Friday Night Lights is advertising the return of its season as “The Fifth and Final Season,” and so, I was both heart-warmed and heartbroken to fire up the first episode. Heart-warmed because I am an ardent, crazy fan of the show, and because if there is one fictional universe that I’d like to inhabit, it’s Dillon, Texas (the fine dining of Applebee’s be damned). Also, because I wouldn’t balk at the idea of marrying Tim Riggins (or Coach Taylor). I am thus heartbroken for all of the same reasons. The silver lining, though, is that the cast and writers are proving that they’re intent on closing the show as amazingly as it began: I measure the quality of each episode based on my tear and cheer count, and this episode proved high in both.
Ah, Dillon, Texas. How I have missed you.
We kick off the episode a few months after season four left off…Julie Taylor and Landry are preparing to head off to the greener pastures of college; Tami Taylor has brought her unmatched enthusiasm and positivity as a guidance counselor to the depressing halls of East Dillon; Becky has been dumped with her dad, step-mom and baby sister while her mom works an ambiguous job up north; Vince and Jess are going strong (though she may want to be sure that he’s not cheating on her with Haddie Braverman over on Parenthood); Riggins has three months left on his jail time; and the East Dillon Lions are back – rejuvenated by kicking some Panther ass last season – with a new attitude. Or at least not the same miserable one from last year.
The best part about this show is that it so perfectly captures a group of people who are trying to make the most of their lots. This theme is carried through all of the plotlines of “Expectations.” To begin with, Tami, in her new position as guidance counselor, reaches out to all of the many, many failing kids’ parents at East Dillon. She’s met with derision and failure at just about every turn – from the principal who doesn’t have the resources for her demands to the parents who frankly, just don’t have the time or perhaps the inclination, to envision better lives for their kids. And yet, if anyone can meet adversity and tell it to screw off, it’s Tami Taylor. This will, no doubt, be a theme throughout the season.
Coach, too, is intent not to rest on his laurels. While his assistant coaches sit around listening to Buddy Garrity pontificate about all things football (as Buddy tends to do), Coach stresses, paces and watches game tape. It’s clear from the get-go that the Lions’ previous 2-8 record is not an acceptable outcome for him now.
And it’s not just the Taylors. Strides toward redemption come in surprising places – like in Vince, who is slowly becoming a father figure for Jess’s brother, and like in Billy Riggins, who is hell-bent on doing a 180 with his life, seemingly for his son, though it doesn’t take a shrink to realize he’s also compensating for Tim’s incarceration. Billy approaches Coach Taylor in hopes of landing an assistant coaching job on the team. Huge kudos to Kyle Chandler for his subtly in that scene – what could have been a comical and cartoonish back and forth between the two, instead becomes a perfect blend of empathy and doubt, and a little faith, as well. Which, when I think about it, is exactly what we love most about our Dillon residents: their faith, their compassion, their grit.
Speaking of the team, good old Buddy has his eyes on a new recruit – a new agey basketball player who has the hands and agility of the gods: Hastings Ruckle. (Buddy informs Coach that his name is Welsh.) Now, Hastings doesn’t think much about the game of football, but like nearly everyone else, he falters in the face of Coach Taylor’s persuasiveness (and when the Lions take him to a party and woo him with beer and a bit of Jess’s sweet-talking). Hastings boards the team bus (and thus the team) just in time for the first game. The game scenes are blood-pounding, pulse-raising feats of beauty, as they always are on the show, and after rallying from a three-touchdown deficit, the Lions eke out their first victory of the year. (My cheer count: one.)
It has long been said, however, that this show really isn’t about football, and if there are any lingering doubts, just watch the scenes of the Taylors preparing to say goodbye to Julie. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton kill it, whether they are observing Julie eating her breakfast (my tear count: one) or playing ping pong (my tear count: two) or, in the final scene, when she packs up the car and drives off to her new grown-up life at college (my tear count: three). Over the years, the Taylors have ushered so many kids out into the world, but no goodbye has been as heartfelt or as moving as that of their oldest daughter. It was both gutting and inspiring. As good as any win on the field. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
-The opening credits and accompanying music are enough to choke me up. I love this show that much.
-“I’m sorry Billy, but I’m in prison. I don’t think I can be your number one cheerleader at the moment.” – Tim Riggins
-Crucifictorious makes a brief, albeit, hilarious appearance, and if there has ever been a more realistic teenage garage band on TV, I don’t know what it is.
-“Football is stupid? What’s stupid about football? What football celebrates is teamwork and character. That’s what it celebrates. You live in Texas now. You love the game of football now. You just don’t know it yet.” -Coach Taylor
-“Football is a lot more fun than a physical examination of the colon.” – Coach Taylor
“I guess it depends on the game, now doesn’t it?” – Tami Taylor
-Landry + a strip bar = comic gold.
-Landry + Grandma Sarecen = love.
-Hastings and Jess are totally going to get it on later this season.