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Friday Night Lights: Best Drama on TV Returns, and New York Times Throws it a Celebratory English Department Cocktail Party

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I've been a professional writer for a number of years, am reasonably well-educated and have a good grasp of English. I tell you this to lay the groundwork for what I am about to say: I have absolutely no idea what the following paragraph means.

Nominally about high school football but substantively about the emotional character of a small town defined by its communal joys and isolated disappointments, Friday Night Lights dismantles equations of beauty and privilege. The series takes an almost injunctive approach to our understanding of appearance, refusing us permission to settle into the comfortable mythology that a perfectly angled face is its own currency wherever it happens to reside.

Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times; October 5, 2007

It goes on like this. Ms. Bellafante acknowledges the show's "Expressionistic pleasures," argues that it elevates our understanding of melodrama "the way, as the critic Peter Brooks argued in the 1970s, Balzac and James did," and makes one truly nutty socio-geographic leap:

If Friday Night Lights hadn't been inspired by the fascination with a Southern fascination with college football, it would be easy to imagine that it had been born somewhere on the outskirts of Marseille, so committed is it to divorcing images of adolescent sexuality from standard American anxiety narratives.

To which a viewer can only reply: Um, okay, I guess. But say, did you like the part where the Panthers went to State?

I'm a fan of the show, and am grateful the Times has seen fit to devote some ink to it on the day it returns for a second, make-or-break season. It would be a shame if readers who have never seen it (and there are a lot of those) gather from the review that it's a Lit seminar dressed in shoulder pads. Its pleasures are more modest than this, but no less profound. Like the superb book by Buzz Bissinger that inspired it, it's a ground-level meditation on community, family (both nuclear and extended) and faith (both religious and secular). It works as drama. It's funny. It's sad. It stops your heart from time to time.

Whatever value there may be in divorcing images of adolescent sexuality from standard American anxiety narratives -- and man, haven't we all gone around and around on that one -- it's not the value delivered by the talented writers and actors and crew of Friday Night Lights. What the show offers above all else is the visceral kick of smart, well-crafted storytelling in a popular medium. And for Pete's sake, that's plenty.

Watch it. Tell your friends to watch it. And if, after that, you still want to kick around the semiotics of the thing, the sherry's on me.