Friday Night Lights, season four -- An early look
by Jonathan Toomey, posted Oct 28th 2009 12:02PM
Entering into its fourth season (and second since the NBC/DirecTV deal), Friday Night Lights is a show in transition on numerous levels. The high school football drama returns tonight to DirecTV's 101 Network at 9 p.m. ET (NBC won't air this season until next summer) and for fans of the show, it's an episode they've long been waiting for.
Ever since the season three finale, as Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) stepped on to the East Dillon Lions decrepit football field, Eric's new home, the tension has been at an all time high in Dillon, Texas. How can Coach Taylor, a man whom many consider to be a high school football wunderkind, start from scratch with a team that doesn't even exist yet?
Of course, there's your answer right there -- the man is a wunderkind and he does get to craft his new team from the bottom up. However, that doesn't mean it's supposed to be easy and in tonight's premiere, aptly titled "East of Dillon," Coach Eric Taylor is finally put to the test. Lousy playing facilities, poorly educated youth who are more apt to be running from the cops than an offensive lineman, and just an overall disinterest from a part of town that didn't even want the redistricting to happen in the first place all make up the East Dillon atmosphere Eric has been banished to.
Meanwhile, life goes on across the border and the Dillon Panthers, now run by Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffet) and Coach Wade Aikman (Drew Waters) -- the two men who ran Eric out -- are prepping for the new season as usual. The only difference? Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), the team's long time sponsor and booster, is no longer as relevant as he used to be. Joe has all the money in the world and his son, J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter), is now starting QB. There's no one to challenge any of them and even Tami, who's still principal, can't do any much about it. Though, she does have a bit of fun messing with Wade in the season opener.
The real beauty of Friday Night Lights has always been its authenticity, especially when it comes to handling a character's departure to make way for fresh blood. No one stays around forever and Dillon High doesn't have one of those nine year programs so often seen on TV shows. As a result, dramatic moments are just that -- dramatic -- and not cheesy. The show has always done a great job at capturing the heartache that comes with saying goodbye.
Fan favorites are still around though. Taylor Kitsch's Tim Riggins gives new meaning to the schoolyard battle cry "no more pencils, no more books" after only one day of college lectures and Zach Gilford's Matt Saracen, who gave up a chance to go to art school in Chicago to instead take care of his grandmother, has been relegated to townie status, delivering pizzas to stay afloat. Gilford does an especially good job in the premiere, capturing Matt's frustrations with being a nobody when he had the chance to be somebody. He's living the life he never wanted, lost in the sea of local hicks, alcoholics, and other former high-school stars who never amounted to anything.
Matt's delivery route takes him to the McCoy mansion and the once timid J.D. has become somewhat arrogant in the off-season. Can't blame him to some extent -- Matt was the QB who replaced him in the the previous season's deciding game and now the team is his, and his alone.
One of the new faces is Eric's phenom running back Vince Howard, played by The Wire's Michael B. Jordan. As long as Eric can keep Vince's proclivity for petty crimes in check, Vince is sure to factor in greatly to the inevitable showdown between the Lions and Panthers by season's end.
Getting to that game will be the tough part though. With no one on his side and a team of misfits who all want to try out for the QB slot, Eric has a lot of work to do and after tonight's shocking (and supremely satisfying) conclusion, he's going to have even more. In the meantime, in the immortal words of Slammin' Sammy Meade, "Feed the dogs, spit the fire, lock up your daughters, sit down and shut up, because it's game time, people!"
[Watch clips of Friday Night Lights on SlashControl.]