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A 'Friday Night Lights' marriage that binds in many ways

Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler act out a union with true-to-life domestic moments.

February 06, 2011|By Maria Elena Fernandez, Los Angeles Times
  • Actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, photographed at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, play Coach Erik Taylor and his wife, Tami, on the TV series "Friday Night Lights.'"
Actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, photographed at the Four Seasons… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

This article does not contain spoilers about Wednesday's series finale of "Friday Night Lights," but it does address story lines from the fifth season, which has aired only on DirecTV. The final season of "Friday Night Lights" is scheduled to begin airing on NBC on April 15.

"Eighteen years," Tami Taylor angrily whispered in last week's episode of "Friday Night Lights," referring to the amount of time she's been Coach Eric Taylor's loyal and supportive wife. Two words that packed a punch because of the way that Connie Britton quickly delivered them, sneaking them in with a piercing glance at her befuddled husband as she allowed uninvited guests into her home.

Then, just as deftly, Tami turned on her Southern belle charm: "Can I get ya'll anything — ice tea? Water?"

It's the kind of subtle moment viewers of "Friday Night Lights" have come to expect from the series, but especially from the Taylor partnership. Critically lauded by many as the best portrayal of marriage on television because of its realistic rendering of what it means to love someone for better and for worse, Eric and Tami Taylor, as played by the Emmy-nominated duo of Kyle Chandler and Britton, have managed to capture the many dichotomous moments in the life of a marriage. Where other TV series tend to focus either on the bickering or the saccharine, "Friday Night Lights" has thrived on nuance, creating domestic moments that simultaneously reflect adoration and frustration; tenderness and sarcasm; respect and fatigue.

From the beginning, Chandler, 45, and Britton, 43, had a fiery chemistry that blossomed off-screen into an easy friendship. She had played the coach's wife in the movie; he was cast because of his performance in one episode of "Grey's Anatomy." They became such good friends that they'd drive together from California to Texas when production began each season, Britton in her car and Chandler trailing on his motorcycle. Although they convincingly played a madly-in-love couple, in person their obvious affection and admiration feels more like sibling love. They tease each other incessantly and interrupt each other's sentences, but it's clear they are thrilled to catch up on a winter afternoon in Los Angeles, after a few months of not seeing each other. "Friday Night Lights" wrapped production last summer.

"Hi, sugar!" Britton called out as she walked toward Chandler at the Four Seasons Hotel. They kissed hello, cuddled up to pose for photos and started chatting.

On the series, things are not so cozy for the Taylors, who are at a marital impasse. For the first time in their life together, Tami has been offered the job of her dreams — as dean of admissions at a college in Philadelphia. And the man she has followed from town to town, chasing one football coaching post after another, wants none of it. Eric has put his foot down: "We live in Texas."

The Taylors are struggling, but in their own way: Nobody storms out of the house or sleeps on the couch. No one resorts to alcohol, drugs or an affair as an escape. They continue to raise two daughters, cope with stressful jobs and love each other — even when they don't like each other very much.

"These conflicts go on within life," said executive producer Jason Katims, who has been married to his high school sweetheart for 24 years. "Most of us deal with stuff and life goes on around us as we're dealing with stuff. Really great couples can have these big arguments. What's so great about what Kyle and Connie built as far as their own relationship, and the relationship of their characters, is that they allowed us as writers to be able to put that marriage through every challenge we could come up with because you knew you were going to watch them deal with it and thrive because of their connection."

Based on a book and movie of the same title, "Friday Night Lights" peaked on NBC at 6 million viewers and avoided cancellation only when the network entered into an unusual deal with DirecTV to split costs and distribution rights, giving DirecTV customers dibs at the high school football drama for the last three seasons. But the low-rated series — it averages nearly 800,000 viewers on DirecTV and 4 million on NBC — about a small Texas town where football means everything will still have its place in television history because of its social resonance.

Few small-screen relationships have come close to "Friday Night Lights"' most noteworthy achievement — capturing the intimate push and pull of relationships, with the Taylor marriage as the anchor. Joe and Allison DuBois of "Medium" also successfully portrayed the ordinary beauty of domestic life, but the psychic wife was less relatable. NBC's "Parenthood," also produced by Katims, and ABC's "Modern Family" depict contemporary ordinary family life without sinking into clichés, but none of the couples can compete with the warm authenticity of the Taylors.

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