Friday Night Lights: "Expectations"
B+

Friday Night Lights: "Expectations"

B+

Friday Night Lights

"Expectations"

Season 5, Episode 1

(A few words of explanation: Because of NBC's production arrangement with DirecTV, I wrote about this season of Friday Night Lights back in the fall. I'm now reposting last fall's pieces each week as the episodes air on NBC. So now, you know. No spoilers, please, if you've already seen the season. Enjoy.)

Greetings, Friday Night Light fans, and welcome to the TV Club’s coverage of the show’s final season. Take a moment to control yourself. Try to manage a “Clear eyes, full hearts” chant through your tears. I’m sorry it’s going away too, but no show lasts forever—except The Simpsons, apparently—and we still have one last season in front of us.

Having said that, I suspect it’s a season that will frequently be reminding, in one way or another, that the show is reaching an end. This first outing, with its Landry-and-Julie leave home subplots, certainly dwelt heavily on departures and transitions. I’m sure we’ve seen the last of neither of them, but it’s worth noting that only Aimee Teegarden remains a part of the regular cast. And with Landry goes the last of the original cast of football players and even he didn’t begin on the team. We’re now fully transitioned into the Friday Night Lights: The New Class era of the show’s existence.

It’s also about to get some even more unfamiliar faces, but before we usher in the new, let’s see out the old. Again, they’ll be back, but both Julie and Landry get understated send-offs this week. Landry does a tour of his old haunts, including a nice visit to Matt’s grandmother, and sees out Crucifictorious with a sparsely attended last waltz show. The band sounds, as ever, merely adequate, but it’s nice that they get a goodbye.

Crucifictorious rarely found much common musical ground. They always sounded like the sort of band that happens when the only music geeks in a town short on music geeks get together. And that’s the thing about leaving high school: Sometimes you find that your friendships have more to do with living in the same place than anything else. Other times, you discover you have little in common beyond a mutual friendship. That seems to be the case with Julie and Landry, who are left with little to talk about beyond the absent Matt Saracen. That may be why Julie offers the seemingly out-of-character suggestion that they hit The Landing Strip, Dillon’s remarkably chaste strip club (and one that never seems overly concerned about admitting minors). It’s one way to get him to shut up.

Absent from Landry’s goodbye tour: Jess, who’s now in a steady relationship with Vince. And why not? He seems devoted to her, it’s easy to gather they have a good time doing “laundry” together, and he’s good with her siblings. It’s that last trait that might matter most now that she’s become largely responsible now that her dad’s out starting franchises of his barbecue stand.

That development seems a bit of a stretch as a way to explain Jess’s father’s absence, but absent parents look to be a theme this year. (And his barbecue always did look delicious.) Becky finds herself motherless again, and with a stepmother—step live-in, I guess—who seems beyond uninterested in having her around. In fact, she’s openly hostile and prone to tell lies about Becky. And frankly, hasn’t Becky had enough trouble in her life lately? Is it any wonder she decamps to Billy Riggins home by episode’s end?

A couple of seasons ago it would speak volumes about the desperation of any character who looked to the Riggins home for domestic stability, but times have changed a bit. Thanks to Tim’s Sidney Carton act—a choice that’s left him frustrated if not embittered, as evidenced by this episode’s opening scene—Riggins’ Rigs has stabilized and Billy has been able to establish a nice home for himself. He’s even thinking of giving back by taking up coaching, even if Tim rebuffs the notion that he was ever “like a coach” to him. (“Coach was my coach.” Ouch.)

I wouldn’t have expected the show to focus so much on Billy, but it’s not an unwelcome shift. Derek Phillips has quietly developed the character over the years and it makes sense to want to explore how a guy like Billy would respond both to fatherhood and the major sacrifice his brother made for him. Can he ever give back enough?

On the subject of giving back, Tami’s quickly discovering that her good intentions will only get her so far in her new position as East Dillon’s guidance counselor, a school that badly needs someone to look after their more troubled students. (Did I hear correctly? Is the bad girl about which everyone complains named “Epic”?)

We’ve now apparently left West Dillon behind for good and now, in the second season of East Dillon’s existence, it feels a little more like a real place than a writerly convenience. It seems more solid, more lived in, and the new characters introduced last season as much a part of the fabric of the show as the old familiar faces. Luke didn’t have all that much to do beyond host a party and aid in Coach and Buddy’s scheme to bring basketball star Hastings over to the football side, but it was good to see him again. So I have little doubt that Hastings, the “hippie” b-ball fan will have fit in nicely too, even if I’m not sure what ultimately sold him on joining the team. Was it the taunts? Was it the undercurrents of sexual tension with Jess? Maybe we’ll find out in time.

That’s a lot of plot summary—more than I like to include in my TV Club entries—but I’m not sure there’s any other way to deal with this episode, which does a lot of table-setting for the season to come, but not that many individual moments in need of unpacking. That’s probably unavoidable with this season’s premiere, which has to establish a lot of players right away. So while I would have hoped for an episode with a few more of the remarkable moments I’ve come to expect from the show, I trust they’ll come later.

Not that it was without them entirely, like the moment when Coach just pauses to take in some family banter knowing that the family dynamic, and all the familiar routines built around it, will change profoundly with Julie’s departure for college. Julie doesn’t want to make a big deal of it but, of course, it is a big deal, maybe a bigger deal than she realizes now. Sure, she’s just moving up the road, and sure she can always come home. But she crosses a line that separates her past from her future the moment she rolls out of that driveway. Coach knows it. Tami knows it. And when she says, “Bye guys,” I think Julie knows it too. Then, in its usual, quiet way, the show pauses to let us soak it in before rolling credits. This season may be about saying goodbyes, but for now I’m just happy to have Friday Night Lights back.