Friday Night Lights is Back!

It’s true (at least for those of us who have DirecTV!). Television’s most undervalued show began its third season last night on the 101 channel on DirecTV. Fear not, it will be on NBC as well… just not until sometime in early 2009. I admit it: I pretty much bought DirecTV so I could watch the first run of FNL’s new season. That’s how much I like this show.

The season premiere last night picked up about 9 months after season 2 abruptly ended (curse you, WGA strike!), with the Dillon Panthers beginning a new season of football and Tami Taylor (the wonderful Connie Britton) assuming the role of principal of Dillon High. What a smart move on the part of the writers! Put Tami even more front and center. She is the best asset of a uniformly outstanding cast.

I won’t go into any other plot details (for those who want to wait and experience it fresh on NBC in a few months), but I will say that it looks to be more of a “back to basics” season, which is welcome after last season’s slightly off-kilter melodrama (murder! Cover-up!). After all, this show—unlike most other hour-long dramas on TV—is not about plot twists and cliffhangers. Its greatness comes from how mundane it is—how it captures subtle beauty in the everyday occurrences of this sleepy little Texas town.

And whereas TV’s other great drama (Mad Men) can sometimes feel too nihilistic for its own good, FNL is guardedly optimistic about life. It finds the goodness in its characters and roots for them to fight off their personal demons. Other shows seem to take devious pleasure in documenting their characters’ downfalls; FNL acknowledges that yes, sometimes we are our own worst enemies, but the real drama in life is not when we fall—but when we gradually get up again, with the help of our loved ones and community.

And ultimately, Friday Night Lights is about community. The show is remarkably in tune with the mythos of American small town life (in a respectful, rather than condescending, manner). Every time I watch it I feel like I’m back in Oklahoma, fifteen years ago, when I was a kid at the local high school’s Friday night football games. It reminds me of the sorts of towns I grew up in, which maybe explains why I’m such a huge fan.

But I also think anyone can relate to the show. The family dynamics of the Taylor clan are enough to hook anyone with a soul. If you haven’t already, please watch Season 1 on DVD. You’ll see what I--and pretty much every other American critic--is going on and on about.