Late to the party: ‘Friday Night Lights’

friday-night-lights

Back before the advent of DVD, I would videotape (remember that?) and watch each episode of a favorite show, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “The X-Files,” and re-watch a whole season during the summer months, especially in preparation for a new season in the fall.

It was kind of the precursor to the TV season binge that’s possible now with DVD, Blu and streaming video.

Since entire seasons of shows became available on disc, I’ve usually bought the ones I’ve already seen and re-watched those. But I recently bought “Friday Night Lights” because I’d heard so much about Peter Berg and Jason Katim’s TV version of Berg’s movie about high school football in Texas and thought I might like it.

And I do.

I’ve just finished the first of five seasons and found myself really enjoying its middle-class, small town soap opera.

If you’re unfamiliar, “Friday Night Lights” is about the town of Dillon, Texas, where Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has become coach of the high school football team. As the show opens, Taylor finds himself poised to coach young football star Jason (Scott Porter) to a championship season … when an on-field accident leaves Jason paralyzed for life.

Taylor taps second-string QB Matt Saracen (the priceless Zach Gilford), an under-confident but talented player, to lead the team.

The football action punctuates most episodes but the emotional heart of the show is the web of relationships among the characters. We grow to know and care about Tami Taylor (the wonderful Connie Britton), the coach’s wife; their rebellious daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), who begins dating Saracen; ballers Smash Williams and Tim Riggins (Gaius Charles and Taylor Kitsch) and their struggling middle-class families; and very different high school girls Lyla (the adorable Minka Kelly) and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki).

The show is filled with realistic characters, for a soap, from Saracen’s aging grandmother to Lyla’s dad, Buddy, the local car dealer and head of the booster club.

“Friday Night Lights,” with its soap opera-ish tone balanced by its documentary-style cinematography, carries the perfect emotional heft. It’s a bit corny in spots, sure, but it’s one of the best depictions of small-town life I’ve seen on TV.

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