Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon": Panther Pizza

Quick Take: Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon"
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose moves to the east side of town.

Review: Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon"
(S0401) Friday Night Lights' return is like an old friend coming home, isn't it? And it's been quite a long wait, at least for those of us without DIRECTV (an unusual arrangement has FNL premiering on DIRECTV in the fall followed by an NBC run in the spring).  

And like the spring, we knew that the show was ripe for renewal, with the redistricting in Dillon carving out a new and refreshingly low rent East Dillon where, wouldn't you know it, our hero and motivator-in-chief Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is forced to start all over with a brand new and nearly Bad News Bears-level team. To nail that latter point, it's hilarious to see Coach encountering a raccoon in the trashed East Dillon locker room.

One of the challenges of a show that centers upon high school or college life is that there's a natural graduation point. FNL of course has already lost great and fully formed characters such as Jason Street (Scott Porter) and Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles), and it's to the show's credit that they moved on to make room for characters that were more central to the Taylors and high school and high school football life in a small Texas town.

Because the storyline is now split to an extent between Dillon High and East Dillon (Tami Taylor, played by Connie Britton, is principal at Dillon High, a dynamic which forms a major plot point early on), we need new players for Coach to interact with. Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), long one of my favorite characters, moves over to East as a veteran player, but we also meet Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan, Wallace from The Wire!), a troubled kid who is put on the team through a "cops and jocks" program.

When we meet Vince for the first time, I jotted the following note: What is it about this small town show that makes you care this kid we just met, saw running from the cops, is willing to show up for Coach Taylor at six the next morning ("and that means a quarter to six")?

We also have a new and eccentric assistant coach on our hands, Stan Traub (Russell DeGrazier), who provides some comic relief and in fact reminds me of The Daily Show's Rob Riggle.

In terms of last season's graduating class, we're still spending time with a few of our new grads, and college life ain't going so swell thus far. Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) bails out on college completely on somewhere on or around his second day as a freshman. He tosses his books out of the window of his pickup truck, and smiles. Solemn and earnest Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), meanwhile, has elected to go to college at Dillon Tech to stay close to home and his fading grandmother, and immediately his artwork is bluntly assaulted by his teacher, who calls it "drawing, without a point of view." Saracen is also delivering pizza (Panther Pizza, of course) and is forced to serve rich kid and Dillon High quarterback J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), which can't be fun.

Some of the best scenes in this episode involve Coach Taylor trying to whip his new squad into shape. It's so true to the show that this will be a long haul, that this won't be a one season miracle team circa comedies like Major League. And I absolutely love the moment where Coach Taylor flips out after a fight erupts during practice. It's 100% justified in my view, and totally feels like what a prideful, winning coach would do with a new and undisciplined and unmotivated group of players. That kind of coach would much rather field nine guys who actually care and lose 112-0 every game than put up with a player disrespectful enough to fight in Coach's "house" and wearing his "colors." I realized that Coach Taylor is an alpha dog who is forced by societal convention and interest to keep his temper under wraps 99% of the time. When he loses it, he carries the power and gravitas of someone who nearly always speaks softly and carries a big stick. I love too how Taylor sizes up Vince at the end of the scene, daring him to make a move. Vince says softly, passionately: "I want to play, Coach. I want to play." Great, great stuff.

More thoughts on "East of Dillon":

  • I love how all the new players at East Dillon want to be quarterback.
  • Great music throughout, and one of the best theme songs on television.
  • "I think we can acquiesce to the fact that it's a Panther Party." – Matt Saracen
  • What's up with the 18-year-old Riggins doing shots with a bartender at a bar? I know we've been seeing him get loaded since he was a freshman, but this is supposed to be Texas, right?
  • "So what’s it like being the guy who used to be Tim Riggins?" "Still Tim Riggins."
  • The kid singing an old gospel song in the nervous locker room before the game – awesome.
  • Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!
  • More great moments: the paltry attendance at East Dillon juxtaposed with the big time college football atmosphere at Dillon High.
  • 45-0 at the half? That's difficult to get to even if both teams were trying for it.
  • Coach Taylor forfeits the game… very surprised that he would do that. Seems that he would play it out. Maybe fact that he doesn't even have reserves to put in is factor?
  •  

    Video: Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon"
    Check out all the Dillon action, in full, from Hulu while available:

    Recap: Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon"
    With a town divided, Coach Taylor struggles to put a team together at East Dillon High School.

    From Around the Web: Friday Night Lights, "East of Dillon"

  • A.V. Club: I liked J.D.’s lost boy characterization last season—yeah, I know he played Peter Pan, my apologies—but it makes sense that he would turn into the asshole he was seemingly destined to become now that his dad is calling the shots at Dillon High. 
  • Alan Sepinwall: Buddy, Joe McCoy and company made sure that any kid with even a vague amount of football experience would be placed on the "west" side of town, which leaves Eric with nothing but scrubs like Landry or untrained athletes like Vince. And so the understandably desperate composition of the East Dillon Lions led to that stunning, typically "Friday Night Lights" spin-tingling, sequence in the locker room at halftime, with the Lions looking like they'd just stormed the beaches at Normandy, and Eric walking from casualty to casualty, trying to comfort each wounded, shell-shocked boy, and slowly recognizing that the only thing he could do for them was to spare them another 30 minutes of beating. 
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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