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"Friday Night Lights" is TV at its best

Early in tonight's season finale of "Friday Night Lights," Coach Eric Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) has a Marv Levy moment as he and his Dillon Panthers walk into Texas Stadium to practice for the state title football game.
"Does it get any better than this?" Coach Taylor asks rhetorically. "I don't think it does. Soak it in."

It's pretty close to Levy's famous line, "Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?" And there is no place fans of the series would rather be at 8 tonight when the season finale airs, than WGRZ-TV.

As far as network TV goes, it doesn't get any better than this.

The series is about a Texas high school coach and his two families -- the one at home and the one in the locker room. Viewers should soak it all in, because there is no guarantee there is going to be a second season, even though the adaptation of the best-selling book and hit movie just won a prestigious Peabody Award.

The finale, titled "State," deserves big cheers and a big crowd, too. Unquestionably, a big ratings finish tonight would help the show's chances. Buffalo needs to continue doing its part -- the show gets significantly higher ratings here than it does nationally.
Tonight's finale revolves around Dillon's attempt to win the state title while dealing with the distraction of Coach Taylor's plan to leave after one season to become a college quarterback coach in Austin. His move has leaked to the media.
Of course, the series is about so much more than football. Coach Taylor and Tami may have the best marriage on television. Sexy, sensitive and smart, Tami would be the perfect woman if she didn't drive around using her cell phone without a hands-free device.
At the end of last week's episode, Tami even believed their marriage is so strong that it could withstand her staying in Dillon with their daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), while Eric pursued his career dream next season in Austin. The preview of this week's episode revealed the big surprise -- that Tami is pregnant.
Coach Taylor's conflicting feelings between pursuing his professional dream possibly at the expense of his family's happiness is at the heart of the richly, emotional episode.
Undoubtedly, it is a scene being played out all over the country these days as various college basketball coaches, including new Michigan Coach John Beilein, have had to tell their former players that they are seeking bigger challenges and moving on.
Coach Taylor beautifully explains to his team why he is leaving, though you wonder if even he believes his own words. Tonight's episode also has the usual amount of strong subplots revolving around the teenage characters that have experienced yearlong lessons about race relations, the meaning of friendship, the importance of family, the hypocrisy of adults and the ability to forgive.
I love this series and almost every character in it -- including Minka Kelly, the beautiful cheerleader who saw her boyfriend, quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter), become paralyzed and her parents' marriage fall apart because of her father's infidelity; Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen, the sensitive second-string quarterback who became the starter, fell in love with the coach's daughter and still had time to devote to his ailing grandmother; Gaius Charles as the brash running back, Smash Williams, who talked about himself in the first person, developed a further understanding of race relations, risked his career by taking steroids and surprised even himself by how much he cared about his bipolar girlfriend; Adrianne Palicki as Tyra, the sexy, insecure teenager who is trying to avoid the mistakes of her mother; and Taylor Kitsch as Riggins, the bad boy who unsuccessfully tried to rediscover his relationship with his deceitful father and enjoyed becoming a father figure to a little boy who moved next door with his single, beautiful mother.
I especially love the opening theme music, which captures the often melancholy spirit of the soap opera story lines.
And no question, it is a soap opera. But "Friday Night Lights" is so much more than that. An episode rarely doesn't include some moving moment or moments that remind viewers that life can hand you some tough cards but is always worth playing.
The words that Tami tells her distraught daughter -- who doesn't want to leave Dillon for Austin -- apply to the fate of this series: "We have no idea," says Tami, "what will be happening or where we will be in six months."

An NBC spokesperson said last week that the decision on "Friday Night Lights" won't be made until next month, after the network looks at its dramatic pilots for fall. One thing that is in its favor is that "Lights" is relatively inexpensive. It is filmed in Austin, Texas, and Chandler and Connie Britton -- the incredible actress who plays his wife, Tami -- aren't hugely expensive stars.
If there is any justice, there will be a miracle ending and "Friday Night Lights" will return in October for a second season.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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>TV Review

"Friday Night Lights"

Review: Four stars (out of four)

8 p.m. tonight, WGRZ-TV

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