From the beginning, the football has always been the worst thing about “Friday Night Lights,” and that’s true of the first episode of what will be the program’s final season. Seriously, must every game be decided on a wacky play in the closing seconds? Also, if you’re going to have a kid play basketball, at least make sure he looks like he’s held one before. Just sayin’.
Beyond that, though (and forgive that little bit of nitpicking), the show pretty terrifically picks up where it left off, having changed over much of the cast since its humble origins five years ago. Thanks to DirecTV, which came in as a partner and carries the show in advance of its NBC telecasts, the series has lingered long beyond what its ratings would have dictated (heck, ABC Family even felt compelled to yank the low-rated reruns), and will go off the air as one of the finest non-hit broadcast series of all time.
The season opens with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) preparing for a new football season, even as he and his wife (the ever-fabulous Connie Britton) prepare to ship their daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) off to college. The only downside to these heart-tugging scenes, frankly — as dad insists on a last-minute game of ping-pong — is that they mirror a particularly good commercial that’s running right now, where the father sends his little daughter to school, only we see her morph into a teenager.
There are some wonderfully funny moments involving Landry (Jesse Plemons), who is also college-bound, and powerful ones pertaining to some of the more recent additions to the cast. Years from now, I have a suspicion people will look back on the casting for this show with wide-eyed amazement. (Chandler and Britton were belatedly recognized with Emmy nominations for last season, but the real trick has been reloading the younger contingent with fresh-faced talent, as some have left the series and others, like Taylor Kitsch, have reduced their roles.)
More than any other show on television, “FNL” captures the texture of small-town life, including the tension between reinforcing its traditions and wanting to leave to find something better. Last season, in fact — which explored issues of racial and class divides — was so accomplished its difficult to envision what Season Five can do for an encore, or if it’s possible to provide any real closure.
Still, the opening drive is certainly off to a promising start, and the premiere (written by David Hudgins and directed by Michael Waxman) doesn’t rest on the show’s laurels.
The bottom line is that if DirecTV accomplishes nothing else with its original-programming push, having helped give “Friday Night” the resources to stay in production would be enough of a calling card to hang a ten-gallon hat on.
Cue the music. And don’t blame me if I shed a tear or two when it’s all over.