Friday Night Lights: The Next Generation

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is currently debuting new episodes from its 4th season exclusively on DirecTV’s The 101 Network Wednesdays at 9PM ET/PT. The series will air on NBC sometime in 2010 (hopefully sooner rather than later!).

I think it was very beneficial for me to have watched the first two episodes back to back. The first hour kind of left me with hope, but also without. Strange feeling. But after the 2nd hour, it was back to Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.

It was probably a combination of the new faces, new setting, and missing some of our old friends that left with me that strange end of hour 1 feeling.

Regardless, Friday Night Lights is back and like many critics have pointed out, almost like a new series, but in a good way.

A little bit of a reset and definitely a perfect time to introduce the show to new viewers. So if you know of anyone who still hasn’t discovered the show, now’s a good time to do it. There’s the familiarity and stories that current fans look forward to and there’s the new stories that anyone can easily get into.

Over the summer, the news of four new regular cast members was excitedly reported around the internets including the casting of two familiar names to me, Michael B. Jordan (All My Children) and Matt Lauria (Lipstick Jungle).

But even though I read the news and even looked up these new Dillon arrivals, I watched the first two episodes and met these four new characters like I had just been introduced to them and had never seen them before.

So first impressions on the newest Dillon residents?

Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan) – Well, he’s no Smash Williams and apparently his mother is far from being Mama Smash as well. But that gives his character a lot to work with the next two seasons. The at first unwilling, but seemingly naturally gifted athlete who may actually want to part of a group, a family that keeps him out of the trouble he’s been in. At the end of episode 1, you didn’t get that feeling, but after episode 2, you now think, Hmm, he might actually come around. It is definitely a character we haven’t seen on FNL yet and it should be interesting.

Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett) – Debuts in the 2nd episode and not a very unique character for Dillon, Texas. Sort of a mix of Tyra and the still missing person/vanished Waverly (Smash’s never mentioned season 1 girlfriend), I didn’t get a good feel for what her character will give that’s new. It was clear she’d be getting close to Landry now that he’s loveless and it seems her father either disapproves she’s friends with a white guy or he disapproves that she is not concentrating on any combination of school, work, and family. We’ll see.

Becky Sproles (Madison Burge) – At first I thought I was watching Adrianne Palicki’s little sister. They looked almost alike. But it looks like Tim’s got another new lady friend. She’s spunky and not afraid to go for what she wants (Tim Riggins?), but what else could there be?

Neither of the new female characters really stood out, but then again both Lyla and especially Tyra developed a great deal during their time into very strong and deep characters.

Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) – I must have read the early character description wrong or was on a whole other world, but I was very surprised by how his character turned out. Going into the season and seeing him for the first time at J.D.’s party, I was expecting a cocky, trust fund kid who would somehow end up transferring from West to East Dillon and then act like a prick the rest of the way until Coach knocks some sense into him. Boy was I wrong! Almost completely the opposite, his first full scene was the one of Principal Mrs. Coach coming to ask him about his address and then breaking the bad news about having to transfer. Wow. Definitely did not foresee those tears.

While I agree with some in the FNL fandom that the scene seemed awkward on first viewing, looking back, I thought it made sense and was a very striking second first impression of Luke. But that feeling only came after seeing another surprising scene having him show up at Coach’s special night practice. The only one at first! Naïve-enough to still be wearing his blue Panthers shirt, but genuinely ready to hit the ground running with his new team. The next Matt Saracen? Well, sure seems like it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. His character was a pleasant surprise. And probably my favorite of the four new regulars. Completely unexpected and now, unlike the other three, I have no idea where the show will take the character. Which is a very good thing.

Vince will turn his back on a life of crime and become a good football player (come on, becoming the next Smash Williams is too tall an order, yeah?). Jess, gets close with Landry, her dad isn’t happy; us against the world type of situation? Becky… either she gets into Tim’s pants or the other way around. But Luke? Who knows?!

And how about this new J.D. McCoy kid? What a jerk, yeah? Oh wait… J.D. was introduced last season, or is this a different kid? Well, what a year it’s been for him I guess. Some of his father’s doucheiness rubbing off? Who, speaking of, continues to be 5x the annoying small-town evil-doer than Buddy Garrity ever was.

For all the new arrivals, we also still have the familiar faces. Coach and Mrs. Coach are as awesome as ever. Connie Britton was outstanding in every scene; whether it was Principal Mrs. Coach standing at the podium taking in all the boos, Principal Mrs. Coach giving a sensitive high schooler heartbreaking news, Principal Tami Taylor standing up to the boosters, and just plain Mrs. Coach sitting on a couch with Coach… just a beautiful performance.

Oh and the coin toss… even though you knew she would do something like that, it didn’t make it any less awesome.

And Kyle Chandler… you could absolutely feel Coach’s frustration at not just having been shoved out of a job, but actually having faith in a team that doesn’t have faith in him. All until that (what will become a classic) scene of Coach and his new team burning “the past” and moving forward. Just awesome stuff.

Matt and Julie… it might be a rough one. Matt will be more than half of this season’s episode and for arguably the heart of the series to bid farewell, it’s going to be big. So definitely something to look forward to.
And it is always awesome seeing Gramma Saracen… “Landry! Stop throwing the ball, you look like a girl. You’re just a funny lookin’ creature.”

Tim, like we’ve already touched upon, is still Tim (as he says). That scene of Tim offering Coach help and Coach taking him up on that offer seemed so random since nothing came after that. I guess we’ll see more as the weeks go by.

Landry… Could he actually take a leadership role on the Lions? Maybe not your typical team captain, but he seems ready and very willing to take the lead. I have no idea where him and Jess are going though. Tyra is supposed to make an appearance sometime this season so that will be interesting.

And don’t forget Buddy! He seems to have finally found his match in Joe McCoy. He isn’t the honorary team cheerleader he once was and I think it’s only a matter of time before he deflects to the Lions too, though they made a good point about his dealership suffering if he ever went against the Panthers.

Randomly, Mike Leach’s cameo where he spouts off some existential wisdom about pirates or something was actually a little more interesting than Mack Brown’s, if not more entertaining and again, totally random. And awesome!

All in all, Friday Night Lights is back. And for me, with Battlestar Galactica having been flown right into the sun, Friday Night Lights is the outright title holder of “Best Drama on Television.”

Some might say it is too late, but I do sincerely hope the show gets to reach more people in its next two (final?) seasons.

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