Because Taylor Kitsch has a new show premiering Wednesday night—Waco, a six-part miniseries about David Koresh’s 1993 standoff with the FBI—and because in our (full) hearts, Taylor Kitsch will always be Tim Riggins, we hereby declare January 24 to be Tim Riggins Day.
Friday Night Lights was an excellent, clear-eyed, full-hearted show with many imperfections, like its jarring Season 2 murder plot, or when poor Santiago completely disappeared from the narrative without any explanation. (Remember Santiago, the troubled kid the Garritys took in and then never spoke of again?) But the only wholly unforgivable show development took place during the series finale, which heavily implied that Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) ended up with Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), after she seems to agree that they can “merge” their dreams together.
Before I go on, let me just say that I get why someone would want to be with hot-ass Tim Riggins. He was golden-souled and sexy-faced, a dumb perfect angel you just want to get nude with in a barn. I most emphatically would. He was also kind, generous, and fairly laid-back, all terrific boyfriend qualities. He took care of Julie Taylor when she drank too much, he was a caring friend to Becky Sproles, and he went to prison for his brother, Billy. That said, there’s absolutely no way that Tim Riggins had ever heard of a clitoris, he had persistent and untreated substance use issues, he hated learning, and he seemed marked by both destiny and habit to fade into a complacent, beer-bellied semi-employed contractor whose main hobby is nostalgia.
Riggins’s heart, hair, and pheromones made it clear why high-school-age Tyra would choose him. But it seems like an incredible break in character to imagine that the Tyra we grew to know over the course of five seasons would suddenly change her mind about what she wanted from life enough to be happy helping Tim tend to a plot of Texan land in perpetuity.
Both characters had far more meaningful relationships with other people. Riggins’s doomed romance with the perky, searching Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) had far more passion than the one he had with Tyra, which seemed mostly predicated on the simple fact that they were two improbably attractive high schoolers with attitudes. What Lyla wanted out of life matched up with what Riggins wanted: a cheerful Texan family. Meanwhile, Tyra’s most poignant relationship was with Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons). While the two came from different social worlds, they understood each other as intelligent outsiders who saw the cracks in a culture obsessed with football and viewed their hometown of Dillon as a launching pad for bigger lives rather than the place they belonged.
“We felt like the Tim and Tyra connection was alluding to where we first started with the series. I thought it would be surprising, and I really wanted to see where Tyra had been,” showrunner Jason Katims told Uproxx in a 2011 interview about the finale. “We thought that was a story, that connection between them, first of all alluded to the beginning and would be a surprising story to tell, and it felt right that the two of them would wind up, if not together, with the potential to be together.” A lot of words to say “Minka Kelly wasn’t available, and we needed to give Riggins a happy ending.” While it is true that Tyra and Tim were a couple at the beginning of the show, their union at the end feels as wrong as it would if FNL had reunited Lyla and Street or Mr. and Mrs. Garrity, just because they were paired off in the pilot.
Riggins is an aimless mystic, while Tyra is a realist who wants out of Dillon. Their opposite orientations may have made them an obvious pair on a lesser show, but Friday Night Lights stood out for its willingness to portray how relationships really work: the devoted cheerleader could not stay faithful to her wounded warrior; the coach’s wife could not content herself with hosting team dinners; the pregnant teenager could not finagle a fated, Juno-style adoption, but instead had an ordinary abortion. Pairing Riggins and Tyra together flies in the face of the show’s own emotional logic.
“I want to fly somewhere on first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important,” Tyra writes in her college essay, which is read aloud at the end of Season 3. “I want an interesting and surprising life.” Tyra works so hard to lift herself onto the life path she desires, studying and waitressing and refusing to comply with the expectations of those around her. She got herself into college. She left town. Her abrupt reappearance in the series’ final episodes backtracks on her character arc in order to give Riggins a happier ending.
Riggins wanted Texas forever. Tyra wanted to leave Texas in the dust. That only Riggins seems to get his wish is an affront to Tyra’s story, and the lone off note in an otherwise excellent finale. At a Friday Night Lights reunion in 2016, Adrianne Palicki told USA Today that she believes Tyra is married to Riggins and is a counselor at Dillon High, a future with an apt symmetry to Tami Taylor’s story. The coach’s wife had inspired Tyra to believe in herself as a counselor at Dillon. But the coach’s wife also ended up leaving to pursue her own dreams. The counseling office in Dillon High was her launching pad, not her end point.
Friday Night Lights’ achievement was how generously it treated its characters, letting all-American archetypes—the cocky jock, the tight-lipped football coach—mellow and expand into complicated portraits of people. It didn’t do one-note. It turned the trope of the underachieving bad boy into an indelible, lovable creation. That still doesn’t mean that Tim Riggins should’ve ended up curtailing the get-out-of-Dillon dreams of Tyra.