There is no better line that sums up season four of Friday Night Lights than, “What’s it like to be the guy who used to be Tim Riggins?” All the returning cast members seemed to be shells of their former selves (with the exception of Tami Taylor who looks will be making her downgrade next season). Tim was an all too familiar site in Texas high school football, they guy who peaks in high school and can’t seem to find his way without it.
Along those lines, Matt Saresen also stays in town only to get mocked by the guy who took his spot on the team when delivering pizza. While their former coach gets forced out of his cushy job of a perennial State contender to the other side of the tracks where he can barely field a team. And the only white students that end up in East Dillon just happen to be Landry Clarke and Julie Taylor, but all their friends graduated anyways.
With all the grand sendoffs over the last two seasons; Jason Street moves closer to his kid, Smash Williams gets a scholarship to play football, Tyra Collette emotional acceptance into UT (yet doesn’t even warrant a mention at her absence at Thanksgiving), Matt riding off into the sunset after the death of his father; it is striking how Tim gets his send off, walking into the sheriff’s office to take full responsibility for the chop shop, so his brother can stay on the outside and raise his boy.
Where most shows are not even able to integrate one new character into a show, Friday Night Lights managed to do just that with three new faces in Dillon. Becky Spoles started out as comedic foil with a sharp tongue to jab Tim Riggins at every turn. But the more we learned about her, the mother who isn’t there enough to the dad who isn’t ever there to her scenes with Tami, she brought the emotional weight I just was not expecting at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping, even with Riggins in prison, she is brought back next season with something to do, and with Tami taking a councilor gig over at East Dillon, it shouldn’t be too hard to do.
On the field, there was Vince Howard, a boy on his last strike, given his last chance at life in exchange for playing football in the newly resurrected Lions. But Vince had a good reason to turn his life to crime, to support his mother who cannot support herself due to her drug habit. It was emotionally wrecking to watch him try to balance his former life of crime, his mother’s struggle with sobriety, being the guy that Coach expects him to be, as well as being the guy that his childhood friend Jess Merriweather can date. That is a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of a high school student and Vince was almost able to pull it all off.
Jess herself seemed to start off as a throwaway character, just an object of Vince and Landry’s affection. But she had her own demons to exercise in the form of her father; a former Lions star that no longer can even watch the game, not even his boys’ peewee games no matter how much Jess tries to persuade him but eventually finds himself rooting for the Lions and his boys with the help of Jess and Coach.
With everyone taken down a notch in the early episodes, redemption was a big theme of the season, most notably that of Coach Taylor. Just two seasons removed from winning a state champion, Taylor is pushed out by a wealthy booster and resigned to take the job at the newly opened East Dillon because the last time he took a job away from his family didn’t work out very well. The transition took him from coaching future college players to former convicts and the road was a bumpy one.
Just yelling “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts…” was not going to work and it took a couple weeks for Coach to realize this. But slowly he won people over, from couple coaches, to Buddy Garrity (who hilariously got the Lions games broadcasted on a Spanish language radio station) to finally the players themselves as coach himself learned that he could not put these players into his system, but to create a new system around them, managing to win a couple games, and the big win against West Dillon (with the Dillon mayor on the Panther’s sideline) with what may have been the first ever game winning field goal in the history of Hollywood created football games. But Landry needed some redemption of his own.
Friday Night Lights gets a on my Terror Alert Scale. You can stream recent episodes on Hulu. You can also download Friday Night Lights on iTunes.