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RUSHING RIGHT IN.

Byline: David Kronke Television Critic

H.G. Bissinger's nonfiction best seller ``Friday Night Lights'' offered such a blistering look at a small Texas town obsessed with its local high-

school football team that it inspired death threats from some of those depicted within it. Bissinger wrote of a town roiling with barely submerged racism and a heartbreaking hopelessness.

Virtually everyone there lived vicariously through the team: When they won, life was good; when they lost, it was a reminder of just how cruel and unforgiving existence in the desolate panhandle plains could be.

It inspired an excellent movie, written and directed by Peter Berg, who also serves as executive producer for NBC's new ``Friday Night Lights'' series. Kyle Chandler stars as Eric Taylor, the new coach of the Dillon Panthers, a team roundly expected (by everyone in town, at least) to win the state championship. Anything less, and Taylor will soon find himself the new ex-coach.

Tonight's episode briskly sets up the tensions: Talk radio listeners have made up their minds before the first snap of the season; at a reception for the team, every community leader has differing but persistent ideas on what Taylor's coaching strategy should be.

The series also investigates the lives of a few of the players, from the straight-arrow quarterback (Scott Porter) to the bickering running backs, one flashy (Gaius Charles), one dissolute (Zach Gilford).

As with Berg's film, most scenes are shot in a jittery, fly-on-the-wall documentary style, while the football sequences have the polish of an NFL game. Tonight's episode has at least one too many overly melodramatic moments; at least one could've been saved for a future episode -- after all, you don't want to waste all the bullets in your arsenal too soon.

As manipulative as it is, ``Friday Night Lights'' is still wildly effective. Thanks to strong performances throughout, the gritty ambience feels thoroughly authentic. You'll pull for the characters as much as Dillon pulls for its Panthers.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke@dailynews.com

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Three stars

What: High-school football, Texas-style.

Where: NBC (Channel 4).

When: 8 tonight.

In a nutshell: Well-drawn characters and atmosphere.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Taylor Kitsch, left, Gaius Charles, Kyle Chandler, Scott Porter, Minka Kelly and Zach Gilford star in ``Friday Night Lights,'' NBC's adaptation of the best-selling book and feature film.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 2006
Words:390
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