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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Friday Night Lights


(NBC, Sundays at 9 pm; online anytime) & r & & r & You should be watching Friday Night Lights. I mean it. Yeah, the season's over, the show's in reruns, and it's warm outside, so the prospect of watching old TV isn't exactly sexy. The show in question, too, has a few barriers to entry. Like the film it's based on, Friday Night Lights centers on high school football in small-town Texas. Given the trauma of high school, the brutality of football, and the sheer bile issuing from much of the Lone Star State, I probably just turned off 75 percent of you. That's understandable, and it's the main reason the show had such horrible ratings all year.





The dirty little secret, though, (the one that NBC only started marketing after the first season's ratings were unsalvageable) is that, while football is Friday Night Lights' subject, people are its focus. In towns like the fictional Dillon, high school football is more than a sport. It's the only thing townspeople have to look forward to. More tragically, it's often the only thing former stars -- never better than that one dream game decades ago -- have to look back upon. In dusty, defeated towns like Dillon, the best thing that can happen is winning a prep football title. That places enormous pressure on the kids -- 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds -- and coaches charged with winning glory for their communities.





Friday Night Lights was a surprisingly good film that gave a nice overview of the complicated interpersonal entanglements of small town America. Writer/director Peter Berg adapted it for television for the express purpose of taking that overview and going deeper. He's done that brilliantly in the show's first season, expanding upon the heartaches, rivalries, politics and interpersonal tensions (racial, sexual, etc.), that drive these towns. The cast of young actors arrayed around rookie coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) hits these notes with passion and nuance. There aren't bad guys in Dillon, just people desperate for a reason to stay excited about life.





So, yes, football is the engine. The dreams the sport incubate in the citizens of Dillon, though -- hope, heroism, the prospect of greatness, a legacy, a way out -- provide the spark and combustion that make riveting art.





As I said, you should be watching Friday Night Lights.





TiVo-Worthy


The Starter Wife


Debra Messing's got a brand new bag! Well, same bag, perhaps, but more elegantly styled, and stripped of the gay-chic finery Will & amp; Grace took such pains with. Here, instead of being trendy and talented and tolerant, Messing's just rich and divorced. After years of defining herself as a rich guy's wife, watch ol' Deb pluck-and-charm her way through an identity crisis. (Thursdays on USA)





Pirate Master


Want the sex appeal of Survivor with the undeniable (and very hip) pirate-y-ness of... pirates? Talk to Mark Burnett. The Survivor creator has taken most of the elements of his hit show and given them a little swashbuckle with contestants sailing around on a ship looking for loot, kicking off one crew member a week until there's just the captain left to claim the booty. (Thursdays on CBS)





Traveler


Three guys walk into a museum. One guy challenges the other two to rollerblade (what is this, 1990?) from the top floor down. They agree. Once the two 'bladers are outside, first guy blows the joint up, fingering the other two for an act of terrorism. With nods to Iran-Contra, Desert Storm and Guantanamo, this is the first drama in TV's we-suddenly-don't-like-the-Bushes-much era. (Wednesdays on ABC)


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