Very Deep in America

Friday Night Lights, Seasons 1–5

a television series created by Peter Berg
Universal, DVD box sets, Seasons 1–4, $29.98; Season 5, $34.98

Friday Night Lights

a film directed by Peter Berg
Universal, DVD, $12.98
Bill Records/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins and Madison Burge as Becky Sproles in Friday Night Lights

On my way to a Manhattan book party recently my mind was wandering to cultural guilty pleasures: sprightly but inane movies, or half-baked television programs no sophisticated person would admit to watching, as well as other aesthetic uncoolnesses, such as, say, Josh Groban, whose precariously belted tenor, crossover repertoire, and passable Italian have made him a secret darling of vulgarians like me. When he sings “The Prayer” with Celine Dion, is the listener not in the private ocular mists of kitsch heaven? Is not one of those pearly gates real pearl? And might one pay for admission to this slum-paradise with a parterre ticket stub from Wozzeck?

So it was, then, with great and satisfying surprise that almost immediately upon arriving at the party, I found myself locked in enthusiastic conversation in a corner with two other writers, all three of us, we discovered, solitary, isolated viewers of the NBC series Friday Night Lights. We spewed forth excitedly, like addicts—this was no longer a secret habit but a legitimately brilliant drama. Though the title might make the uninitiated think of shabbat candles, the show is actually about football in Texas, a state that I felt just then had not been this far east since the Bush administration.

“Rooting is in our blood,” Janet Malcolm has written, and when traveling around this country one would be hard-pressed not to notice that sports stadiums have become to the United States what opera houses are to Germany. Every community has one, even ones without much money. Friday Night Lights, whose final season has just come to a close, is a weekly hour-long dramatic series (forty-three minutes without commercials) whose focus is a high school football team and its place in a particular Texas town by the fictional name of Dillon—inspired by the real-life town of Odessa.

In West Texas, largely because of the heat, high school football is often played on weekend nights under klieg lights to crowds of up to twenty thousand people. These lit matches are just that: they light the fuse and transform these young players into local celebrities, turning these high school games into the only show in what would otherwise be a no-show town. In rough terrain blighted further by the dusty winds of economic collapse—droughted ranches, oil rigs mute and still as scarecrows—these games are the week’s high point for these boys and for the adults (parents, uncles, unemployed older brothers, boosters) who try to live vicariously through them. The town wants to win at something. The high school coach signs a two-year contract and often has to look for another job immediately following. If the team loses, the town will remind him by pounding For Sale signs into his front lawn or accosting him…

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