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Best Sports on Screen for Non-Sports-Fans: “Friday Night Lights” and Beyond

Best Sports on Screen for Non-Sports-Fans: "Friday Night Lights" and Beyond

“Football is stupid,” a talented basketball player tells the football coach in the season premiere of Friday Night Lights. “For starters, it celebrates the worst instincts of American culture – aggression, violence . . . ” I tended to agree, but just like that player, who ends up on the football team, I came around about the series.

The show, about a Texas high school football team, has gained a surprising cult following, passionate about its small-town and family dynamics: coach Eric Taylor and his schoolteacher wife, Tami; the love stories of football players and their girlfriends (a hot young cast doesn’t hurt); the working-class kids conflicted about going to college. Thoughtful and sometimes heartbreaking, the series has already tackled issues like a grandma with Alzheimer’s and a teenager who desperately needs help finding an abortion.

The series begins its fifth and final season tomorrow on NBC (it has already been shown on Direct TV and has just arrived on DVD). I haven’t seen the whole season but I’m told the end will make you sob. And while the series has never made me cry, its drama has convinced me that Friday Night Lights is about much more than football.

Here’s a look at the trailer, and, beyond Raging Bull or The Wrestler, at some other sports-themed TV shows and movies that work especially well for people who think they don’t like sports.

SPORTS NIGHT

Aaron Sorkin’s first television series, about two sportscasters and their producer, is full of his trademark crackling dialogue. There are great performances by actors who have become much more familiar since then: Peter Krause, pre-Six Feet Under and Parenthood, Josh Charles before The Good Wife, and as the producer Felicity Huffman, pre-Desperate Housewives. But watch this 1998 series for its smart take on characters obsessed with their work, which just happens to be TV sports.

FEVER PITCH

Based on Nick Hornby’s novel, this 2005 romantic comedy could have been designed for guys obsessed with sports and the women who love them and occasionally want to scream at them. Jimmy Fallon plays an over-the-top Red Sox fan and Drew Barrymore the woman who wonders if she can ever compete with the team for his affection. If you’re a Colin Firth completist, you can also check out the 1997 British original (it’s about soccer), but even with Firth it doesn’t have the sparkle of the Fallon-Barrymore version, an unexpectedly deft film from the Farrelly brothers.

BIG FAN

A fine and quirky little film that confirms all your worst suspicions about sports: Patton Oswalt is compelling as an obsessed New York Giants fan who gets to meet his hero, only to have the hero beat him up. Robert D. Siegel’s underrated 2009 movie swerves craftily between black comedy and drama.

TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY

Not unknown, but one of the best sports goofs ever, with Will Ferrell as a race-car driver. The scene of Ricky Bobby saying grace at the dinner table has nothing to do with sports, but is funny every time you watch it.

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