The critically acclaimed drama Friday Night Lights returns to NBC tonight. In case you're new to the show, need to be reminded, or want to relive some of last season's great moments, here is your complete primer for tonight's premiere.
After struggling through poor ratings in Season 1 and a terrible murder plot line in Season 2, Friday Night Lights came back strong in Season 3. Like other great shows, Season 3 was a transitional year that led to major changes which are still unfolding. During Season 3, they show settled the fate of characters like Jason Street and Smash Williams, putting them on their way and letting them go. Just as Stringer was killed at the end of Season 3 of The Wire ushering in the era of Marlo Stanfield and just as Season 3 of Mad Men saw the creation of "Sterling Cooper Draper Price," Friday Night Lights ended Season 3 on a precipice. Almost all the major characters contended with major life changes, whether it's leaving for college or being unable to leave. In the football plot, the town of Dillon was divided into two and a new cross-town rival, East Dillon High, was created. In order to make sure you're in the proper mood, here's where some of the key characters were left off last season.
Season 3 was a big one for Tim, he solidified his relationship with Lyla Garrity, cleaned up a bit and was even recruited by San Antonio State. But the strain of starting a new life was almost too much for him, especially after Lyla has decided to go Vanderbilt instead of San Antonio State with him. Here, encouraged by his sometimes-destructive older brother Billy, Tim realizes that it's time to man up and do better for his hypothetical children than his parents did for him.
When the series began, Tyra was a major screw up, she was angry and mean. She's softened throughout the show's run, with a little help from the supremely devoted Landry Clarke (and the aforementioned murder). In the last season, she actively sought a better future for herself and one of the major subplots was her attempt to get admitted into college. The moment that her letter from University of Texas arrives illustrates the show's incredible ability to balance tension with excitement and triumph with humility.
Matt began the show as the shy and unprepared back-up quarterback thrust into an impossible position. Since then, he's blossomed as a player and a person. His relationship with his ailing grandmother has always been well-handled by the show and it's the reason he can't bring himself to leave. Although the character most equipped to handle the world outside of Dillon, Texas, he's the one who won't go.
Tami and Eric Taylor
Friday Night Lights is as much about football as it is about the marriage of the main characters. The ebb and flow of their married life is one of the best representations of a couple possibly to ever be on television; it is neither largely one-sided (like the marriage of the Sopranos or the Drapers) nor is it full of cheap ploys to evoke tension. The portrait here is balanced and nuanced and in the final episode of Season 3, as Eric's job hangs in the balance, the scene where he pleads for it is as much about her as it is about him, even as she doesn't say a word, a great example of Connie Britton's fantastic performance throughout.
So is the final scene of the finale. With his career at a turning point after being ousted at Dillon and relegated to East, and the focus of the show shifting to the building of a new football program there, Eric and Tami stand together in the middle of the rundown field that is his new office. But, like a truly committed couple they stand together, ready to take on the challenges that the new season will bring. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.