Friday Night Lights was a finely cast TV show. No way emoji can compete with some complicatedly rendered human beings--was there ever a more realistic televised relationship than Eric and Tami Taylor's?--so Zoe Mendelson went largely with animals to represent the more-adorable-than-fierce denizens of Dillon High through the pilot episode. Timmy Riggins is a fox. Matt Saracen is the undermouse. (Budy Garrity is just too much man for the plushie treatment.)

It's Monday morning the week of the big game. (It was nearly always "the week of the big game" on FNL. Texas forever.) Coach Taylor surveys the field. Tim Riggins nurses a hangover and sucks a lot of face with tigress Tyra Collette--while Matt Saracen makes his granny a sandwich. Tim gets what's coming to him after half-drunkenly flubbing an interview with a news crew.

In a world where news crews follow high school football stars, the news crew follows the boys to their favorite burger joint, where Tyra sneers at kitty of privilege Lyla Garrity, and Matt and Landry get shot down by relatively human teen girl Julie Taylor. Smash Williams clowns for the camera, courting endorsements from Nike, Adidas, and Reebok.

Tuesday night: Buddy Garrity hosts a gala at his car dealership for the team. The fans mob Coach Taylor and the team with an overwhelming number of comments, requests, opinions, and questions for the Panthers to process. Tyra causes a Dillon, Texas love triangle by flirting with both star quarterback Jason Street and charismatic, sponsored-up bear "The Smash."

Wednesday morning, the Panthers visit an elementary school, where they're received like celebrities. They teach their plays to the boys and pray with them.

Thursday night brings the beautiful bonfire scene: Riggins and Street, together with their girls. Tim explains their futures to Jason. Jason is going to play in the NFL, and Tim is going to live off his golden crumbs. They all toast to "Texas forever."

Friday night: the big game. The boys have a rough start out on the field. It's hard to watch.

QB1 Jason Street intercepts what would have been a nail-in-the-coffin winning pass for the other team...but he gets tackled so hard that he can't get up. The stadium goes silent.

The drama escalates--the fans terrified, every eye on the field--as an ambulance carries Street off in a stretcher. More praying ensues. Unproven backup quarterback Saracen is called in to finish the game.

Matt Saracen the undermouse comes through for his team, making a winning pass in the final seconds of the game! The team wins the championship, which is confusing amidst the pall of Streeter's exit.

Both teams kneel on the field, and everyone in the stadium prays even more.

The rest of the team pays a solemn visit to Street in the hospital. Julie comforts Lyla, and even Smash and Tim put their differences aside. Coach Taylor says, "We will all at some point in our lives fall."


Emoji Major No. 5: "Friday Night Lights"-FNL for NFL Season

This week, Zoe Mendelson, coach of elite, athletic emoji, plays the real team to watch, the Dillon Panthers.

Football season returned last Sunday, a day ripe with that sweet spandexy sort of drama that people who watch football savor. The Jets’ new rookie Geno Smith proved an unforeseen hero:

The Steelers lost their first home opener in a decade (16-9 to the Tennessee Titans), playing so shamefully that their own fans booed as they walked off the field.

But I only know any of this because I looked it up on For those of us who don’t watch football, there’s Friday Night Lights.

I've heard it theorized—including by my editor—that people watch either NFL or FNL. If you're on the first team, it can be hard to stomach the highly choreographed come-from-behind football scenes in FNL. If you're a FNL fan, it can be hard to stomach a televised narrative consisting of nothing but the football scenes (played out by a team led by anyone but Coach Eric Taylor).

Until this week, I watched neither. When my editor recommended FNL for Emoji Major, justified by the start of the NFL season, I obliged, but with a healthy dose of reservation. A sports drama? That takes place in Texas? With church and cheerleaders? Uh, okay. I started watching, and the shaky camera, the campy and convenient radio announcer voiceovers, and the pure earnestness of it had me skeptical well into the third scene.

But by the end of the pilot I was crying and praying along with the little kneeling men on my computer screen. I was so with the Dillon Panthers. They can't lose:

They're also emoji winners, built for a glory of character with all the self-referential confidence of "the Smash." First there's the more-adorable-than-fierce nature of the football team and their high school friends. Too much fun picking emoji spirit animals for each of them. Tim Riggins is a fox. Matt Saracen is the undermouse. The Taylors, some of the most realistic, multi-dimensional characters and family relationships ever seen on TV—some of, we'll let Julie T join her parents in humanity here—had to be portrayed as people. Same with Buddy Garrity, too much man.

The two-dimensional setting of iconic hamburger-car dealership-bonfire America was an emoji ideal. But the ensemble cast made the plot—which switches around among characters and often includes a football field full of them—trickier than most to portray in small personal exchanges. For example, I couldn’t possibly show each interaction at the gala.

So, as you'll see in the slideshow above, I’m trying something new this week: Some scenes are more abstract spatial illustrations of a scene rather than line-by-line narratives. A large blob of people surrounds Coach Taylor and the team, bombarding them with questions at the gala. And as in the show itself, the football games are reduced to their most dramatic for-dummies moments.

Texas forever in emoji.

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