The 2011 Emmy Awards were a victory of sorts for the long-snubbed Friday Night Lights. While the show itself lost the Best Drama award to AMC's Mad Men, FNL picked up not only Best Writing, but Best Lead Actor in a Drama for Kyle Chandler's role as the tight-lipped Coach.
The tale of FNL at the Emmys played out like an episode of the show itself. Surprise wins coupled with shattering losses tapped right into the themes that Friday Night Lights so frequently emphasized.
The show came into the night an underdog.
Critics have often placed Friday Night Lights at or near the top of their lists, but the series about a high school football team in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas never quite made the cut as each year's Emmy nods were announced.
Never a ratings hit, the NBC show barely made it to season five. FNL was saved from near certain cancellation back in 2008 when NBC and DirecTV struck a deal: episodes would air first on DirecTV and months later on NBC.
The show defied definition. It was a sports show that played out more like a soap opera. It took place in a conservative southern town, yet dealt with issues of homosexuality and abortion. What demographic the producers targeted remains a mystery.
Shot on location around Austin, Texas, and in a collaborative and improvisational style, FNL will be remembered for its naturalism. Though much of the cast came and went throughout the show's five year run as characters graduated from high school and moved on, FNL's impeccable writing team kept the show fresh with incredibly honest vignettes of life in small town America.
After five seasons on air, the show was finally recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in the best drama category one day before the series finale aired on NBC.
Friday Night Lights was full of deserving characters that were never recognized for their gifts until their moment passed. It was a show about glory days and the bumpy road toward the American dream. The sorely under-watched series was one of the truest depictions of small town America that ever graced the small screen.
Perhaps the surprise win by Kyle Chandler will provoke a renewed interest in the series that seemed destined for obscurity, save the core group of devoted fans.
Everyone predicted a win for Mad Men's Jon Hamm. Chandler seemed just as shocked as his name was announced, admitting that he hadn't prepared an acceptance speech.
Fittingly, FNL alum Minka Kelly delivered the award.
Yet, Coach was only half of the equation at the heart of FNL. Throughout the final season, Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) begged her husband to support her career after years of following coach from one football team to another. It's my turn, she argued.
Many suspected Britton would take home the Emmy. Very few critics batted an eye at Chandler's nomination. It seems it just wasn't Britton's turn.
After a rambling acceptance speech, Chandler realized that he forgot to thank his good pal Britton. With the microphone cut, he remained on stage, gesturing wildly, thanking her.
If we learned anything from Friday Night Lights, it's that life has a bittersweet way of working out. Life's a game, and if you work hard enough, and if you do it with perseverance and humility, something good is bound to happen.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
It wasn't a total victory for Friday Night Lights at the 2011 Emmys, but it was a fitting farewell.
In fiction, as in life, FNL didn't win, but it certainly didn't lose.