March 22nd, 2007
ITV4 have been showing Friday Night Lights for a few weeks now, and it's really grown on me. The show's portrait of life in a high school football-obsessed Texan town is much more than a straight high school drama, with plenty of attention paid to the newly appointed coach of the team, his family, his relationship with the team's interfering sponsors and, above all else, the way the town as a whole lives for Friday night's matches. If the team loses on Friday, the coach finds himself running into people on the street who politely (more or less) suggest that he up sticks and leave town before he destroys their season, the team's quarterback catches abuse from passing motorists, and the local sports radio programme spends the week speculating over the coach's team selections, tactics and so on.
The intensity of the town's interest in high school football seems very strange to a British viewer, but the programme sells the premise so well that I don't stop to think about how odd it is for an entire town to stop to applaud their team as their bus takes them to an away game. Whilst each week's show does revolve around that week's game I don't think you need to know a great deal about American Football to understand what's happening.1 As the series progresses we're starting to get to know the students better and all sorts of interesting subplots and character arcs are starting to open up; the show is starting to develop into something really special, quite possibly the best high school-based drama since My So-Called Life. According to Heather Havrilesky's recent story on the show in Salon2 there's some prospect that the show might not be renewed. That would be a real shame.
1 I used to follow American Football during the Channel 4 years, so it's hard for me to say for sure how a complete novice would fare. That said, I reckon the writers give viewers enough context for the relatively brief game sequences to permit any reasonably attentive viewer to figure out where the game stands and what the stakes are for the coach and team at any given point.
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