Amongst all the reality shows, cop dramas, and supernatural serials that have become popular over the last few seasons, Friday Night Lights (NBC, Fridays, 10:00 ET) stands out as a rare gem. Centered on the town of Dillon, Texas, and its high-school football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler, above), the show is radical in its realism.
Rather than separate storylines of adults and teens, their dramas play out together, affecting one another. When Mrs. Taylor (Connie Britton) discovers that her 15-year-old daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) is considering having sex, there are none of the calm sit-down talks about condoms or safety viewers expect. Instead, Tami Taylor reacts with screaming, crying devastation, desperate to keep her daughter from corruption.
The show's central player is also quite a departure from typical prime-time fare. From The Simpsons to Seventh Heaven, today's television typically offers viewers only two kinds of fathers: lazy, unintelligent oafs or saccharine, almost feminine softies. Coach Eric Taylor is a far cry from either: Though he is a loving father, his role in his family is clearly differentiated from his wife's so that he sometimes takes too tough a hand. When flummoxed by his daughter's behavior, he listens to his wife's counsel, but he is never shown as her sidekick. And when ambition drives him to spend less time with his family, his absence has an immediate negative impact.
Finally, Friday Night Lights is one of the few shows that unobtrusively weaves faith into its storylines. Sometimes we are shown only the passing scenes we recognize from our own lives-characters at church, praying before games, and seeking counsel from pastors. Other references are more direct. After discovering that her father is having an affair, a girl turns first to an immoral relationship and then, when that brings her only more pain, to Christ. We see characters in their sin, but we also see the devastating results of that sin.
Unfortunately, because it failed to draw the ratings NBC executives hoped for in its first season, rumors are floating that Friday Night Lights may get "steamier." This wasn't the case in this fall's premiere and fans can only hope the rumor isn't true. It would be a shame to see a show of such insight and depth become just another member of the mediocre pack.