By Jae-Ha Kim
The fourth season of Friday Night Lights begins with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) in what appears to be a lose-lose situation. Fired from Dillon High School as the Panthers’ football coach, Taylor is offered a position coaching the East Dillon Lions.
No matter how the school board tries to spin it with platitudes about both schools being equal, East Dillon is rundown, has no funds, and has a football squad that’s a team in name only. Of course we all know that Coach Taylor being who he is, it’s only a matter of time before he turns the team around and gets a little vengeance on the snooty Panthers.
Meanwhile, his wife Tami (Connie Britton) is principal of Dillon High School, where their daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) is a senior. Her boyfriend, Matt (Zach Gilford), who had the chance to go to art school in Chicago, stayed behind in the small Texas town because he didn’t want to leave behind his grandmother–who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s–or Julie.
Though some of the plot points may sound melodramatic, they play beautifully in the 13 episodes, which originally aired on television during the 2009-2010 season. There are cast changes, reflecting the graduation of some of the characters. Lyla (Minka Kelly) briefly returns from her studies at Vanderbilt to attend a funeral, while Tim (Taylor Kitsch)–the boy she left behind–struggles with his ambivalent feelings for college and his need to help take care of the only family he has: his older brother, sister-in-law, and infant nephew.
And new characters like Vince (Michael B. Jordan)–a central part of at least half the story lines–easily fit into the ensemble cast.
Meanwhile, Lyla’s dad Buddy (played by Brad Leland with just the right combination of sleaze and pathos) turns out to be instrumental in helping get the football program off the ground at East Dillon. Landry (Jesse Plemons) realizes that his on-again, off-again girlfriend is never coming back to him. And he’s OK with that as he tackles the challenges of being the new kid at East Dillon. But, as his best friend Matt notes, “he’s like a girl” when it comes to holding grudges.
There also is major fallout for Tami, who is accused of telling a teenager to end her pregnancy, and trouble for a football player who gets hooked on drugs after an injury. When his religious parents tell him to pray, he does: “Dear Lord, please let me get some more drugs before Friday.”
There are a few scenarios that ring false, like when the Panthers’ star quarterback J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) seemingly turns into a malicious, spoiled brat overnight.
But overall, Friday Night Lights scores just the right touch.