Friday, February 19, 2010

TV Tweets Special: FNL Season 4 Recap

Another football season for the Dillon Lions came to close last week. Yes, the Lions. Of East Dillon to be exact.
Say what, now?The great thing about DirectTV stepping up to save Friday Night Lights from almost-certain cancellation after it's second season is that it picked the show up not for one, but for three additional seasons. So, at the end of season 3 last year, the showrunners shook things up in a big way by literally splitting Dillon, Texas, in half. Our old standby Panthers, who we'd become so fond of over the past three seasons, were transformed into the hated West Dillon Panthers. Meanwhile, newly ousted Coach Taylor was tasked to construct the lowly East Dillon Lions from bottom up on the other side of town.
It was a rather genius ploy by the writers. Taking Eric Taylor, who despite commanding the Panthers to two state championships in three years was still seen as an underdog by the audience, and tossing him into the perhaps the most difficult position a high school football coach can be put in -- building a winning program from absolutely nothing with kids, who in many instances, had never formally played the game before -- then allow the resulting hardships to be overcome.
At worst, I rate Friday Night Lights as the second-best program currently on television. Although it gets billed as a show about a high school football team -- which it is -- it's really a thorough examination of the struggles in small-town America and how the people there find solace in faith, football and each other to get by.
This small town is fictional Dillon, located in a rural area of the Lone Star State, but aside from some local color, it could be just about anywhere. Over the show's four years, it has examined complex issues such as class, race, religion, divorce, gang violence, drug addition, paraplegic life, parenthood, teen pregnancy and first love, to name a few. Perhaps the one subject it's danced around would be alcoholism, but it hasn't celebrated underage drinking outright, so I'll only give them a slap on the wrist for that one.
WARNING - Major season 4 spoilers from here on out!!!

As great as the FNL is overall, and this season in particular was, I still have some issues with what went down in season 4.
-- No Tyra. I love me some Tyra. One last glimpse of Mrs. Jeter was a nice consolation, however.
-- I felt Matt driving off to Chicago after his father's death would have been a wonderful goodbye for him, ala the mini arcs of Smash going to college and Jason Street moving east from last season. Instead, we were force-fed the inevitable breakup with Julie, which I'm sure some of the audience needed, but when I think of the time they could have devoted to other storylines, it sticks out as particularly unnecessary.
-- I know Landry can't get the girl all the time, so that didn't bother me much, but did they have to pair Jess off with Vince? It was just too obvious of a choice for them to make, in my book. On the flip side, they do have to build the new characters for next season as the original cast slowly move away from Dillon, so fleshing out their characters was necessary, I suppose.
-- While Tim and Becky's partnership was a bit rushed (I mean, she's not Lyla, but it makes sense for Riggs to have a solid B option when/if he comes back), the off-camera excursion between new characters Luke and Becky was totally unacceptable, especially considering how that pregnancy affected so many other characters by the close of the season. An easy remedy would have been if they had given us less Matt and more of the Luke/Becky relationship.
-- Once again, not enough Buddy. This will always be a problem for the show. You can never have enough Buddy.

And then there were the things that played out beautifully.
-- Eric and Tami's marriage continues to be the best relationship on tv. Did you really think Glen's infatuation would turn into anything? I didn't. It was a bit annoying that they even lightly entertained this notion, but it was all worth it just to have Coach's reaction. This may be my favorite thing about the show: having a realistic marriage with disagreements and short-term displeasure surrounded by adult discussion, undying support and genuine love. If they ever present some sort of infidelity situation like any cookie-cutter tv drama might, I may be propelled to abandon the show.
-- The emergence of Tink. I'm not sure if Landry will be back next year (he could easily just leave for college like Tyra), but if he isn't, I feel Tinker, the giant O-lineman who has a wealth of street smarts and is just a flat-out, stand-up dude, could fill the void, if written correctly. Please use Tink liberally in season 5, FNL writing staff.
-- I actually cared about the new cast members. I assumed I was going to miss Street, Smash and the other old favorites too much, but the newbies won me over. Obviously, there were some things involving them I didn't like that I've already discussed, but I'm now fully invested in the futures of Jess, Vince, Luke and Becky for next year. Kudos to the show for that unlikely accomplishment.
-- Tim Riggins. Now that he's getting some play on the silver screen, I didn't think we'd get to see Taylor Kitsch in each and every episode this year. His send-off was appropriate, and there was finally some consequence for someone on the show when they broke the law. If this was the last of Riggs, I can live with it.
Despite my gripes, FNL is still firmly planted as a great series in my mind. It has never lost it's heart and when it takes an unrealistic turn (anything involving legalities tends to be suspect), it's usually forgivable because you really don't want these characters to be bogged down in any way.
Like many of its characters, the show itself perseveres through the rigorous annals brought forth by the obstacles, often resulting in triumph. It's hard not to enjoying rooting for it.
For you non-DirectTV subscribers out there, NBC will re-air season 4 later this spring.
As always, you can follow me at LowBrowJon to get my latest QWERTY contemplations, as well as other LBM updates.

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