I haven’t seen the movie of Friday Night Lights, but I’ve seen the show all the way through and we’re watching it again. I am starting to realize how silly and ridiculous the show is an a lot of ways, because the book is so good and so unsentimental (until the epilogues, where it does get a little emotional and acts as a kind of catharsis). The book begins with Bissenger making his way to Odessa Tx, referred to in Larry McMurtry’s sequel to The Last Picture Show, Texasville as “The worst town on earth.” And you get why. It’s bleak, it’s dusty, and there’s a lot of crime and poverty, and a whole hell of a lot of racism. And there’s also football. We follow a Texas football dynasty, the Permian Panthers from the end of the previous season through the pre-season of this new season where the town really feels like they have a state championship quality team. And like any good sports story, it’s still a low odds against the field kind of chance, but good nonetheless.
So the book does tell that story, but it also gives a ton of background, and of course the most interesting comes in breaking down the redlines, racial lines, busing lines, and other lines within the town and its history. And like the dusty town, the story is bleak. It’s the story of awfulness in midcentury America, and it’s as bad then as it is now. Football is one of the worst things in the world, and for many of these kids, it’s the only thing that can save them, and it’s also the thing destroying them.