'Friday Night Lights,' Season 4, Episode 1: 'So what’s it like being the guy who used to be Tim Riggins?'
High school tales and coming-of-age stories typically have some sort of resolution. Be it college, a new job opportunity, a wedding or just a dance with a crush, it’s par for the course that a sense of optimism will color the world that will be explored off-screen.The fourth season of “Friday Night Lights” is what happens when everyone wakes up, and idealism once again becomes a daily fight. “Friday Night Lights” returned to DirecTV tonight as something of a new show, complete with a host of fresh faces and plenty of old ones in refreshingly unfamiliar terrain.
Thanks to a clever plotline that involved a redistricting of the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, “Friday Night Lights,” in many ways, is back to square one. Fired, unfairly, from his job coaching the Dillon High Panthers, Kyle Chandler’s Eric Taylor is now two seasons removed from a college gig in Austin. Taylor is starting over, heading a team of unfit and unruly kids at the lower-class and under-funded East Dillon High -- some of whom spend more time running from the law than outgunning opponents.
“It’s rough,” jokes senior Landy Clarke (Jesse Plemons) of his move to East Dillon. “I’m constantly ready. I’ve got a piece on me at all times.”
Perhaps more so than ever, the plot shifts open “Friday Night Lights” to more deeply explore the social-economic and racial undertones that the series has handled deftly over its three seasons.
Returning, thankfully, to the Season 4 is last season’s standout Stephanie Hunt, whose indie-rock Devin is the pitch-perfect awkward geek. Referring to her mother’s ridiculous threats to keep her out of East Dillon, she relays that her mom “would die” before allowing her daughter to move. “I think hunger strike, probably,” she says with an understated sarcasm.
“Friday Night Lights” doesn’t stereotype, but it does know how to depict fear. “That hellhole with that element” is how the parent rants about the prospect of her child being moved to East Dillon High.
Yet “Friday Night Lights” isn’t about to sacrifice the personal for the big picture. The key line -- and indeed, the key moment -- arrives early on in the episode. Taylor Kitsch’s bad-ish boy heartthrob Tim Riggins has thrown his college books out the window and retreated back to small-town life. His rugged good looks and quick responses can still net him a woman in a matter of moments, but cheerleaders are a thing of the past.
“So what’s it like being the guy who used to be Tim Riggins?” The question comes from Madison Burge’s Becky Sproles, who needs a lift to school the morning after Riggins spends the night with her dead-end bartender mother. “Way to go, 33,” she mock salutes him.
The past serves as a haunting reminder for every returning character on “Friday Night Lights,” as series veterans struggle to define themselves outside of the protected universe of Panther football. Post-graduation, the adult world is one filled with nothing but uncertainty and declining salaries.
Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) was once the unlikeliest of high school heroes, and now he’s a delivery boy for Panther Pizza, having turned down a shot at art school in Chicago. Already humbled, tonight he got humiliated, as rich hotshot J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), showing off a newfound -- and much-needed -- arrogance, cut him down: “So you make, like, your girlfriend deliver pizza with you all the time?”Taylor’s wife, Connie Britton’s Tami, remains the principal of Dillon High, now having to work with the same boosters who forced her husband out of the school. She takes satisfaction in the small victories, such as calling tails when asked to choose in a pregame coin toss, but it’s J.D’s dad, D.W. Moffett’s Joe McCoy, who’s clearly calling the shots, owning a smirk worth millions.
She’s also become the target of the town’s hate. Having once championed the very redistricting that ultimately paved the way for her husband to have to accept a lower-paying gig across town, the Dillon residents are ready to have her head for reopening what is considered a substandard high school. When her daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), expresses a desire to transfer to East Dillon, Tami is forced to confront her moral high ground, and the writers smartly withhold a solution from her.
Back at East Dillion, Taylor’s Lions have a field littered with potholes rather than one with Panther-branded golf carts. He also loses a coach when it becomes clear the Lions won’t be readily disciplined. Later, Taylor loses half the team after a stern speech fails to bring a settlement to a racially charged fight.
Unlike the Panthers, whose players dream of being Trojans or Longhorns, the East Dillon Lions aren’t impressed by Taylor’s locker-room talk, though the season premiere contained a number of knockout coach speeches. How Taylor adjusts should make for fascinating drama, especially if executive producer Peter Berg and show runner Jason Katims take advantage of the two-season renewal and give the storylines room to breathe.
Losing, on field and off, is embraced in the season premiere. The Lions are bad, so bad they forfeit a game for the safety of their players. Heck, as for rock bottom, Taylor’s Lions are still looking up at it. But if the Season 4 premiere is any indication, rooting for the underdogs won’t be difficult at all.
Other tidbits from the Season 4 premiere:
On the subject of newcomers: The above post didn't spend any time discussing Michael B. Jordan's Vince. That's not for lack of an impression. On the contrary, it's clear that Vince will be a Season 4 centerpiece as the delinquent on the redemptive path. Expect plenty of Show Tracker discussion on Vince as we learn more about his character. For tonight, however, the new cast member who surprised the most was Russell DeGrazier's coach Stan. A Coach Taylor fanboy, Stan can barely contain his excitement at being rescued from his going-nowhere job at Sears, even if it's just on a volunteer basis at this point, and does little more than echo Taylor's statements with a yelp. But keep an eye on him, as he won't be comic relief all season. But the season premiere's funniest moment? That was when Vince barked a line of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
A plea: Although not even the most hopeless of romantics would ever expect Tim Riggins and Minka Kelly's Lyla Garrity to stay together while she's away at college, can we keep the relationship between Riggins and Becky more on the nonflirty tip? The two will become closer as the season progresses, but hopefully that doesn't mean Riggins will have a romantic relationship with mother and daughter.
A subtle moment from Buddy Garrity: No longer King of the Boosters with the McCoys in town, Buddy's grip on Panther football appears to be waning. The oft-misguided Garrity (Brad Leland) doesn't have much screen time in the premiere, but his moment on camera is an important one: He's seen hustling after the new Panthers royalty as they're flying around the field on a golf cart. His loyalties will change before too long, no doubt.
-- Todd Martens
Top photo: Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins. Middle photo: Zach Gilford's Matt Saracen and Aimee Teegarden's Julie Taylor. Bottom photo: Kyle Chandler's Eric Taylor. Credits: DirecTV