[Editor's note: Friday Night Lights airs on DIRECTV prior to its regular NBC slot, slated for next spring. So note that spoilers may lie below!]
Quick Take: Friday Night Lights, "Expectations"
"Don'tcha just love summer in Texas? 7 AM and I'm already sweating like a whore in church." - Buddy Garrity
Review: Friday Night Lights, "Expectations"
(S0501) Man, it feels good to be back in Dillon. Despite the August heat I just feel a little bit refreshed being in this world, surrounded by characters I love. With a lot going on in my personal life, it's a relief to know that Tami and Eric are out there, their relationship as rock solid as ever. I don't know if that is more of an indictment on me, for having TV characters as my role models for a healthy partnership or a testament to FNL's writers, for creating characters with that level of depth. As excited as I am that the show is back, I am equally sad that this is going to be the final season.
It's the end of the summer and the East Dillon Lions are gearing up for their first game in the "Whataburger Football Classic" against last year's state champions. (How awesome does the "Whataburger Football Classic" sound? I have never been to a Whataburger, we don't have them in the Mid-Atlantic area, but I have heard the place kicks ass. The Baltimore-Washington Metro Area is an absolute fast-food wasteland and I get so jealous when I see all of the greasy options available in the rest of the country. We have McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Taco Bell and that's about it. No White Caste, no Carl's Jr., no In and Out, no Jack in the Box, no Sonic, no Del Taco and certainly no Whataburger. Last time I checked BK doesn't sponsor a beer league softball team, much less a high school football tournament.) Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), as always, is excited about the season, calling the Lions "a team of destiny" on his radio show. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) isn't quite as optimistic and doesn't like the way things are starting out in the preseason coaches meetings. The Lion's were a feel good story last season, a lovable loser turned scrappy upstart. Coach knows it will take more than destiny to turn East Dillon into a real contender.
Tami (Connie Britton) is starting to realize the challenge ahead of her as guidance counselor at East Dillon. The differences between Dillon High and its working class counterpart to the east are crystallized in a staff meeting during which a legitimate suggestion from Mrs. Coach is interrupted and eventually ignored in favor of a session of homeroom horsetrading involving a problem student. "I wish she would just not show up to school. It would be a lot easier," one frustrated teacher says of the child. These aren't the problems she is used to dealing with at Dillon, where the meetings usually revolved around the funding of new Jumbotrons. Hopefully these experiences will give her an appreciation for what her husband went through at East Dillon last season.
If it seems like things are tough for the Taylors, their lives are a cakewalk compared to Tim Riggins' (Taylor Kitsch). The former full-back is behind bars for at least another three months for his role in the stolen car stripping scheme at Riggins Rigs. Billy (Derek Philips), who obviously owes his freedom to Tim's selflessness, visits often, but it's clear that Tim would rather would be left alone with his pain. He knew what he was doing when he offered to take the fall for Billy and I'm sure he would do it again in a heartbeat, but that doesn't mean he won't harbor some resentment toward his brother. Which is probably why Tim is less than enthusiastic when Billy comes to visit and announces his plans to volunteer his time as a football coach. I'm curious as to how the show will handle the remainder of Tim's time in prison. Will we only see him through the eyes of other characters as they visit him, as we did in "Expectations"? Or will we get a chance to see how Tim is really getting along with his fellow inmates? I was pretty surprised to see that he decided to keep the flowing golden locks, I expected to see a buzz cut or something. Riggs is too pretty for prison and that hair is as good as a target on his back.
Billy practically begs Coach for an opportunity to join his staff. Eric initially balks, claiming lack of funding, but when Billy appeals to him as a father and a "molder of men" he can't say no. So Billy is now Coach Riggins and he makes quite a first impression on the players and coaches by interrupting the first practice with the Ronnie Lott quote, "If you can believe it, your mind can achieve it." Not exactly "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!", but I guess you have to start somewhere.
Not only is Billy taking on new responsibilities as a coach, he has a new addition to his household; Becky (Madison Burge). Becky's mom is off on a casino boat making cash, leaving Becky in the care of her dad and his new wife. When her dad, a trucker, leaves on a cross-country run, things get tense between Becky and the step-mom. Becky bails and heads to the Riggins house. Standing on the front porch with a bag of clothes in her arms and a tears in her eyes she tells Billy "I really don't feel like I have a family right now, and Tim said if I ever need anything, you guys were like my family." Just like Coach was unable to say no when Billy came to him asking for a job with the Lions, Billy can't say no to Becky.
Becks isn't the only kid dealing with absentee parents. Jess' (Jurnee Smollett) dad is out of town opening up Ray's BBQ franchises across Texas, leaving his eldest to care for her young brothers. Keeping them on the straight an narrow proves to beyond Jess' capabilities as her brother Andre (John Charles Quary), lacking a strong male presence in the house, begins acting out. Luckily, Vince (Michael B. Jordan, or as I will always refer to him, Wallace), someone who knows a thing or two about missing a father figure is there to sit him down and talk to him man to man. I like that Vince has become more mature, but are we supposed to have forgotten all of the selfish crap he pulled last season? And I know that he and Jess make more sense as a couple, but I do kind of wish that Landry (Jesse Plemons) ended up with her.
Speaking of Landry... Ok, not the greatest segue ever, but what the hell. Landry and Julie (Aimee Teegarden) are making their about-to-leave-for-college farewell tour around Dillon. For Landry, the episode is an apology from the writers for all of the nonsense they put the poor guy through in season two. Crucifictorious plays its "Last Waltz", followed by a trip to Alamo Freeze to reminisce with Julie. "I always thought my last night in Dillon would be epic," Landry laments and then FNL goes and proves once again why it is one of the best shows on TV. The Landing Strip. What other network show about high school features an iconic strip club? I sure can't think of any others! They might want to rename the place the The Landry Strip, the way my man tears it up on his last night in town. "Be safe, keep money for cab fare, and I'll see you at Christmas," says Julie before escaping the club. "Stay golden Julie Taylor," he responds and to the stripper riding his lap, "I want to know everything there is know about you." Now, I know this isn't the last we will see of Landry (I know because I checked IMDB, he is supposed to appear in a bunch of episodes throughout the season) but if it were, it is a hell of a way for a beloved character to go out.
For Julie, a lot of the episode is spent trying to convince her parents, Tami in particular, that leaving for school is no big deal. But Tami knows, and so do we, that just isn't the case. Leaving Dillon is what Julie has wanted all along. She felt smothered by the small town mind set and the notoriety that her dad's position brought their family. Her greatest fear was that she would get stuck in Dillon, marry Saracen and turn into her mother. Now she's leaving and I'm sure it is only a matter of time until she is looking for excuses (Thanksgiving, out of clean laundry, Crucifictorious reunion show) to come home.
While Julie and Landry and preparing to leave Dillon, the town, and more specifically the Lions football program, is welcoming a new addition. Buddy introduces Coach to Hastings Ruckle ("It's Welsh," says Buddy, who, of course, has done his homework), a basketball phenom with an awful looking jumper and even worse technique on his free-throws. Ruckle (Grey Damon) is new to town, his parents move around a lot, and has been recruited by East Dillon's basketball coach. He's a bit a free spirit and doesn't like all of the equipment football players have to wear, like cups. Coach Taylor shines a light on one of the worst kept secrets in sports when he gleefully tells Ruckle that football players don't wear cups. "You live in Texas now, you love the game of football, you just don't know it yet," Coach tells him, but the kid isn't convinced. Eric signs Luke and Vince on to recruit him. When attempts to woo him with a party invite and front row seats to pig wrestling fail, Vince turns to Jess' "girl-charms" for help. She doesn't charm Hastings, so much as just call him a coward, but either way, he agrees to join the team. I'm not so sure about the new guy, he seems a bit bland. But I have learned to trust FNL, so I'm sure they will find a way to make him interesting. I sort of felt the same way about Luke last year and they certainly found plenty for him to do, so for now I'm taking the wait and see approach to Hastings Ruckle.
The episode ends, as so many on this show tend to do, with a football game that comes down to a final play. The Lions come back from an early deficit (after Luke injures their star quarterback) thanks to a couple of defensive scores. Late in the game, with East Dillon trailing by a touchdown Ruckle talks Coach into putting him on the field as a receiver despite an extremely rudimentary understanding of the playbook because he knows he can out-jump one of the opposition's corners, having schooled him on the basketball court in the past. Coach puts his trust in the new guy and it pays off when he leaps and makes a grab in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Down one, with no time left, Coach channels his inner Chris Petersen and decides to go for two and the win. He dials up a Statue of Liberty, a la Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl against heavily favored Oklahoma, and it works like a charm. The only thing missing was a marriage proposal. Lions win!
What a way to start the season. Welcome back Friday Night Lights, I missed you.