I think what I’ve always liked most about Friday Night Lights is that it makes me feel so many different things at once.
That ability was on display in spades in the season four premiere, “East of Dillon”.
Note the wording there in the title. Make no mistake about it, Coach Taylor is a long way from the veritable Eden of Dillon Panther football. When I’m not blogging here at the pulse, I’m a preps sports reporter for newspaper in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and let me tell you that I have seen some lousy football in my time, and boy did showrunner Peter Berg (who returned to the director’s chair for the premiere) nail that feeling of complete and utter hopelessness on the football field. The turnovers, the demoralizing mistakes, the hits that seem even more bone-crushing when you’re getting your ass handed to you on the scoreboard. It was all there for Coach Taylor’s new East Dillon Lions. I thought they’d lose, sure, but I defy anyone to tell me they saw a forfeit coming.
In addition to the daunting new endeavor, we saw that things aren’t going so great for a few of our favorite former Panthers. In your heart of hearts, you didn’t really think Tim Riggins would last at San Antonio State, did you? Neither did he, evidently, as he bolted mid-lecture (the lecture was about a hero’s journey, by the way) and hopped in his pickup back to Dillon. And #33 said goodbye to higher learning as only he can, chucking his books and bag out the window. Classic. But Tim is something of a spirit without a body, as there just isn’t room with Billy and the now knocked-up Mindy. Tim found a quick fix by bedding a local bartender, as he is wont to do. That bartender was played by Alicia Witt, who I certainly hope we didn’t see the last of.
And now move to ex-QB1 Matt Saracen, reduced to slingin’ pizzas to the Dillon faithful. Don’t you want to just give this kid a hug? To make matters worse, his alleged “art” is not good enough to make the cut at Dillon Tech, and Julie is still dragging him to Panther parties. When he got there, fisticuffs ensued with J.D., who assumed the “I’m a star QB so I can be a royal ass to everyone” mantle, vacant since the days of Voodoo Tatum. I have to say, this was the one scene in the otherwise stellar season opener that didn’t quite wash with me. I thought J.D. showed some nice promise last season from a character standpoint: Conflicted, eager, pressured, motivated. Now it appears they’re just going for the straight up douchebag/villain angle. That’s fine I guess, particularly given the new us-against-them sentiment between East and West Dillon, but I just expect more from this show. Also, it’s not very becoming on actor Jeremy Sumpter. Some of those line deliveries were kind of brutal. Here’s hoping he figures it out, or we could be in for a long year.
But, as usual the series shined brightest when it centered around coach. The teams ineptitude was played up for laughs early on, and I became worried we were in for FNL meets Bad News Bears. That fear was quickly assuaged when Landry got into when one of his teammates during coach’s post-practice talk. That led to the best scene of the night, wherein Eric gave the standard ‘If you don’t want to be here, then leave” coach speech, only to have a lot of the Lions take him up on it.
Tami isn’t faring too much better. Still a principal at what is now West Dillon, she’s become a popular piñata for the redistricting that has created a schism in Dillon. In a pretty ballsy showing of loyalty and honor, Julie volunteered herself to head over to East, to further embolden her mother’s stance that the two schools are equals.
To say Eric has his work cut out for him is kind of like saying Tim Riggins enjoys a beer from time to time. And count me right in. I can’t think of another show on TV that can still evoke this kind of dramatic interest after such a crazy upheaval of the given circumstances. For a lesser show, this would be complete disaster, but not for FNL. They’ve done such a great job getting you invested in these characters that you just can’t abandon them right when they need you the most. I suspect that some might be turned off by the shows dramatic shift. “Why would I want to watch these characters I love have such a lousy time?” you might ask, but that’s drama is about, folks. The show isn’t afraid to be honest about what really happens after the game is over and the glory has faded away. It’s not pretty, but it’s sincere.
Some extra points (expect a lot of lousy football puns in this blog on a weekly basis)
- Troubled youth-turned football prodigy Vince was by far the most compelling of the new characters we met. Portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, there’s certainly a lot there to build on there. I’m a little less sold on the bartender’s national anthem-spewing daughter, who seems to have made fast friends with Tim. But it’s early yet.
- I wished that it had been Mac to cross the picket line and join Eric’s staff, but the reasons he gave were legitimate.
- Buddy Garrity continues to be the show’s punching bag. I do believe the man said one line the whole night, but hell if seeing him chase down Wade’s cart with that umbrella and sulking in that coaches’ meeting didn’t have me chortling.
- Sal Traub. We like this.
So, that’s where we’re at. Good to have you back FNL.
So, what did you all think? Are you for or against the drastic changes we’ve already seen. Will the Lions win a game? Hell, will they even get to play a whole game? Sound off below or shoot me an email.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts.
Tags: Friday Night Lights