Oh, man, what a dust bowl that new East Dillon High football field is, as the fourth season of Friday Night Lights begins. You can almost feel the grit getting into the eyes of Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor, and that red cap sits heavily upon his head. Since the redistricting of Dillon and his loss of the head-coach position at (West) Dillon High School, Eric has had his work cut out for him. Dusty, tedious work: building a new team.
That team will include Vince (Michael B. Jordan), a new character, a tough kid whom the police brought to Eric at the start of the first episode, hoping he’d take the kid on as part of the ”Cops ‘N Jocks” second-chance program for minor offenders. It’s difficult to tell what Vince is like from the premiere, which requires him to limit his reactions to sullen and wary (as who would not be, in his position — a black youth handed over to a white coach who doesn’t even understand him when he tells Coach the only football he’s played is the Madden videogame).
FNL fans, I urge you to trust me, you’re going to like Vince a lot once the season gets fully under way. The first hour is meticulously filmed and detailed by director and series godfather Peter Berg, and he makes sure to catch us up with key characters:
Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is having a bit of trouble dealing with college, but he solves that problem by the end of the episode. Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is having his dreams of being an artist dashed by a provincial art teacher who couldn’t care less that Matt was accepted to the Chicago Institute of Art last season. Plus, Matt is delivering ”Panther Pizza” door-to-door, for Pete’s sake. J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), the callow wuss last season, has become a grade-A d— who condescends to Matt and comes on to Matt’s girl, Julie (Aimee Teegarden). Good fight material here. Or as Landry (the always terrific Jesse Plemons) refers to it, Matt’s ”Get thee behind me, Satan” even temper has to blow up. And Tami (the essential Connie Britton) is feeling the heat as the school official who’s the public face of the highly unpopular Dillon redistricting.
So, bottom line: By the end of the opening hour, you’re already engaged by Coach Taylor’s challenge to turn the East Dillon stragglers into guys who can complete the phrase ”Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” without mumbling. And Friday Night Lights is headed for more touchdown episodes than you can count. A