You’ve Seen the Movie, Watched the TV Show and Are Going to Watch the New Movie, So Why Not Read the Book?

Posted on August 8, 2011

There are few worse places to live in the United States than Odessa, Texas. You have a good chance of being rich for a couple years then it’s 20% unemployment. Out of 300 metropolitan areas that are selected every year for quality of life surveys, Odessa almost invariably ends up in the bottom 3. Despite this game of savage survival in the scrub of West Texas you can count on 20 thousand fans to show up to a football game on a Friday during the season. “Friday Night Lights” is the story of the Permian Panthers and the story of the city that supports it. H. G. Bissinger moves from the relative comfort and safety of Philadelphia to live for 1 year in Odessa.

So I’ve seen the movie with Billy Bob Thornton and I’m almost 1 season deep in the television show. Here are a couple of thoughts. The show and movie are basically works of fiction. Both of them take plot points (early season injuries, a coin flip to determine playoff elegibility) but, as a whole, are ultimately fabrications.

In the book, Head Coach Gaines has literally no time. He gets to school at 7 and usually gets home at 2-3 AM. So all those scenes in the show and movie where the coach can sit down and talk things out with his wife are completely impossible.

In the end, ‘Friday Night Lights’ isn’t about football. It’s about Odessa, Texas. Just like you can’t understand Green Bay without knowing the Packers or Boston without the ‘Sox’, there’s no way to get to the bottom of the Odessa zeitgest without understanding the passion they have for Permian football.

Why? Because life there sucks. On top of that, no-one ever leaves. One of the main points of this book is that, for these kids, high school football is about as good as it gets. They’re probably not going to go to college. They’ll probably get a job on an oil rig and will be fired during the next bust. Heck, only one kid does make it to a D1 school. He stops playing because the fans aren’t as passionate. At LSU.

“Friday Night Lights” is one of those frank reminders that the United States is a diverse place. Despite the fact that I went to a football-obsessed high school, this whole narrative was extremely foreign.

You’ll meet washed-up former Permian stars. You’ll witness Permian lose a game where they were 21 point favorites. Coach Gaines’s wife¬†cancels¬†a newspaper so her husband doesn’t read an op-ed ripping him to shreds. This is one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction books’ in my opinion. If you’ve seen the movie and have watched the show, ‘Friday Night Lights’ can do nothing but enhance your experience. Bissinger has given us something really special and has done the impossible, making a year in the hellhole of America into a deeply touching narrative.


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