|Taylor Kitsch (right, with cast newcomer Madison Burge) returns as Tim Riggins in “Friday Night Lights.’’ (NBC)|
In season 4, ‘Lights’ continues to shine
Sometimes when I’m watching “Friday Night Lights,’’ and I’ve got a big fat lump in my throat, I think, This is the best TV show ever. Ever. “Friday Night Lights’’ brings on the kind of viewing experience that heightens your emotional responses, makes you feel things more strongly as you watch. A rousing mix of grim small-town realism, Texas romanticism, moments of heroism, and the inspiring power of dreams, the show has a way of making your heart swell.
After the credits, I generally collect myself and remember “Mad Men,’’ and “The Wire,’’ and “The Sopranos,’’ and 10 other TV landmarks. So no, I don’t really think “Friday Night Lights’’ is the single best show ever on TV. But the NBC series certainly has been one of TV’s most emotionally honest and stirring works, and it remains so as it enters its fourth season tonight at 8 on Channel 7. Go ahead, watch the premiere, or
Indeed, my best answer to why “Friday Night Lights’’ has never become the It Show, despite critical pleas and the show’s rabid fan base, is that same emotional quality. “Friday Night Lights’’ is an old-fashioned teen drama, in that it is as sincere as Texas is wide. This is a series about kids seeking hope amid heartbreak, about parents working for redemption after making bad choices, about the passionate mentoring of football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and principal Tami Taylor (Connie Britton). There is nothing hip about it, nothing calling out to urban viewers in the manner of, say, “Gossip Girl.’’ I’m betting the cellphone reception in the fictional town of Dillon is pretty spotty. What I mean is, “Friday Night Lights’’ is proudly old school — as if Thomas Hardy were screenwriting an American teen drama.
Old school, but still vital. This new 12-episode season, which has already aired on DirecTV per the satellite company’s split-costs deal with NBC, is a treat. A number of central characters from the early years are gone, notably wheelchair-bound quarterback Jason, the once pessimistic Tyra, and the hot-headed Smash. But the series loses nothing by their absence, as the hand-held cameras turn their probing eyes onto the remaining characters and some new Dillon faces. The powerful, naturalistic approach of “Friday Night Lights,’’ with its straight-ahead storytelling style and its semi-improvised acting, transcends the ever-changing cast.
Returning characters Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Landry (Jesse Plemons) continue to engage, each good examples of the way “Friday Night Lights’’ has created unique teen characters at a time when TV is famous for issuing cookie-cutter kids. But this season surely belongs to Tim Riggins, played with deceptive depth by pretty boy Taylor Kitsch. Tim is the heart and soul of the show, as he returns to Dillon tonight and gives up his college football scholarship. He moves slowly and surely, unless you know him; then you understand just how confused and lost he is behind his pinup looks. Like a number of “Friday Night Lights’’ characters, Tim only appears to be a stereotype.
The season’s newcomers revolve around the poor, ethnically diverse community of East Dillon, where Eric Taylor is the new coach. He is dealing with kids, including Vince (Michael B. Jordan), who aren’t motivated, and a school that places no value on sports. The redistricting of Dillon forces a few students, including star player Luke (Matt Lauria) and Landry, to transfer from West to East Dillon High, leading to all kinds of conflict among the parents.
In those tense story lines, “Friday Night Lights’’ continues to dive into issues that many shows might dodge: racial tensions, slack parenting, budgetary shortages that cut into education. With plenty of frankness and compassion, the “Friday Night Lights’’ writers continue to provide Friday night with its brightest light.