By Ken Tucker
Updated January 09, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Two-a-Days Sarah Garcia

When it premiered on MTV in August 2006, Two-A-Days was a merciful breath of fresh air. Relief from the putrid selfishness that befouls shows like My Super Sweet 16 and recent editions of The Real World was found in this documentary series about the blood, sweat, and tears shed by the members of the Hoover, Ala., championship high school football team, the Buccaneers. You didn’t have to be a pigskin fan — believe me — to get caught up in the drama of botched passes on and off the field, as players grappled with brutally tough training, heartbreaking school sweethearts, and the looming prospect of college.

But in the time it’s taken to get Two-A-Days onto DVD, something happened. Friday Night Lights appeared last fall on NBC, giving us the rare opportunity to compare reality TV and scripted drama about the same subject, and it turns out that reality TV just can’t compete. Two-A-Days‘ chiseled star safety, Alex, is cute, but he’s no match for FNL‘s halting quarterback Matt Saracen (played by Zach Gilford).

Another thing you notice about Two-A-Days when you watch a bunch of episodes in a row without commercials is how overedited the show is: The filmmakers have to strain to make each entry last 20 minutes — larding it with recaps and rerunning key scenes over and over. And even all their flashy editing can’t hide the fact that when the protagonists are unscripted nonactors, they tend to be inarticulate, depressing reminders of how much American schools value sports over book learnin’.

The one area in which Two-A-Days does equal FNL is in its coaching. The Buccaneers’ coach Rush Propst has a bellowing eloquence that’s as dramatically effective as the laconic common sense dispensed by actor Kyle Chandler (a.k.a. Coach Taylor). I love it when Propst says of his boys with a drawling growl, ”These people are starved for discipline. Starved. ” If only these students’ English teachers felt the same way: One cheerleader, working on a banner to read ”Revenge Is Sweet,” thinks the word might be spelled s-w-e-a-t.

There’s still a good amount of pleasure to be taken from Two-A-Days, and the skimpy extras suggest the producers know where most of it resides — Coach Propst rates his own featurette collecting his fiery locker-room speeches. The guy is smart and handsome; and if a reality-show contestant like Elisabeth Hasselbeck can get a job on The View, seems Propst would at the least make a very engaging pro-ball color commentator. Give him Joe Theismann’s job on Monday Night Football — they’re starved for discipline on that broadcast.