I don't like football. I never watch it on TV, except for the Super Bowl and even then it's only to see the commercials.
So believe me when I say that the NBC drama "Friday Night Lights" (a genuine bargain at $29.98 for an entire season of 22 episodes from Universal) is a terrific show and you need to start watching it. I could say it's the best show on TV because "The Wire" is off the air till 2008, "Battlestar: Galactica" stumbled, "24" had its worst day yet, "The Sopranos" is gone and "Lost" is lost.
But it's not a competition. You can always find time for another great TV show and that's exactly what "Friday Night Lights" has become. As TV Guide might put it, it's the best show that you're not watching.
At the heart of the series is Coach Taylor and his wife (played brilliantly by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), the sexiest married couple on TV since the Bradys got into bed together. These two bicker and fight and needle each other and you never doubt for a moment that they are deeply in love.
But the cast is bursting with talent. Zach Gilford plays Matt Saracen, the unlikeliest hero -a stuttering, diffident backup quarterback who has to take charge when an accident gives him the starting position. He's already burdened by a dad off in Iraq and a grandmother who suffers from dementia and needs his constant care. Somehow, Saracen also manages to fall hard for Julie (the delightful Aimee Teegarden), the coach's sweetly willful daughter.
The show's more typical leading man -- Scott Porter as golden boy Jason Street -- is felled in the first episode, becomes paralyzed and spends the rest of the first season trying to maintain his dignity. Watching his cheerleader girlfriend (the terrific Minka Kelly) cheat on him, struggling to feed himself, dealing with his desire for sex - the physically challenged have never been portrayed this honestly and completely in primetime.
But there's so much more to this show than compelling, soap-like storylines. They get the nuances just right. After the first episode, I thought to myself, that was good and if this show is really gonna capture life in a small Texas town, we better see the coach going to church. How did episode two begin? At church with the coach right towards the front. Prayer is a constant, quiet part of the series.
So is desire, whether it's the bad boy Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) falling for the hot divorcee next door - but finding what really matters is being nice to the little kid she's raising, the mayor who is quietly lesbian (nobody says a word about it), the booster Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) who compulsively cheats on his wife, or the strutting "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) who falls for a preacher's daughter.
Oh and though everyone insists it's not about the football, they get that right too. "FNL" captures the deeply important relationship between a coach and his team, the office politics that influence who starts and what plays are run, the overwhelming pressure from everyone in town, the emotional turmoil that follows a loss, and the awkward power plays between a player destined for greater things and a coach trying to mold him.
Did I mention the show is revolutionary as well? It makes full use of mobile, hand-held cameras to free up the actors so no one ever has to hit their mark. The result is the most convincing glimpse of real life since "Hill Street Blues" exploded on the air more than 25 years ago. What this means for you is a drama that is absolutely compelling, honest, gripping, funny and unexpected.
Sure, some plot points were a little rushed this season, such as the steroids and racism storylines. But you can trust "FNL" to sidestep your expectations just enough to keep you on your toes. If NBC had any sense, they would hold the series till January (when football season is over) and run every episode in a row without repeats, a la "Lost" and "24." But for now, we'll have to settle for the fact that those geniuses finally realized the best night to air "Friday Night Lights" was on, yes, Friday nights. Sometimes, it's amazing anything good ever gets on the air. So don't let this one get away.
Also out on DVD this week: the fun "Heroes: Season 1" ($59.98; Universal), a show you already know about; Will Ferrell's "Blades Of Glory" ($29.99; DreamWorks), which proved that making fun of something as inherently goofy as ice-skating (those costumes!) isn't as easy as it seems; Molly Shannon in "Year Of The Dog" ($29.99; Paramount), which had the courage to take seriously the animal rights passion of her dorky character; the generous six hours of comedy on "Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Standup Season 1" ($29.98; Starz); potty-mouth Bob Saget in his stand-up act "That Ain't Right" ($19.98; HBO); the brilliantly cast UK miniseries "A Dance To The Music Of Time" ($59.99; Acorn); the amusingly titled "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In The World - Complete First Season" ($19.99; Logo/Paramount); and one of the sturdiest sitcoms ever made, "The Odd Couple Second Season" ($38.99; Paramount).
So tell me, what's your favorite TV show on the air right now?