(I originally posted this review back when "Friday Night Lights" was doing its exclusive DirecTV run. The comments from that period have been preserved. For the sake of people who are watching the episodes as they air on NBC, I will ask anyone commenting from this point forward to only discuss plot events up to the episode in question. Do not discuss, or even allude to, anything that has yet to air on NBC. Thank you.)
"Friday Night Lights" is back on NBC, and I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as water is meant to be in my brother's pants...
"I do not like the way this is starting out." -Coach
As has been the case for these DirecTV seasons of "FNL," there are a lot of beginnings and endings going on simultaneously in the season premiere. Landry and Julie are spending their final days in Dillon before leaving for college (Lance to Rice, Julie to the fictional Burleson University), and Tim is counting down the three months he has left on the prison sentence he began at the end of last season. At the same time, a new football season is upon us, which brings us a new player in the weirdly-named Hastings Ruckle, Tami proves remarkably tone deaf as she begins her new job at East Dillon, Becky begins a new living situation with Billy and Mindy and Billy in turn forces his way onto Eric's suddenly-packed coaching staff.
Pile on top of that a personal subplot involving Jess and her brothers, and an extended football sequence where the Lions stun the defending state champs thanks in part to a devastating block by Luke(*), and you have yourself a very busy, but only sometimes engaging, episode.
(*) Was I the only one, by the way, who saw that hit and immediately flashed to Jason Street being paralyzed in the series pilot? The circumstances weren't identical, but they were close.
The best parts, unsurprisingly, involved our three high school alums. That's not a knock on the newbies, whom I quite like; it's just that Tim, Landry and Julie have had longer to form emotional attachments. So I felt most moved watching Tim look haunted and empty as he talked to Billy, or as Eric told Julie how much he misses getting sick eating Girl Scout cookies with her. And I laughed the most at Crucifictorious' triumphant farewell show (complete with a super-fan singing along to all the songs!) and then a drunk and happy Landry getting a lap-dance at the Landing Strip and quoting "The Outsiders" as he declares, "You stay golden, Julie Taylor."
On the other hand, my familiarity with Tami Taylor, and with the apparent universe of Dillon, TX, got in the way of enjoying her story. As I talked about last year, and in yesterday's pre-season review, the writers are maddeningly inconsistent about the nature of East Dillon High and its students. Sometimes, it's a school that was closed for decades, reopened a year ago, and filled with the poor and/or undesirable Dillon High students whom Buddy and Joe McCoy didn't care about. At other times, the faculty and students have been at East Dillon all this time, like some kind of West Texas version of Brigadoon that only pops up on occasion to create tension for the neighbors. Tami being so naive about the problems of these kids, and of the reception her suggestions would get from the East Dillon staff, fits the Brigadoon theory, but it's a distraction. And even if we're going to play along and act like none of these people were ever at the school across town, shouldn't we still expect Tami to be a little smarter and more politically-savvy than she seems here?
Of the subplots involving the current students, the strongest was probably Becky's. The living arrangement is odd, with her mom working on a casino boat while her dad and his new family are in the house, but I wouldn't be surprised if his name were still on the place, mom needed someone to watch Becky, etc., etc. And the episode with her dad last season showed how badly Becky wanted him to be part of the family again, which in turn made it extra-rough when she had to watch him be part of an entirely different family, with her as an unwanted tenant. Some good work from Madison Burge there. Of course, Mindy doesn't want this girl in her house, either, but that's an argument for another day.
And speaking of absentee single parents, I don't know if Steve Harris wasn't available for a while or if the writers just thought it would be interesting to show Jess on her own, having to play surrogate mom to her brothers. The best scene of that subplot actually involved Vince, who knows a thing or twelve about having to be the man of the house - and in a more permanent way than Andre will have to experience.
Overall, a solid but not riveting premiere. No goosebumps ala Eric in the halftime locker room last year, but as always, it's good to be back in Dillon.
Some other thoughts:
• For all the talk about Hastings' great leaping ability, the big touchdown was staged and shot in a way that just made it look like Vince made a great throw, with Hastings well behind (but not really above) the defender.
• Billy as assistant coach has some very high comedy potential.
• Given the size of East Dillon and the nature of high school athletics, wouldn't a bunch of these guys do double-duty on the basketball and football teams? Why would the basketball coach be so uptight about letting Hastings go?
• "He's not the punter. You wouldn't be interested." Ouch, Vince.
• Landry's farewell also gave us a breath visit with Grandma Saracen, and her warmth towards him was a nice contrast to that moment in the series pilot where she tells Matt he should get some better friends.
• Why is Jess not a cheerleader this year? That was her thing.
What did everybody else think?
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