In this Man of Character column, Man of Many takes a look at some of popular culture’s most notable male protagonists. We discuss the origin of the character and why they have had such an enduring influence on the popular consciousness.
“Every man at some point in his life is gonna lose a battle. He’s gonna fight and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man, is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.” – Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights
If one thing has characterised the most notable works of the current Golden Age of Television, it’s perhaps an emphasis on morally ambiguous protagonists and the elevation of internal conflicts over external ones.
Yet, in the case of NBC’s cult football drama ‘Friday Night Lights’, we have a show built around that increasingly rare beast – a male protagonist who is fundamentally a good person and a figure as inspirational as he is relatable. Eric Taylor, the head coach of the Dillon Panthers and, alongside wife Tami, the moral compass and heart of ‘Friday Night Lights’, remains a shining example of positive masculinity in a television era more readily characterised by toxic machismo.
Whilst ‘Friday Night Lights’ was ostensibly a show about a small-town high school football team, it emerged as one of the most authentic family dramas in US television history. It delved into issues of race, class, family, poverty and education with striking verisimilitude, empathy and with a refreshing lack of sanctimony.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the character of Coach Taylor, who navigated the many moral questions thrown up by the show with clear-eyed determination. Acting as the audience’s moral avatar, the Taylors epitomised the good-natured, honest American spirit that underpinned the show.
As played by Kyle Chandler, Coach Taylor is the archetypal leader of men – a surrogate father and mentor to his players and a role model on and off the field. It’s perhaps his relationship with substitute quarterback Matt Saracen that best typifies this, as Coach Taylor takes an introverted Saracen under his wing, despite his reticence when Saracen begins dating his daughter Julie. As with many of his relationships on the show, Coach Taylor is forceful yet compassionate, balancing his family, work and personal obligations with sincerity and dignity.
Despite critical acclaim and a passionate fan base, ‘Friday Night Lights’ was at risk at cancellation for most of its five-season run. Chandler was praised for his performance throughout the show and won the Lead Actor Emmy in the show’s final season, having been nominated twice.
For those who haven’t watched the show, it’s perhaps to pre-emptively write off the character as a two-dimensional, platonic ideal of a fictional high school football coach. Thanks to the performance of Chandler and the writing staff’s ear for naturalism, Coach Taylor transcends the archetype as a genuinely inspirational man whose qualities are universal.