NBC, in a shockingly sensible decision, didn't cancel its low-rated Friday Night Lights but split its budget with DIRECTV, which started airing the third season last fall. Now it's the broadcast fans' turn to see the 13-episode run and root for the Dillon Panthers and the show all over again.
Summer has passed in Dillon, Tex., and in preparation for Gaius Charles' departure from the series, his brash running back Smash Williams is coping with the news that his injured knee will probably slow him down for a while. (A racquetball-game scene between Smash and Kyle Chandler's Coach Taylor uses a sport other than football to provide the season opener with its most touching scene, resolutely unsentimental yet heart-piercing.) Meanwhile, Connie Britton's Tami has gone from guidance counselor to high school principal; that seems like an abrupt promotion, but I'll go with anything that keeps Tami center-screen and under pressure, since stress brings out the most energetic/anguished/sarcastic/inspiring sides of her character. And hallelujah, the flesh has triumphed over the spirit, as once-prim Lyla (Minka Kelly) is back to doing the deed with Tim (Taylor Kitsch). Not sure how this squares with the religious beliefs she embraced last season, but it's a heckuva lot of fun watching these two have their fling. Kitsch continues to charm: Mark my words, this guy is a budding movie star once FNL throws its final touchdown.
Speaking of which, a mighty touchdown throw will be tossed by a new character: J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter), a freshman brought in as rookie quarterback to challenge senior Matt (Zach Gilford). J.D.'s bluff, pushy dad played by the always reliable, sharklike D.W. Moffett (Hidden Palms) makes a big impression as a guy who's going to be a real pain in the neck for our long-suffering Coach Taylor.
Much travail for Adrianne Palicki's Tyra, too. In a nice Lights twist, she'll run for student-council president in a style only someone with a pole-dancing sister would attempt, while conducting an inner debate about whether the hard work of getting into college is really worth it. As previous seasons have implied, and now comes to the fore, this young woman has a poor self- image, no matter how much support she gets from Tami and her erstwhile boyfriend, Landry (the invaluable, sly Jesse Plemons). But Palicki is such a good actress, she projects all of that inner fear, anger, and confusion outward while still making Tyra one of TV's most irresistible minxes.
Look, I've seen the entire season already on DIRECTV, and trust me, it only gets better, deeper, and richer. There are great subplots, including one about Scott Porter's paralyzed Jason Street that you've been waiting a long time for his love life and his career become engrossingly complicated. You know how much this great series has struggled in the ratings. Watch it now, and keep hope alive. A