-turned-felon ever to grace our television screens. As a character that started out as the pinnacle of a self-absorbed football star, he transformed into a selfless brother and incredible friend to those who needed him most. For five years, Taylor Kitsch did a positively bang-up job bringing Riggs to life — so much so that he made even those of us that have never set foot in the Lonestar state want to scream “Texas forever” from our rooftops.
Tim got something very close to a happily ever after when Friday Night Lights wrapped in 2011. Unfortunately, Taylor Kitsch has spent most of the past five years trying to pick up the pieces of his career after starring in not one but two of the biggest box office flops in recent memory. In the same year.
Following the one-two knockout punch that was Battleship and John Carter, he’s tried valiantly to redeem himself, and did an admirable job with a supporting role in HBO’s acclaimed The Normal Heart and the Navy SEAL drama Lone Survivor. Then he had the misfortune of giving a mostly wooden performance in the almost universally hated second season of True Detective. It’s hard to imagine Taylor Kitsch getting many more chances to prove himself as a viable actor — but damn it, we still think he might deserve a FNL-esque redemption arc.
11. Jesse Plemons – Landry Clarke
Oh, Lance — er, Landry. He was so nice. He tried so hard. Yet time and again, he found his affections largely unrequited and his efforts as an athlete to be lackluster. He wasn’t quite Dillon material — a little too weird, a little too nerdy to really fit in. In the hands of a lesser actor, Landry Clarke would have likely faded into the backdrop against FNL’s more charismatic characters. But Jesse Plemons made his awkwardness feel so authentic that he ended up becoming one of the most memorable characters in the series.
Despite his character’s perpetual mediocrity, Plemons has pulled together a wildly impressive career since his days on Friday Night Lights. He played the enormously unlikeable Todd in Breaking Bad’s final seasons and the incredibly famous Edgar Allen Poe in Drunk History before snagging supporting roles in Black Mass and the Oscar-nominated Bridge of Spies. Earlier this year, he starred as the well-mannered butcher Ed Blomquist in FX’s Fargo, proving once again that he has exemplary taste and phenomenal good luck when it comes to booking roles.
10. Adrianne Palicki – Tyra Collette
Tyra Collette’s story on Friday Night Lights was one of the most satisfying. The down-on-her-luck teen spent a couple of years trying charm her way out of Dillon before she realized that she could do a lot better for herself. Sexy, tough and whip smart, Tyra not only fought her way out of a dead-end life, but she tried to help her friends do the same. As Tyra, Adrianne Palicki managed to pack an emotional punch with every storyline she faced — even that stupid “Landry and Tyra accidentally killed a guy” bit in season two. While she’s worked frequently since her time on FNL, she hasn’t been given all that many chances to really show audiences what she’s capable of.
Ardent TV watchers probably remember her as Sam’s super dead girlfriend on Supernatural — or as the girl who was going to play Wonder Woman until NBC decided to axe the series. She’s had supporting roles in John Wick and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and guest starred on a slew of TV series, including Drunk History, About a Boy, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, and Family Guy. Palicki most recently turned in a stellar performance as Bobbi Morse on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — which she was going to reprise in Marvel’s Most Wanted, until ABC put the kibosh in it.
9. Zach Gilford – Matt Saracen
Matt Saracen was not only one of the nicest characters on Friday Night Lights, but pretty much one of the most good-hearted characters ever created on TV. A devout grandson, a good friend, and an above-average but not-exactly-spectacular quarterback, he didn’t deserve any of the bad things that happened to him during his time on Friday Night Lights.
Zach Gilford, who imbued the character with a perfect combination of vulnerability, awkwardness and angst, definitely deserves to have had more success in his career. Thus far, his most notable post-FNL accomplishments include playing pinball whiz Roger Sharpe on Drunk History (which was hilarious) and getting killed in The Purge: Anarchy (which wasn’t funny at all). Gilford has also starred in three TV shows — The Mob Doctor, Off the Map, and The Family — but all failed to make it past their first seasons. Let’s hope Gilford’s next project gets him some more attention, because the guy that brought #7 to life deserves so much better than this.
8. Minka Kelly – Lyla Garrity
The Dillon Panthers’ most spirited cheerleader had to learn a lot about life before she found herself. It’s really thanks to Minka Kelly’s emotional performance that Lyla Garrity was at all relatable during her time on Friday Night Lights. At the start of the series, Jason Street’s girlfriend was bright-eyed, innocent and seemingly had a perfect life — one that quickly unraveled by the first season’s end. Of course, that was partly because she cheated on her recently paralyzed boyfriend, but grief does weird things to people, right?
Over the years, she grew to become a confident and capable young woman — one who didn’t need a relationship to define her. It’s a shame we never really got to see what happened to Lyla after she left Dillon in season three. But Minka Kelly has remained a pretty constant presence since her time on Friday Night Lights, turning in her share of high-profile appearances. She starred in the ill-fated Charlie’s Angels reboot and got stalked by Leighton Meester in The Roommate. She also donned Jackie O.’s iconic ‘do when she played the former first lady in The Butler. Most recently, she starred on the short-lived sci-fi series Almost Human, and recently cropped up as a Meyerism devotee on Hulu’s The Path.
7. Gaius Charles – Smash Williams
Smash’s arrogance could be a bit of a turn-off, but it was never unwarranted. An undisputed star of the Dillon Panthers’ varsity squad, he was cocky about his abilities on and off the field — but he worked damn hard to make sure he stayed on top, too. He also made everyone cry in his final episode, celebrating with his beloved mama and his former teammates before he left Dillon to follow his college football dreams. Or was that just us?
Gaius Charles made Smash’s arrogance charming for three seasons on Friday Night Lights, which is not an easy feat by any means. So it was kind-of a bummer when he retreated from the acting world for a few years after his time on the series was up. Thankfully, he returned to our lives and our TV screens in 2012 as the ambitious and uber-competitive Dr. Shane Ross on Grey’s Anatomy. He showed off his comedy chops in 2015 playing Muhammad Ali in an episode of Drunk History and showed up on a recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This summer, he’ll be back as Black Panther founder Bunchy Carter in NBC’s Aquarius.
6. Aimee Teegarden – Julie Taylor
Aimee Teegarden had big shoes to fill on Friday Night Lights, playing both the child of two of TV’s greatest parents ever, but the love interest of the one and only Matt Saracen. As Julie Taylor, aka one of the luckiest teenagers in TV history, she created a character that was opinionated, emotional, immature, occasionally irritating, and relatable. In other words, she played her role very well.
Teegarden has tried to make the most of her post-FNL career as she’s transitioned from adolescent star to adult actress. She starred in the Disney film Prom, which was a major disappointment for the studio. In 2014, she appeared as Emery in the CW sci-fi series Star-Crossed, but that was canceled after just one season. She has found a bit of success in the horror genre with a cameo appearance in Scream 4 and a lead role in this fall’s Rings.
5. Scott Porter – Jason Street
Look, Friday Night Lights had a lot of tragic moments, but seeing Jason Street’s future as a football star wiped away by one freak hit on the field was on another level. His completely valid existential crisis, brought on by both his paralysis and the fact that his best friend and girlfriend hooked up while he was recovering, took up a lot of his time on the series. But he eventually found his way, and built a life for himself and his young family.
Scott Porter bowed out of FNL midway through the third season, but he’s been plenty busy in his post-Street days. He’s lent his voice to Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel Anime: X-Men and a whole mess of video games, including The Walking Dead, Batman: Arkham Knight and LEGO Marvel’s Adventures. Porter has also appeared in the actual flesh, with a recurring role on as Blake on The Good Wife and a starring role as George, a lawyer and pure Southern gentleman, on Hart of Dixie.
4. Jurnee Smollett-Bell – Jess Merriweather
As a high school student, big sister, restaurant-owner-in-the-making and eventual East Dillon Lions equipment manager, Jess Merriweather proved to be one of the brightest and most determined characters on Friday Night Lights. That doesn’t mean she always had it easy — in fact, between trying to help raise her siblings and run her family BBQ business and trying to stay focused on her life and her future, she rarely got a break. But she didn’t let the harder aspects of her life get her down, which made her all the more admirable.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell had a long career as a child actress before she was cast as Jess, and she’s proven herself to be a versatile talent since Friday Night Lights ended. In 2013, she starred in Tyler Perry’s 2013 romance drama Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor and joined the cast of True Blood as idealistic activist Nicole Wright. She’s currently starring as Rosalee in the WGN Antebellum-era drama Underground.
3. Matt Lauria – Luke Cafferty
Poor Luke Cafferty. The kid just wanted to date his sweetheart, Becky, and use his coveted spot on the Dillon Panthers varsity team to get himself a ticket out of town. He sort-of got what he wanted on the first front, though their relationship was certainly tested. But thanks to zoning rules, he found himself relegated to the much-less-impressive East Dillon Lions squad. While he played admirably, and ultimately proved to be a true team leader, Luke never quite found the after-high school football glory he originally sought. Which really sucks, because he was so, so nice.
Matt Lauria joined Friday Night Lights in 2009, seemingly determined to see if it was possible to out-nice Matty Saracen — and he did a damn good job. Since he hung up his Lions jersey, Lauria has enjoyed quite an impressive acting career. He gave a compelling performance as Ryan York, an Army veteran struggling to cope with civilian life, on Parenthood. Since last year, he’s shown off a considerably edgier side, starring as ex-con Ryan Wheeler in the DirecTV mixed martial arts drama Kingdom.
2. Dora Madison Burge – Becky Sproles
In some ways, Becky Sproles was the prototype of a typical Texas teen — so casting Dora Madison Burge, a Texas teen herself at the time, was a stroke of genius. Young, seemingly carefree, she loved beauty pageants and her football player boyfriend. But, in typical Friday Night Lights fashion, her life was far more complex; the beauty pageants gave her a way to find validation in place of her workaholic mother’s absent affection. Her high school sweetheart got her pregnant, leading to one of the more controversial Friday Night Lights storylines. Her adolescent perkiness and emotional reactions to the conflict in her life made her a contentious character for some fans of the series, but maybe that’s just because almost everyone has known someone like Becky at some point in their life.
Burge was one of the last regular members to join the cast of Friday Night Lights in 2009. And while she’s enjoyed some ups since the series wrapped, she hasn’t had quite the same level of breakthrough success as some of her fellow East Dillon alums. Burge has appeared in a string of forgettable movies like Cowgirls N’ Angels and The Loft, though she’s had more luck on the small screen with guest roles on Dexter and NCIS: New Orleans and a recurring role on the CW’s Star-Crossed. Far and away her most notable post-FNL role thus far has been as paramedic Jessica Chilton on the recently cancelled Chicago Fire and its spinoff, Chicago Med.
1. Brad Leland – Buddy Garrity
Dealer of cars. Destroyer of families. Lifelong fan of the Dillon Panthers. Buddy Garrity was many things to many people throughout Friday Night Lights’ five seasons. Though gregarious and Buddy wasn’t always easy to like — he butted heads with our beloved Coach T on more than one occasion over the way the Panthers were run; he cheated on his wife; and he jeopardized his kids’ college future just so he could try to make a buck. But with his enthusiasm for the game and his unending love for his children, no one could say he wasn’t a man who tried his hardest.
Brad Leland brought Buddy Garrity to life with impressive ease, creating complexities in a character that could have easily been one note. A seasoned character actor, Leland is one of those guys that pops up in all your favorite shows, but who doesn’t exactly rank as a household name. Since FNL ended, he’s appeared as politicians on The Leftovers and Veep. He also had a guest starring role on Parks and Recreation. But he’ll likely always be best known for his work in Friday Night Lights, both the series and the original film, in which he played a booster very similar to our beloved Buddy.
The fact that so many Friday Night Lights alums have managed steady careers since the show ended proves that Jason Katims and Peter Berg created something truly special. Texas forever, and ever, and ever.
Who’s your favorite Friday Night Lights cast member? Are your eyes clear and hearts full? Let us know in the comments!
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