Show: Friday Night Lights
Character: Matt Saracen
Played By: Zach Gilford
Basically: In the pilot episode of NBC’s completely undervalued, critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights high school football superstar and All-American quarterback Jason Street (Dillon, TX’s answer to Tom Brady in that Tom Brady is the only real football player I know) is paralyzed during a game. And, yes, this is a tragedy anywhere but in Dillon, this is a TRA-GE-DY, like call the National Guard and get the Red Cross on the phone. In Dillon, like pretty much everywhere in Texas, high school football is I.T., it’s the livelihood of the town, its pulse, it IS Friday Night and it’s always football season. So, losing Street is devastating. But it’s especially devastating to his back-up quarterback, Matt Saracen, who hasn’t had to play for the Panthers all that much and, in point of fact, isn’t that solid of a football player.
Which isn’t to say that Matt doesn’t have skill, but he’s pretty much the guy who sweeps up the hall after The Last Supper. Which means suddenly, this poor, skinny kid has the pressure and expectations of an entire town thrust upon him. Oh, yeah- he’s also got a deadbeat mom who left him when he was young, a father who would rather be in Iraq than be a parent and he’s the caretaker for his invalid grandmother, who adores him but is sadly falling into dementia. Along with school, a job, dating the coach’s daughter and being just seventeen years old, it’s a little much. I get nauseous just thinking about it.
Why We’re Rooting For Matt: List a way for a person to be considered an underdog and Matt’s got it. He’s poor (check), he’s constantly being overlooked (check), he’s got a town who doesn’t really believe in him (check), parents who are always leaving him (check), etc etc. And yes, this all sounds very Sad-Sacky McGee but what’s great about Matt is that, while he certainly gets overwhelmed by how shitty his young life is, he doesn’t give up- not ever. The year Jason Street got hurt, he worked his ass off and the team won the state championship. When they wanted to put his grandmother in a home, he found a way to help her. When his flaky mother showed up and asked for a second chance, Matt, though warily, let her try. When his coach sidelined him in his senior year to town pressure to start a hot-shot freshman? He thought about quitting and, instead, went out for another position, worked his ass off AGAIN and make it back onto the field. He’s mature, thoughtful and beyond-sweet. When Coach, realizing that his hotshot freshman is too green for the state championship, he sidelines him at half and puts Matt back in as quarterback. When Matt evens the score of the final game, our collective TV hearts stop beating, and when he just barely fails to get them the win? It’s crushing and real and awful, in part because of how much we want it for him. Characters like this make for great TV and if you haven’t had the chance to watch this show, you should. That’s all I’m going to say about that.