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Bragging Rights: ‘Friday Night Lights’

Evaluating the post-football fortunes of one of TV’s deepest and most beloved casts.

Bragging Rights is a series with a single goal: to determine which member of a cast, a team, a band, or a presidential cabinet is killing it the most, years later. Our writers will take turns giving their take on who has the bragging rights from the posse of their choosing. In the fourth installment, Holly Anderson evaluates the post-football fortunes of the acting murderers’ row from TV’s Friday Night Lights.

This is a little bit more recent than other Bragging Rights installments, but Friday Night Lights was the kind of show that invoked instant nostalgia, and we can resist the urge to sift through its gold nuggets no longer. That stacked cast still has a ton of power in its veins. There’s not a lot of coasting happening here. There are a shit-ton of superheroes. There is an unforgivable Academy Awards transgression. And there is Connie Britton’s hair.

In the interest of sanity, we’re going to roughly confine this to cast members who were in at least 20 episodes, because otherwise we are going to be here all day talking about Weevil-from–Veronica Mars’s one appearance as “Devin Diablo” (no, for real) or the time Mike Leach showed up on Roller Blades to counsel our beloved Coach (HAPPENED). The cast list for this show actually does not ever end. If you go all the way to the bottom of its IMDb page, you will fall off the edge of the Internet. If you start tracing the reunions, you’ll never stop. This bunch has stuck together, because TEXAS FOREVER. We’re going to get tired of repeating it, so just go ahead and assume that everyone listed below showed up on FNL executive producer Jason Katims’s Parenthood at some point. It’s probably true.

The Cast

  • Kyle Chandler
  • Connie Britton
  • Aimee Teegarden
  • Brad Leland
  • Taylor Kitsch
  • Jesse Plemons
  • Zach Gilford
  • Derek Phillips
  • Minka Kelly
  • Adrianne Palicki
  • Scott Porter
  • Gaius Charles
  • Michael B. Jordan
  • Jurnee Smollett-Bell
  • Dora Madison Burge
  • Matt Lauria
  • Kevin Rankin
  • Stacey Oristano

Who Has the Bragging Rights?

GOLD MEDAL: Michael B. Jordan

Friday Night LightsNBC

Of all the kiddos on FNL, MBJ started with the greatest existing stash of cultural cachet, by virtue of his work as Wallace on The Wire. That unfair advantage doesn’t mean the rest of the cast didn’t have a chance to catch up, but rather than allow them to do that, Jordan has turned on the afterburners (this is a pun that will become relevant very shortly) and is preparing to lap the field. Following his time in Dillon, Jordan had a leading role in the underrated Chronicle and one in the overrated That Awkward Moment, and those bracket his starring role in Fruitvale Station and what’s maybe the best thing that can happen to an actor: an Oscar snub. You know the football aphorism that three things can happen when you pass the football, and two of them are bad? Three things can happen, awardswise, following a star turn in a stirring film, and two of them are good: You’re nominated for an Oscar and win, you’re nominated and lose, or you don’t get nominated at all, which can have the effect of boosting your image even more with the general public. Viewers are offended on your behalf. Ardent fans of the film shriek even louder about its merits, bringing in more eyeballs. And you don’t have to go through the stress of maybe losing! The universally acknowledged Oscar snub is the lowest-pressure route to a star-power boost. And in a kind of end zone spike, Jordan will appear in the new Fantastic Four series of films as the Human Torch, helping America to heal from the last time we, as a society, tried to make Fantastic Four movies. He’s a humanitarian, really. What a giver. Flame on.

SILVER MEDAL: Connie Britton

britton_connieNBC

Britton’s work on FNL was preceded by years on Spin City, arcs on The West Wing and 24, and, of course, the original Friday Night Lights movie. After the curtain dropped on the Taylors, she led a season on American Horror Story, then glided straight into Nashville, where she remains as of this writing. We have never seen Nashville, but we trust Mrs. Coach and her four consecutive Emmy nominations from 2010-13 (two for FNL, followed by one each for AHS and Nashville). She adopted a son. And last year she was named a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Britton does not need your approval; she already knows she has it, and aren’t you just the sweetest thing to proffer it anyway.

BRONZE MEDAL: Kyle Chandler

63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Press RoomFrazer Harrison/Getty Images

Very, very nearly took the top spot on leftover hot-dad gravitas alone.1 He can do that. This was not Chandler’s first long-running series. He still has that wry smile from the promo art for Early Edition with that cat. He had Homefront. An amazing arc on Grey’s Anatomy. He had that particular brand of handsome way before FNL was a thing. And now, look, he’s … still being Very Kyle Chandler in stuff, but we’re going to stake out the position that that’s not a bad thing. It would be like a waste of a precious resource, wouldn’t it, if he weren’t jutting his jaw out with varying degrees of authority in Super 8 and Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and The Wolf of Wall Street? Do we even want him to be doing anything else? He is a pentagonal peg being placed in a series of pentagonal holes, and good for him, and we are the ones who swoon and benefit. You’re about to be able to catch those vapors all over again in 13 binge-watched episodes of his new Netflix show, in which he plays a sheriff. Well, of course he plays a sheriff. Good hustle, Coach.

The Best of the Rest of Texas, Power-Ranked in Descending Order of Magnificence


1.

And hey, he won an Emmy for the final season.

Adrianne Palicki

This is a sentimental pick out of a toss-up between these first three actors who just missed the podium, but: TYRAAAAAAAA. So after FNL finished up, Palicki’s next project was to be the David E. Kelley Wonder Woman. We have seen the pilot effort — it was unworthy of her talents —  and still think she should be Wonder Woman forever. Since then, she has dabbled in big-screen action heroism, playing Lady Jaye in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and stealing scenes from Keanu in John Wick. She’s hooked back up with Jason Katims on the About a Boy TV series, and is also a series regular on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which kind of makes us corporate stepcousins, doesn’t it, TYRAAAAAAAA CALL USSSSSS.2


2.

Marvel, ABC, and Grantland are all owned by Disney. So.

Jesse Plemons

A brief open letter:

DEAR PETER BERG. YOU DID BATTLESHIP TO HIM, PETER BERG. YOU GOTTA BE CAREFUL WITH LANDRY. HE’S NOT GONNA HAVE THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES AS RIGGINS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME.

And yet: Look at the rebound! Plemons did a season of Breaking Bad and will be a regular in the new season of Fargo! LANDRY GETTING PAID, Y’ALL. He was in The Master. And we’re still holding out hope for him to end up in some Star Wars thing or other. There’s a lot of overlap between sun-blasted Texas and Tatooine looks.

Taylor Kitsch

FNL made him and John Carter nearly unmade him. There was no reason John Carter wasn’t gonna turn Kitsch into a franchise star, until the actual movie got made and released. That and Battleship in one year would kill a lesser man, but not our Riggins: Kitsch’s highlight reel since then has been measured and excellent. The Normal Heart. Lone Survivor. The upcoming season of True Detective. This is good.3 And hey, they’re remaking The Raid, so stay tuned for the Rigginsurection.


3.

Although this one tweet is gonna haunt us on behalf of Chris Pratt until June.

Kevin Rankin

HERC OUTTA NOWHERE. In roles significant and otherwise, he just keeps showing up in quality, quality, quality stuff. In chronological order, post-FNL highlights: a guest episode on Lost, a five-episode arc on Big Love, eight episodes of some of the best hours Justified ever did, parts in White House Down and Dallas Buyers Club, and seven episodes of Breaking Bad. (Will McAvoy also hallucinated him as his dad in a cellmate for an hour or so on The Newsroom. Are we prepared to acknowledge that yet?)

ranking_kevin_justifiedFX

Minka Kelly

Like the fortunes of Lyla herself, it’s been a roller coaster ride since Minka left Dillon. Some Berg projects, a handful of no-go pilots and shows — most notably the Charlie’s Angels reboot — and Almost Human. She played Jackie Kennedy in The Butler. She dated Derek Jeter, and we know better than to bring that up here.4 She’s got a handful of movies coming up this year, but we’re going to be honest: Kelly is this high up on this list because this is what we know about her Hallmark Channel movie, Away and Back: “Hostility turns into something else between a widowed farmer and a pushy ornithologist who came to his farm to save a family of swans.” IN. SO IN. We strive to be honest with you in what drives our choices. Here are Minka Kelly and Jason Lee and some of those swans:


4.

Editor’s note: [Nods.]

Gaius Charles

Smash did stage work and went to grad school after his time in Dillon was done, had a fair bit of time in the Necessary Roughness series, and was a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy for a couple seasons, earning him the attendant Shonda-bestowed eminence enhancement. Most recently seen at Sundance promoting a film based on the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Scott Porter

Dude was in Caprica, which should have gotten a million more chances to turn into a watchable television show, for eight episodes. He did a long stretch on The Good Wife, and voiced Scott Summers/Cyclops in the stateside version of that animated X-Men series. Currently a regular on Hart of Dixie. Street sticks around.

Matt Lauria

Luke Cafferty gets bonus points for being on The Chicago Code, which should still be on television, and for having one of the longer tenures on Parenthood among his FNL brethren and sistren.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Like Porter, our Jess has a post-FNL career characterized by long stretches of a season or two on various television programs. Pro: Her most recent such work was on True Blood. Con: She had to share most of her scenes with Sam. :(

Aimee Teegarden

Julie Taylor was the lead on the CW’s Star-Crossed. Like her TV dad, she knows how to play to her strengths. In this case: picking a character on a CW show who’s like 10 years younger than she is. It’s just what you do. Shame that was canceled after a single season. On tap for 2015: Kenny Ortega’s A Change of Heart and something called My Bakery in Brooklyn. Wonder what that’s about.

Dora Madison Burge

Like Becky, she’s getting important right as things wrap up. Burge followed her time on FNL with a season of Dexter and a stint on that Star-Crossed show with Teegarden, with not a whole lot else super-exciting to speak of. BUT: She’s in Terrence Malick’s new movie. Buy low. 

Brad Leland

Also busily playing to type, Buddy Garrity–ing around town. [SPOILER ALERT.] Got murdered last week on Justified, played the delightfully named “Fester Trim” on an episode of Parks and Rec, and did two episodes of Veep.

Zach Gilford

Has played two doctors in two seasons of television shows that both lasted 13 episodes, Off the Map and The Mob Doctor. Was in the Purge sequel. USA recently passed on his Stanistan pilot. C’mon, QB1. Get in there.

Derek Phillips

Has worked a LOT, both during and since FNL. Guest runs on two different Shonda shows, guest spots on a bunch of high-profile shows, was in 42, did a stint on Longmire. A utility player. There’s a nobility in that. He’s keeping busy, not locked down. That’s our Billy Riggins.

Stacey Oristano

Tyra big-sis Mindy Collette was part of Bunheads, and has thus earned our allegiance for life. BRING BACK BUNHEADS.