Friday Night Lights Season Premiere: Home-Field Disadvantage

By
Photo: DIRECTV/NBC Universal
Episode Title
East of Dillon
Season
4
Episode
1

Editor’s note: This recap was published when DirecTV originally aired the episode, in October.

The fourth season premiere of Friday Night Lights finds a town in conflict and a show rejuvenated. When last we saw dusty Dillon, Texas, the pigskin-crazed hamlet had been split in two and saintly Coach Taylor had been drummed out of his job thanks to the machinations of big-chinned son-abuser Joe McCoy. Insult to injury: He’d been replaced by his ambitious offensive coordinator, the proof-the-writers-know-how-to-Wikipedia–“Dallas Cowboys”–named Wade Aikman.

We pick up the action, as usual, at the beginning of the school year. Only this time, Coach is in his new digs at rundown East Dillon High, where the most exciting thing to be found in the locker room is a raccoon. Mrs. Coach (sorry, PRINCIPAL Coach) is still running the show at Dillon (Dillon Prime?) where she has to put up with parents furious about their children being forced to attend rough-and-tumble East Dillon. (As filmed by show creator and Hollywood bigshot Peter Berg, East Dillon is to Dillon sorta like Chino is to Seth Cohen’s Pool House). Instead of seeing her husband daily, she has to deal with smug Coach Aikman, smugger Joe McCoy, and, worst of all, sad Buddy Garrity. (Buddy Garrity isn’t meant to be sad, Universe! Tipsy, maybe. Barbecuing, certainly. And now that Lyla’s away at college, we’ll allow him the odd night out at the Landing Strip. Whatever it takes to keep Buddy smiling!)

Coach tries to instill some of his trademark hard-nosed decency into the ragtag group of recruits he’s got at East Dillon, with mixed results: Many of them are fat, all of them want to play quarterback, and one has crazy eyes and won’t take off his necklace for a weigh-in. Call us paranoid, but we think this fellow foreshadows some trouble! The only good egg on the East Dillon Lions is old friend Landry. Poor Landry! He’s the plotline punching bag of the show, its Jennie Garth. First he’s a nerd. Then he actually gets the hot chick, only to wind up killing someone to protect her during the Season That Shall Not Be Named (hint: two). Then Devon, the hot bassist of his awesome band, Crucifictorious, admits to being gay (thankfully she’s also been packed off to East Dillon). Then his friends all graduate because he’s been ret-conned into being younger than they are. Even Grandma Saracen gets into the act this episode, calling him a “funny-looking creature.” Let Landry live, people!

But wait! What’s this? After a discouraging (and hilarious) eighteen minutes of practice, Coach is visited by the cops, who deliver to him a savior: Vince Howard, a rail-thin speedster down to his last strike with the law. (And, yes, if Vince looks familiar to you, he should, as he finally provides an answer to D’Angelo Barksdale’s haunting question from season one of The Wire: “Where Wallace at?” He’s right here! Playing running back!)

Meanwhile, Tim Riggins is all at college getting talked at by teachers or somesuch. But screw that Odyssey jive, prof! He’s Tim Riggins! Tim Riggins ain’t cut out for no book learnin’! So, in about as much time as it takes him to pound a beer or bag a MILF, Riggins is back in his pickup truck, tossing his textbooks out the window like cigarette butts. (That’ll show you, brain!)

Tim (of course) races home to be with his awesomely short brother Billy and Billy's wife, the very-pregnant Mindy. Tim (of course) wants nothing more than to hang out and drink beers and eat tater tots (“tater me!” he drawls. Catchphrase alert!) and fix trucks at his brother’s shop. Mindy wants no part of this. And so the brothers paint the nursery “puke” colors and then they fight and scrap and Billy tells Tim to leave. And Tim makes his sad Canadian pouty face that makes women melt, but Billy is somehow resistant to it (probably because he has family immunity or because he is too short to see it directly). And then Tim leaves and bags a MILF bartender. So at least he has that going for him.

Speaking of people who should be in college, what’s up with YOU, Matt Saracen? Sure we’re happy to see you, but really, delivering pizzas? To grade-A pricks like JD McCoy? We’re sure Julie Taylor is a peach and all, but you deserve the Art Institute of Chicago! Not Dillon Tech, where teachers want you to do something “productive” with your art, like, uh, “metalworks.” (Coming this fall to DirecTV: Matt Saracen: Blacksmith!)

On the topic of JD: The actor who plays him, Jeremy Sumpter, definitely spent his off-season taking graduate-level classes in smarm at Julliard (famous alumnae: James Spader, Timothy Olyphant) because man, is he smarmy! Now that he’s top dog on campus, he belittles Matt, pounds beers at a backyard party, and then hits on and threatens young Julie. Which, of course, leads to some fisticuffs between last year’s QB1 and QB2. “Coach just felt sorry for you!” the daddy’s boy yells at Matt after they’ve been pulled apart. Matt seethes and Julie gets annoyed at him for some reason (Hello! He just defended you!). “Aren’t you supposed to turn the other cheek, in your typical Matt Saracen kinda way?” asks Landry, a.k.a. the audience, later, as he and Matt recreate a beloved Levitra commercial by tossing a football through a tire swing. For the sake of drama, let’s hope not!

For this week, though, the focus is on the hapless Lions. Aided only by an overeager (and overwritten) Sears salesman turned assistant coach and one “that guy” member of his old staff, Coach Taylor is clearly in for the challenge of his life. First, the team is terrible. Then Crazy Eyes Necklace Guy picks a fight with Landry (Landry!), leading to a mass walkout. At game time, Coach does a typical Coach speech about the joy of the game and etc. And young Vince has a good kickoff return. And then it gets all Little Bighorn out there on the broken-down field. At halftime, with the score 48-0 and his overmatched, bleeding kids looking like they just stepped out of the Octagon, Coach does something he’s never done: forfeits a game. Heartbreak.

All in all, a rip-roaring start to a new season of a consistently brilliant show, one that feels both familiar and completely new. Building a school (and a football team) from scratch is a bold play for the series, but it seems like the right move, assuming they’ve cast all the new characters as well as they have Vince (we’re looking at YOU Santiago, from the Season That Shall Not Be Named). And while it’s strange to see the familiar Dillon Panther blue look as menacing as it does here (and it’s even MORE strange to see Coach decked out in not-all-that-flattering East Dillon red), it makes sense: For all the hardship this show has documented, the Dillon Panthers always had it pretty good: making the playoffs, getting a jumbotron, Lyla in a cheerleader outfit. Switching our allegiance to the underdog works dramatically and it just might allow the show to grow and survive past its current two-season renewal.

So what did everyone else think? Do you miss Tyra? Do you miss Chili’s Applebee’s? Do you understand how two Panther Pizzas could really run $18 and change? Tater us!

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