Friday Night Lights: "I Knew You When"
B+

Friday Night Lights: "I Knew You When"

B+

Friday Night Lights

"I Knew You When"

Season 3, Episode 1

[For those just tuning in: I first covered Friday Night Lights here at TV Club when it ran on DirecTV back in the fall. I'm rerunning those posts as it runs on NBC to a much larger audience. I'll be checking the comments regularly, as will FNL fans Scott Tobias and Noel Murray. A further wrinkle: My satellite crapped out on me shortly before the season finale so I'll be covering that as it airs on NBC. —Keith]



Let's start with some introductions and explanations, explanations first. No, Scott Tobias did not get fed up with Friday Night Lights. He's still a passionate fan of the show. So why am I writing about it? Because Scott can't watch it for the same reason many of you didn't get a chance to watch it tonight: It's currently only airing on DirecTV. That's the bad news, unless, like me, you have DirecTV. (That's not an endorsement, though I have been pretty happy with it.) The good news is twofold: If it weren't for a shared custody arrangement with DirecTV, Friday Night Lights might not have had a third season at all. Second, the rest of you will, assuming NBC sticks with its original plan, get to see the show in 2009 when it airs on regular network television. (And if you're reading this after watching it on NBC, hello from the past. Did the Cubs win the World Series finally?)

Got that? It's a strange, new TV world out there, isn't it?

We went back and forth on whether to write about FNL now when some of us could watch it or write about it later when all of us could watch it. Basically, my plan is to write about it now then repost these entries when the show re-airs. Essentially we'll go into reruns but hopefully get a fresh round of comments then.

Now, introductions: If you hang out on this site, you've probably seen my name. I'll just add that I really like this show, which I've followed since the first episode. I considered not following it since it's been dogged by cancellation rumors from the start. But it keeps hanging on. I consider the first season as pretty much close-to-perfect and the second season to be problematic but still generally great. It also kept subverting my expectations in that some of the sub-plots that seemed like potential jump-the-shark moments, specifically the Landry The Killer storyline, ended up paying off nicely while other sure-winner sub-plots, like the added focus on the great Buddy Garrity, became kind of a drag. Nonetheless, the biggest problem with season two ended up being that it didn't end, or at least didn't end properly, due to the writers strike. One more thing by way of introduction: I'm no football expert and often have to ask my wife, a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, about what's going on in the game segments.

Which brings us to tonight's episode, "brought to you commercial free by Vaseline."

Time has passed and showrunner, and writer of tonight's episode, Jason Katims wastes no time bringing viewers up to speed. After Smash's injury, the Dillon Panthers blew the playoff, making Coach Taylor's always-precarious employment that much more precarious. (Buddy's reassurance that he can ignore the "two-game rumor" is pretty cold comfort.) The addition of a "new quarterback from Dallas" (J.D. McCoy) might be more blessing than curse. Talent or no, he threatens to destabilize the Saracen-anchored order and brings with him a pushy stage dad (D.W. Moffett) with deep pockets and some clear ideas about how things should be run. Taylor's spent two seasons learning how to deal with Buddy's passive aggressive management from the stands, but this guy doesn't seem to possess Buddy's soft underbelly or desire to be the Coach Taylor's friend. (Maybe we should make that need to be Taylor's friend, given the number of times Buddy's played Bill Dautrive to Taylor's Hank Hill.)

Tami is now principal and quickly discovers that it's less a promotion than the assumption of a post abandoned out of fear or frustration. She spends most of the episode being reminded of the school's priorities. Her husband enjoys air conditioning and new computers while she deals with staff cuts, a reduced budget, and the need to decide between chalk and soap. Her relationship with Julie seems at leas a little less tumultuous than last year. Julie's less rebellious than determined to chart her own path.

Back to the team: Riggins is discovering Smash's shoes are tough, if not necessarily impossible, to fill. He's having a tougher time negotiating his relationship with Lyla, who spends much of the episode unwilling to admit there's a relationship at all and equally unwilling to share him with the rally girls and other hangers-on that throw themselves in his path.

A lack of definition–or at least the absence of an agreed-upon definition–plagues the relationship of Landy and Tyra, who still spend a lot of time together even though they're either broken up or "on a break." Tyra's focus is elsewhere anyway, specifically on getting into college and avoiding the fate seemingly laid out for her by virtue of being born without much money, and female, in Dillon. She ends the episode delivering a satisfying kiss-off to the vice principal who attempted to steer her toward school sure not to frown on her 2.6 GPA. A cheaper series would end that story with her spirited decision not to give up, but I suspect we're going to see Tyra struggle to make her dream come true. It's not a show that hands out victories easily.

Elsewhere, Smash copes with his injury and what a recovery that leaves him short of his previous abilities, even marginally short, means for his future. Whatever it is, it probably won't be in Dillon. Both Gaius Charles and the MIA-this-episode Scott Porter are leaving the show. They'll both be missed but I have faith the writers will steer them toward meaningful exits. (Unlike, say, Saracen's sexy live-in nurse or, apparently, Santiago.)

Finally, there's Saracen, whose expression as he watches his potential replacement shoot a torpedo into the end zone pretty much sums of the episode: The landscape is starting to change and nobody quite knows what that means yet.

Whatever it means, it's good to have the show back. I could probably watch an hour of Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler bantering every week, but Friday Night Lights offers much more. The cast members who started out good have only gotten better. (I'm thinking specifically of Aimee Teegarden and Zach Gilford, who have no scenes together this episode but, unless the overwrought show promos are lying, will be interacting soon.) Cast members who started out shaky have grown nicely into their roles. (I'm thinking of Taylor Kitsch and Minka Kelly.)

If the episode had a problem it was only that there was a lot of exposition to get out of the way. Much of the hour–and consequently, this post; we'll go deeper next week–was about bringing viewers back up to speed. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- "Christian miles"

- Living with Buddy has saved Lyla from life as "a vegetarian raising figs" in California. Is that a good thing?

- The Seven Senoritas restaurant serves outrageously large margaritas

- Is Applebees still a sponsor? And if not, will we still have scenes set there? As transparent a bit of product placement as that arrangement was, it also made complete sense for the setting.

- Should a show that can't feature nudity have scenes set in a strip club? Answer: Yes, as long as they involve hilariously half-hearted lapdances.

- The Saracen/Riggins feud: Theories?

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