Ranking ‘Friday Night Lights' Actors' Post-‘FNL' Careers

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Taylor Kitsch used to be the best-kept secret in show business: a teen idol-worthy dreamboat who could back up his good looks with solid acting chops. For five years, between 2006 and 2011, his work was confined mostly to Friday Night Lights — which, despite being one of our favorite TV shows of all time, has always drawn a miniscule audience. But this year, Kitsch is everywhere. Last weekend, he made his blockbuster leading-man debut in Disney’s John Carter, a sci-fi action movie that’s garnered middling reviews and finished second in last weekend’s box office race. Although the film isn’t likely to win Kitsch any acting awards, it’s bound to make him a household name.

Now that Tim Riggins has entered the Hollywood stratosphere, this seems like the perfect time to check in on the entire FNL cast. After the show’s final season earned them both a Television Critics Association’s Program of the Year award and multiple major Emmy nominations (as well as a best actor win for Kyle Chandler), how are the former residents of Dillon, TX doing? We rank their post-FNL careers from weakest to strongest, after the jump.

Gaius Charles

One of our favorite members of the original Friday Night Lights cast, Gaius Charles seems to have experienced some inexplicable career stagnation in the years since he left the show in 2008. Apparently, the actor who played showboating running back Smash Williams shifted his focus to theater. Aside from a few smallish film roles — did you catch him as a CIA officer in Salt? — and a guest spot on Pan Am, Charles has largely faded from the spotlight. Whether by choice or not, this is a shame. Someone, write this guy a good part!

Madison Burge

Remember Becky Sproles, the girl who loved Tim Riggins? The part was played by Madison Burge, whose delicate performance was especially notable in the story line that saw Becky going through with an abortion. So, why is she turning up these days in movies with names like Cowgirls ‘n Angels and Humans Versus Zombies? Burge also had a brief recurring role on ABC Family’s sub-Pretty Little Liars teen drama The Lying Game — but what we really want for her is a smart, Felicity-style show about college kids where she can keep doing brave work.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Before playing likeable wannabe coach Jess Merriweather on FNL, Jurnee Smollett (now Smollett-Bell) was a well-known child actress. You might remember her as Michelle’s best friend, Denise, on Full House, or from her roles in Eve’s Bayou and Cosby. But what’s she doing these days? She was one of the principal actors in last season’s CBS legal drama, The Defenders, until the show was canceled after a season. Now she’s got a role in an upcoming Tyler Perry movie, The Marriage Counselor. Sigh.

Adrianne Palicki

Tyra Collette was our hands-down favorite character on Friday Night Lights, a girl who overcomes a chaotic upbringing to make something of herself, with a little help from Mrs. Coach. So we’ve been expecting great things from Adrianne Palicki, the actress who brought Tyra to life. But so far, she’s had some pretty bad luck: She had a juicy role in the critically praised 2010 Fox drama Lone Star, but the show was canceled after only two episodes. Then, she was supposed to play Wonder Woman in a TV revival, but the dreadful-sounding pilot didn’t get picked up. This year we’ll see her in some not-terribly-exciting-sounding action movies, Red Dawn and GI Joe: Retaliation, but it’s her lower-profile comedy, Coffee Town, that we find intriguing.

Aimee Teegarden

How wonderful was Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor — a sweet, smart girl with a lot of confusing teenage thoughts and urges, who had to deal with being one-half of the perfect high-school couple and virginal daughter of the perfect parents? No wonder she was driven into the arms of a jackass TA basically the minute she go to college! Sadly, through no fault of her own, Teegarden has one of those adorable faces that dooms actors to an extra decade of teen schlock. First there was Scream 4. Then there was Prom. But there is some hope: Teegarden was recently cast as the lead in The Selection, a promising-sounding, Hunger Games-style pilot for The CW that’s bound to find her doing more acting than mugging.

Zach Gilford

Friday Night Lights’ Matt Saracen was the typical high-school girl’s dream boyfriend — shy, kind, handsome, athletic, and responsible enough to act as the sole caretaker for his senile grandmother. With that in mind, we felt a sort of personal investment in Gilford’s post-show success. The good news is that he’s working a lot — he’s got three films slated for release in the next year, and one of them is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s potentially goofy comeback flick, Last Stand. Gilford was also on the cast of an ABC medical drama, Off the Map, that had a brief run early last year. Just this week, we learned that he’ll play a doctor again in an untitled new Fox series from the creator of the fairly terrible Drop Dead Diva. None of this sounds like FNL-level acting, but we do agree that Gilford is damn believable as a young MD.

Minka Kelly

It’s not easy to humanize an America’s Sweetheart character like Lyla Garrity, but with the help of some great story lines, Minka Kelly did it. But, like Aimee Teegarden, her good looks seemed to seal her fate: Voted Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive in 2010, Kelly starred alongside Leighton Meester in last year’s camp-fest The Roommate and had a small role in Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler’s equally reviled Just Go with It. She gets points for a strong recurring part on Parenthood, though, even if her other major TV outing was the quickly canceled Charlie’s Angels reboot.

Jesse Plemons

Ah, Lance. Er, Landry. Friday Night Lights’ goofy, good-natured Christian rocker was always a nice relief from Dillon’s overabundance of supermodel-gorgeous jocks, cheerleaders, and bad girls. We could easily see him maturing into an excellent character actor. Sadly, he hasn’t done a hell of lot since leaving FNL in 2010 — a few very small films, an appearance in Paul, some TV guest spots. Happily, this could be a good year for Plemons: We’ll get to see him reunited with Tim Riggins in Battleship (about which, more later), and — in more promising news — he’s got a role in PT Anderson’s forthcoming flick, The Master.

Matt Lauria

To be honest, Matt Lauria’s Luke Cafferty always kind of bored us — but that was a rare fault of Friday Night Lights‘ writers, not the actor. Lauria has been making the rounds of TV crime dramas since the series ended, most notably a recurring part on CSI and a lead role in last year’s short-lived Fox cop show The Chicago Code. So, why is he ranking so high on our list? Well, he’s been cast as a regular on Shonda Rimes’ new period drama, Gilded Lilys, about the first luxury hotel in turn-of-the-century New York. The buzz around this show is that it will be a sort of American Downton Abbey. If so, we can see earnest Lauria as either a William or a Matthew.

Scott Porter

Playing paralyzed quarterback Jason Street, Scott Porter showed us a young man whose bright personal and professional future fell apart in one shocking moment. And in the three years or so since he’s been off the show, he’s done lots of high-quality TV, with recurring stints on both Caprica and The Good Wife. Now, he’s a regular on The CW’s significantly less wonderful Hart of Dixie. Porter’s film career, meanwhile, hasn’t entirely taken off: He’s been in both good (Bandslam) and bad (The Good Guy) indie films, along with a supporting role in the by-all-accounts-miserable Nicholas Sparks adaptation Dear John.

Michael B. Jordan

As quarterback Vince Howard, Michael B. Jordan had perhaps the most complex role in the final few seasons of FNL. Caught between his own petty-criminal past, his mother’s addiction, his manipulative ex-con dad, and his newfound football talent, Vince was constantly forced to make difficult decisions, and Jordan rose to the challenge of a morally complex character. Since the show wrapped, his career has been predictably strong. He’s got a fairly substantial part on Parenthood, and he appeared in the not-exceptionally-well-reviewed Red Tails, about World War II’s famous Tuskegee Airmen. But Jordan’s real triumph has been Chronicle, the celebrated sci-fi film that premiered last month.

Taylor Kitsch

From the moment we first caught a glimpse of Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins, his “Texas forever!” catchphrase already in place, we knew he was bound for A-list Hollywood stardom. Not only is the Canadian ex-model a beautiful man, but he can act. And it seems 2012 is Kitsch’s year: With John Carter already out, May will bring the release of Battleship — a fairly silly-sounding film adaptation of the Hasbro game, it finds the actor leading a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, and Vampire Eric from True Blood. So even if it’s not great, it’s bound to be a blockbuster. What’s really intriguing, though, is his third film of the year, Savages. An Oliver Stone-helmed adaptation of Don Winslow’s well-regarded novel Savages, it could establish Kitsch as worthy of acting in big movies with his shirt on.

Kyle Chandler

It makes sense that the adults on Friday Night Lights, who have longer resumes and don’t have to worry about getting stuck in teen fare, would have an easier path once the show ended. And after five career-defining seasons as Eric Taylor, Kyle Chandler is getting what he deserves. He was a slightly darker version of Coach Taylor in J.J. Abrams’ critic-pleasing blockbuster Super 8, and Argo, a film about the Iran hostage crisis in which he plays Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, comes out later this year. With more high-profile projects in the pipeline — particularly Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, about the team of Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden — Chandler is bound to become Hollywood’s top choice for no-bullshit good guy roles.

Connie Britton

You could argue that Kyle Chandler has had a more impressive post-Friday Night Lights career. He’s certainly been in more impressive movies (her most recent film, Conception, went straight to VOD). And yet, there’s no cast member whose work we’ve enjoyed more since they left Dillon. Britton was perfect in a complete departure from sane, decent Mrs. Coach as a pregnant woman in a haunted house on Ryan Murphy’s delightfully campy American Horror Story. Now, she’s signed on to play an aging country star in ABC’s fun-sounding new primetime soap, Nashville.