Monday, September 03, 2007

'Lights' is one beautiful, perfect spiral touchdown

OK, here's the deal. The best show you're not watching was renewed for a second season by the skin of its teeth.

I can't say too much. I didn't watch it either. Gave up after the second or third episode, not because it wasn't good, but because I've been weary of getting hooked on a weekly episodic TV series since I left a ball game early years ago to watch the final episode of "Dallas."

But this is 2007 and that means TV shows, even bad ones, get released on DVD. When I saw they were selling Season One of this series for a whopping $19.99, it was a no brainer.

And let me tell you something, "Friday Night Lights" is one fine hour of television.

Don't be fooled. It's not about football.

Oh, it is in a superficial way, in that the centerpiece of the series is the Dillon (Texas) Panthers, the big stud AAAAA football school. We see game footage. We rise and fall with the team's fortunes. We learn a little about sweeps, dives and fakes.

But at it's core, "Friday Night Lights" is something else. It's about life, middle-class, Southern small town life, but life nevertheless. It's about growing up, and trying to survive those god-awful, wonderful teenage years.

If you live anywhere in middle America, in one of those smaller towns where football is king and nothing else much matters, you'll recognize this show as something you might have lived through. If you don't, stick around anyway. Otherwise, you'll miss some of the very best television you've seen in years.

What struck me first about "Lights" is it feels familiar. Puts me in mind of Big Red Football on long ago Friday nights. (Well, other than the fact that the Panthers are a much better team, save those magical years of '86 and '96.)

But the petty high school dramas, the small town hypocricy, the belief that everything is do or die when you're 16 --- yeah, I've been there before. Hell, I'm still there, if only (thank God) as an observer.

And what's cool is the show is somewhat idealistic, which suits my worldview just fine.

Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is the type of guy I hope to be. Not that I'm planning to become a football coach. That's not what I mean.

But he's decent, he's honest, tries to do the right thing and acts like a man in the best sense of what that word used to mean. He deals with the chaos around him --- unrealistic expectations, meddling boosters, even a lawsuit --- all while loving his wife and his daughter and juggling the impossible act of preparing teenagers to unite toward a common goal and maybe, just maybe, make something of themselves one day.

The show's young actors are quite superb. They feel like people you grew up with, kids who live down the street. The writing is consistently good. Amid the action on the gridiron, which believe it or not takes up precious little of the show's 42 minutes, the weekly adventures of the Dillon Panthers teach us a little about life and a lot about who we are as Americans, for better or worse.

Those lofty goals aside, it's also a darn entertaining series. I've nearly completed the first season in less than a week. I can't wait for the big season premiere Oct. 5 on NBC.

It's much better than the 2004 Peter Berg film of the same name. And the only reason I'm not prepared to say it's better than Buzz Bissinger's 1990 book is because Buzz is one hell of a good writer -- and he told a real whopper of a heartbreaking story.

But, I'm telling ya, you'll love this. Do yourself a favor and fork out an Andrew Jackson for the DVD. Heck, it even comes with a money back guarantee if you aren't hooked.

You will be, I promise. And the best part? You don't even have to love football to enjoy this fine little family drama.

And tune in or TiVO the show this fall. Network TV doesn't get it right much anymore.

This time, though, they've scored one beautiful, perfect spiral Hail Mary of a touchdown.

"Friday Night Lights Season One" is now available on DVD. The program airs Fridays on NBC.


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