Tonight, the lights at East Dillon High go dark for good, as Friday Night Lights wraps its fifth and final season. (The season will air on NBC in the Spring.) For fans of the show, life after FNL might seem like an impossibly bleak prospect. We’ve already been researching some of the better suicide prevention hotlines in the city, and have reached out to drugs and alcohol for support. But what about the cast? While we’re out of a weekly excuse to get teary-eyed, they’re out of a job. And for a lot of them — probably most of them — nothing will ever come close to Friday Night Lights in terms of quality and integrity. As an actor, that’s gotta be terrifying. Because FNL values realism above all else, many regulars left mid-series, their arcs reaching their natural close. Some have used the show as a springboard to greater heights, and others, not so much (If anyone’s seen Gaius Charles around, tell him he’s got a career to manage). So as tomorrow marks the official post-Friday Night Lights era for many of us, and as its cast members awake with a brutal Saturday morning hangover, here’s what some of them are, might be, and should be doing next.
Kyle Chandler: As Coach Eric Taylor, Chandler has been the inspirational beacon to which all other characters revolve. Week after week, he’s delivered a masterclass in subtlety (Who on the show hasn’t?), occasionally stepping up with a take-your-breath-away motivational speech when his players — and we — need it most. Prior to FNL, Chandler’s most visible role came as the airhead matinee idol Bruce Baxter in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and this summer, he’ll return to the spectacle blockbuster as part of the ensemble in J.J. Abrams’ top-secret alien-on-the-loose project Super 8 (You may have caught a glimpse of him in last Sunday’s Super Bowl spot). On FNL, Chandler excelled at playing the drill sargeant, but the core of his performance was brought out in the domestic scenes with his wife, where he shed the barbed-wire exterior to reveal a marshmallow center. This militaristic football coach, was in the end, a big softie. And after years of Emmy neglect, Chandler finally landed a long overdue nomination for Best Actor in a Drama Series last year. While Chandler doesn’t have any projects officially lined up after Super 8, he should carry the success of FNL well into the futute, and have his pick of authority/father figures in quailty film and television.
Connie Britton: Perhaps no Dillon resident was more beloved than Tammy Taylor, brought to painstaking life by Mrs. Britton. Like her husband, Mrs. Taylor served as the show’s moral compass, sometimes literally, when she took on the job of school guidance councilor. Before she moved to Dillon, Britton was best known as the accountant Nikki Faber on Spin City, and for brief guest stints on shows like 24 and The West Wing. Like Chandler, Britton was finally nominated for an Emmy last year, and has long been considered one half of the most believable couple on television. Also like Chandler, Britton has only one post-FNL project lined up, a buzzless movie called Conception. She’ll make up for that if the rumors are to be believed, and she is in fact developing a series for FX with none other than Fighter director David O. Russell. Now wouldn’t that be something.
Taylor Kitsch: For five seasons, Tim Riggins was the guy your girlfriends wanted to fuck, and the guy you also wanted to fuck. Sure, he looks great, but it was his character arc — from brooding town drunk, to brooding town drunk with a golden heart and mean right hook — that made us dump our significant others for not being him. Absent for most of Season 5, Kitsch returned a few episodes ago to close out his characters unresolved arc. He was gone, of course, because his movie career is blowing up. He just wrapped the big-budget board game adaptation Battleship, for director Peter Berg, and before that, shot the title role in the sci-fi epic John Carter of Mars, for WALL-E director Andrew Stanton. Both are two of the biggest movies of 2012, and Kitsch is well on his way to becoming a massive movie star, so yeah, we told you so.
Aimee Teegarden: For those of you who don’t watch the show, why are you reading this? But also, you probably know Teegarden as the girl who asked the question heard ’round the web. Based on that video alone, more people (48 million and counting) have seen Teegarden on YouTube than ever will on the show, which is a shame, because they’re missing the work of a talented young actress. Yes, Julie Taylor can sometimes be a brat of the highest order, but she’s a teenage girl with dude problems and probably a body issue or seven. According to IMDb, Teegarden has four films in post-production, including Scream 4 and Disney’s Prom, and plays the love interest opposite Jackson Rathbone in McG’s upcoming web series, Aim High, about a high school student who’s got a side gig as a spy. She’s only 21, which means she can stay in fake high school for a few more semesters, but transitioning into adult roles will be key for the baby-faced actress, as will be avoiding schlock like em> Final Destination 14.
Michael B. Jordan: To avoid confusion with the sound engineer for Trees Lounge, this young actor added the initial B. to his name. Smart move, kid. A Season Four addition and the centerpiece to FNL‘s mid-series makeover, Jordan has emerged as the undisputed heart of the show’s younger cast. As troubled quarterback Vince Howard, not only has he led the East Dillon Lions all the way to State, but he’s turned a dead-end adolescence into something hopeful. That journey has given Jordan ample scenery to chew; sometimes he’ll gnaw at gently, and other times he’ll straight-up devour it. Both are great. And if you watch FNL, it means you’re a fan of good TV, and if you’re a fan of good TV, it means you probably saw a younger Jordan as young Wallace, on the first season of The Wire. So yes, he can act. His first post-FNL project is a big one: He’ll appear as a Tuskegee Airman in the George Lucas-scripted WWII saga Red Tails. Movie stardom is not out of the question.
Matt Lauria: FNL was this boyish-yet-rugged actor’s breakout, but he’s already moved beyond Dillon. His new show, The Chicago Code, had its debut on Monday. Lauria plays a young cop, and while ratings weren’t great for the procedural, given its pedigree (It comes from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan) and how much time FOX has spent advertising — you may remember the constant ads running during the Super Bowl — the show will likely be given a chance to find an audience. If not, Lauria can find work on another drama, although its tough imagining anything equaling the poignancy of a character like his Luke Cafferty.