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Dead Tree Alert: Friday Night Lights, America's Team

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Photo-Illustration for TIME by Francisco Cacers; Chandler, Britton / NBC

My column in the print edition of TIME this week celebrates Friday Night Lights, which airs its series finale on DirecTV next week. (The column went to press before NBC announced that it will begin airing the last season April 15—though a DVD of the full season will be available ten days earlier.)

I wanted to keep the column spoiler-free for those who have not seen season 5, so it doesn’t go into detail about the finale—which I have seen, and is excellent. Instead, I focused on the broad themes of the show, which has become over the years a rare and true picture of middle America on network TV, and one that gives the lie to the red-state, blue-state clichés that dominate the political dialogue:

Story line after story line on FNL is about having responsibility for someone else. We meet players who care for a grandmother with dementia or a mother with a drug habit, who have to bail out a brother in trouble with the law or miss classes to help run a family farm.

The underlying theme is, we need each other. Everyone, even a teenager, is part of a web of dependence. You could see the show, from the right, as an example of how the best social programs are a job, a family and self-discipline; you could see it, from the left, as an argument for the crucial importance of an underfunded government institution, the public school…

I’ll post about the finale itself after it airs Wednesday. Clear eyes, full hearts…

Update: By the way, I was inspired to write about community as the overarching theme of FNL by rewatching the locker-room speech from “State,” which I quoted in the column—a scene that never fails to reduce me to a blubbering mass. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in embeddable form anywhere. But here’s a fine substitute that gets at many of the same ideas, the closing moments of the pilot. Get a box of tissues first:

“Life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable. And we will all at some point in our lives fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts: that what we have is special.”

A special scene, from a special show—one of the series that makes me glad I get to do this job.