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Ordinary people

Television | Friday Night Lights has feel of reality

Issue: "Double trouble," Oct. 21, 2006

It's impossible not to compare NBC's new one-hour drama Friday Night Lights (Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m. ET) with the book and movie of the same name. Pulitzer prize-winning author H.G. Bissenger created quite a franchise after he published a nonfiction narrative account of the 1988 football season of Permian High School in an economically depressed Odessa, Texas.

The 2004 film, directed by Peter Berg, earned critical acclaim for its somber look at off-the-field issues in a football-obsessed West Texas town. Some fans, though, criticized the film for straying from the plot outlined in the book.

Ordinarily, television as a medium is more constraining than a full-length motion picture. But liberated from a real-life storyline, Peter Berg, who returned to help create the show for NBC, can take a mulligan and use the television series to flesh out the complicated pressures of family, school, and high expectations: a community that views a band of teenagers in pads as representative warriors for the town's beleaguered image.

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Berg dumps Odessa, instead choosing a fictional Dillon, Texas, as his canvas. As in the movie, Berg uses talk radio as the show's only narration. But viewers might ultimately be thankful for Berg's stark and unobtrusive style. Unlike MTV's surreal Two-A-Days, a reality television series depicting an Alabama high-school football squad, the sheer ordinariness depicted in Friday Night Lights makes it more real than so-called reality shows.

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