Edge of the Box: Make your own Luck under Friday Night Lights

Forget Suarez and Redknapp! For real drama, make your own Luck under Friday Night Lights

You only need to think back over the last few days of not guilty verdicts, resignations and fall-outs from aborted handshakes to remind yourself that the drama of sport never restricts itself simply to the field of play.

Those white lines and ropes that surround our sporting arenas can be very thin and fragile, and as a result, on-field performances and off-field behaviour will inevitably go hand in hand.

Naturally, the mediums of TV and film have been aware of this for decades and regularly exploit sport for plots and backdrops to characters' lives, both at home and away from the action.

Star man: Hollywood legend Dustin Hoffman is in Luck

Star man: Hollywood legend Dustin Hoffman is in Luck

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In the next few days, Sky Atlantic will be doing their bit to prove they can match their sports big brother for thrills and spills with the launch of two drama series.

First up on Tuesday is a welcome return to British screens for the impeccable, edgy, award-winning American College football series Friday Night Lights.

ITV4 briefly whetted our appetites but it will now be served up in the full run of five series.

Originally a journalistic book, then film, this is the story of rookie head coach Taylor and his Panthers football team from the fictional town of Dillon in West Texas.

Shot on location in swiftly edited, pithily short scenes with juddering documentary-style camera work, this series sets out to be (and pretty much succeeds in capturing) small town Middle American reality.

However, with a cast of characters that includes the All American quarterback, his nervous back-up, the heavy drinking full-back, assorted girlfriends/cheerleaders and a whole town expecting their boys to win, Win, WIN, that reality is a dramatically heightened white-knuckle ride right along the raw edge of the emotions.

What's more, this up-close-and-personal filming style brings a sense of honesty to the football sequences that puts you right inside the action.

You'll cheer, you'll cry, you'll wince and rub your shoulder. In one scene, Taylor and a former coaching boss bat the phrase 'it's only football' back across to each other, both of them doing so through hollow laughter.

They know there's nothing 'only' about it, as indeed does this terrific series.

Next Saturday, the latest hit off the stellar HBO production line debuts here, brought to us by some serious showbiz heavyweights.

Luck is a horseracing drama series that combines the talents of actors Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, producer/director Michael Mann and producer/writer David Milch (NYPD Blue and Deadwood) and does not hold back in depicting the Sport of Kings as the sport of crooks, cheats and killers.

The opening scene shows us Ace Bernstein (Hoffman) leaving prison, but then takes no time in whisking us out to the track in the bright California sunshine, where lurking in the shadows are dubious agents, corrupt officials, questionable stable owners and sleazy punters.

But it also gives us Nolte (once the muscular star of arguably the best-ever film about American football, North Dallas Forty) as soft and gentle owner Walter Smith who retains a passion for his horses and belief in the beauty and purity of his sport – most elegantly illustrated with the handsome filming of these incredible animals when they are, in particular, around him.

Visually this couldn't be more different from Friday Night Lights, in particular with Saturday's pilot episode as Mann as a film director is the stuff of legend when it comes to sumptuous splashes of colour across a screen.

But when it gets to the action, Luck is also more than happy to get mud in your eye.

For the racing sequences, we are right in the saddle as jockey and horse do battle to get off the rail, take the outside line and ultimately put a flared nose first across the finishing line.

The sense of pace and power is extraordinary and works brilliantly in contrast to non-racing scenes, where much of the dialogue is mumbled, jargon-driven small talk, but all the more compelling for it.

Okay, these shows may not be able replace the drama of a 35-yard piledriver or steepling six, but (to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men) it'll more than do until the real drama gets here.


Thursday on Sky 1, at Laureus World Sports Awards (recorded three days prior) host Clive Owen asks the audience 'to excuse me if I seem a little nervous tonight. Liverpool are kicking off in 20 minutes and we badly need the win'….

Bradley Walsh's character DI Ronnie Brooks was not so lucky in ITV's Law & Order: UK . Pesky murder case meant he missed out on a seat in a box at Upton Park and a former suspect then tells him 'we beat the Hammers 2-0.'

Sunday on ITV4 at half-time in Africa Cup of Nations and Matt Smith laughs nervously and says 'be careful with the hair there, Herve' as Zambia's preening coach Renard slaps one of his players across the chest in a slow-motion action replay…