Friday Night Lights Has Heart.

by Meredith O’Brien


When I’d tell my journalism students at the University of Massachusetts that I’d assigned them to read the book Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger -- a non-fiction account of the 1988 football season at a Texas high school -- some of my students would cringe, particularly those who weren’t particularly fond of sports.


This book isn’t just about football, I’d preach to them with the enthusiasm of an unbridled fan. It’s about socio-economic disparities in our culture, about racial divisions, about gender stereotypes, about school districts favoring sports over academics, about athletes who get passed along in school and don’t receive a real education. By the time the class gathered to discuss the book, it never failed, female students who said they preferred to talk about pop culture, celebrities and fashion said that they were pleasantly surprised that the book wasn’t at all what they expected.


I’ve been similarly preaching the gospel of Friday Night Lights, the TV show, whose fourth season just started and whose storylines seem to more closely mirror the material in the original Bissinger book than the previous three seasons have. I’ve been telling people that it’s the football drama that’s about so much more than sports. After seeing review DVD copies of upcoming episodes for this season, I can tell you this much without spoiling the season for you: Aside from the season premiere, you’ll find that the football comprises only one part of the show.


This season, the show’s writers decided to shake things up and threw Friday Night Lights’ central couple – Principal Tami Taylor and Coach Eric Taylor – for a huge loop. The town of Dillon decided to redistrict its students into two high schools: West Dillon, the affluent one with a football stadium that rivals that of a big name college, where Tami’s the principal and where her husband took the football team to win the state championship, and East Dillon, the poor one which has no money, no resources, students from broken homes and a dust bowl of a dilapidated football stadium to which Eric has been exiled by the school board and charged with building a football team where there was none.


This new twist puts enormous pressure on both of the Taylors, one of the most realistic middle class families on TV who live in a small ranch-style home with a tiny kitchen and who wear off-the-rack clothes like average American families and drive modest vehicles.