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.

About the author

Zoe Mendelson is a mushroom salesperson in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a weekly map column for UntappedCities.