Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: Tuesday Night Football

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Tonight on NBC, Friday Night Lights, one of the best dramas of the fall, with the potential to be the best, period. See my review in the Sept. 25 print version of Time, or without risk of paper cuts here.

I won’t elaborate much on my review except to emphasize that, although the show is about a West Texas high school football team (a fictionalized and present-day version of the real, 1980s one from the movie and the Buzz Bissinger book), it’s not for football fans only. I only watch football for the commercials, and yet this was one of only a few fall pilots that had the Arrested Development effect on me: that is, I re-watched it over the summer for my own enjoyment even though I didn’t have to. (The others: The Nine, The Knights of Prosperity and 30 Rock.)

Lights does that rare thing on TV: it makes fiction look and play like real life, from its hard-hitting, handheld-camera game scenes to the natural, documentary-like dialogue, which shows without telling us the stakes this kids game holds for the players (who depend on it to give them a future) and for the townspeople (who depend on it to give them hope and purpose).

I worry this show will fall between two stools: too touchy-feely and relationship-focused for sports fans, too verite and unromanticized for O.C. fans. But it should deliver for both crowds, if they give it a chance. The pilot is written, directed and executive produced by Peter Berg, who made the movie, which made you feel like you weren’t just watching the team but embedded with them (and who also did TV’s fantastic, underrated Wonderland in 2000). And the show is also executive produced by Jason Katims, who did teen and young-adult angst with heart and sophistication in Relativity and Roswell.

So in the interest of saving a deserving show, let me end with this. Relationship-drama fans: don’t read the rest of this post. And football fans: I was lying before–Friday Night Lights really is all about football, and you’ll love it. Now get in the game.