'Friday Night Lights': Season 3's scouting report
"Friday Night Lights" returns on Wednesday -- at least for some of us. The show will air at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's 101 Network, with its 13-episode third season not beginning on NBC until February. But whether you're watching now or are forced to wait until 2009, here's a preseason primer, one that was prepared after viewing Season 3's first two episodes.
1. On the subject of cliffhangers. When "Friday Night Lights" ended last spring, the strike-shortened season was far from resolved.
The basics: Would Tim (Taylor Kitsch) finally wear down Lyla (Minka Kelly)? Was Jason (Scott Porter) going to persuade his one-night-stand to forgo an abortion so he'd become a dad? Would Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) return to his near pro form after his suspension and begin his college football career? Would Landry (Jesse Plemons) and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) actually last as a couple? Had Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) won back the town of Dillon after bolting -- briefly -- for a university coaching job in Austin? Does Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) have academic ambitions beyond being a guidance counselor and a volleyball coach? The show doesn't make its audience wait long for answers. In fact, most are given within the first 10-20 minutes, so come ready to watch. "Friday Night Lights" is on the offensive when it returns, and the surprises come quick.
2. Newcomers, don't be put off by the above paragraph! Yes, the series has two-seasons of deeply developed back stories for most of its characters, but Season 3 is a fresh start of sorts. Rather than an overwhelming montage of past clips, "Friday Night Lights" eases newcomers into the drama. Past developments are woven right into the narrative via an easy-to-follow news conference with Coach Taylor.
3. Renewing the show is clearly a good luck charm. The Dillon, Texas, of "Friday Night Lights" is a fictional town, but the series is rooted in reality, inspired by the film of the same name that itself was inspired by the nonfiction book by H.G. Bissinger. The book followed the Permian High School Panthers of Odessa, Texas, in the late '80s. As for the real-life Panthers of 2008, the NFL hopefuls of Permian High are off to a 4-0 start and just came off a 47-10 blowout.
4. Fans who don't have DirecTV shouldn't panic. When Show Tracker reported that producers were considering multiple versions of the series, taking advantage of fewer content restrictions and the longer run-time on satellite, fans were faced with the unfortunate possibility that the NBC episodes that air in 2009 would be far less superior. But there doesn't appear to be much to fear, at least after viewing the first two episodes of Season 3. The first episode clocks in at about 50 minutes, so a few minutes will indeed have to be trimmed for network commercials, but if Show Tracker were a betting blog, it would guess that much of the cuts would come from the extended football sequence. The second episode is more network-ready at 42 minutes.
5. Music! The second season went out with Wilco's touching "In a Future Age," a lesser-known cut off of "Summerteeth." It's a melancholic lullaby that begins with twinkling digital effects that capture a child-like optimism, and it scored Jason's plea for Erin (Tamara Haasan) to have the baby she's carrying and let him raise it with her. And there's some fine music in the Season 3 premiere, if the song selection doesn't change from the advance disc DirecTV sent out. Expect to hear James Hunter's soulful waltz "Hand It Over" and !!!'s should-be sports anthem "Yadrus."
6. Can we get Brea Grant to sprint off "Heroes"? Grant was nerdy cool as Jean in a few episodes of "Friday Night Lights" last season, playing a horror movie geek with bleached blond hair, and in the words of Matt Saracen (Zach Gillford), she was "God's gift to Landry." Unfortunately, Landry wanted the hot cheerleader instead. And while this preview post won't spoil any of the fine scenes between Landy and Tyra in the first episode, Grant -- and the potential love triangle -- is missed.
7. Nobody gets killed, and nobody goes to Mexico. If the early episodes are any indication, "Friday Night Lights" will have a jam-packed shortened season ahead of itself, and it will be one that will more strictly focus on just how football shapes and influences the town of Dillon. And there's even a touch of politics, with Tami Taylor lashing out at one student who goes too far in her effort to win senior class president. A hint: A vote for her is a "vote for hotness."
8. It's just the season premiere, but ... The first episode of 2008 is directly reminiscent of the first episode of the series. The show goes back to the day-by-day preparations for the Friday evening football game and how the sport manages to invade, distort and influence everyone in the town, be it on personal, academic or political matters. Now if only they can bring back the Explosions in the Sky score.
9. The most enticing topic setup in the season premiere: Academics versus athletics. And it gets even juicer and more complex in the second episode, instantly making up for sending some of its main characters on a Mexico field trip last season.
10. The worst-keep Season 3 surprise: That would be the Tim & Lyla relationship, tipped over here, and photographed up top. It expectedly comes with drama, but the tension is less in the relationship and more within Lyla as she struggles with her desire for bad-boy Tim, her Christian morals and her battle to manage her emotions. It's this kind of inner drama that "Friday Night Lights," when at its best, excels at.
A more detailed post and discussion on the season premiere will appear on Show Tracker later this week.