"East of Dillon" kicked off the fourth season of the venerable program, one that I didn't watch in seasons 1 & 2 but absolutely fell in love with last season. The fourth season premiered exclusively on DirecTV for the second straight year (Wednesdays at 9 pm on the "101") and will be shown on NBC sometime next year. I've seen a lot of great shows this season, from returning favorites (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has probably been the best so far, but The Office, 30 Rock, South Park, and Curb Your Enthusiasm have had some absolute classics already) to some decent new shows (Community, Modern Family, and Flash Forward have all been on my DVR list, with only the latter falling off due to time constraints), but oddly, it's Friday Night Lights that is the first show I feel compelled to talk about. It's pretty much completely like an HBO show, with its gritty subject matter and gritty photography and the fantastic acting and swelling music -- oh, the music! -- that I can't help but sing its praises to the world. There's been a huge upheaval in cast and characters in the break between seasons 3 and 4, but perhaps because I didn't watch the first two seasons of this show, I don't find myself missing Lyla or Jason or Tyra (Ok, I do miss Tyra) as much as long-time viewers. And the first episode was as brilliant as every episode I've seen of this show. Just perfect.
Coach Taylor was shipped off to East Dillon High School only a couple years removed from a state championship at Dillon High (now renamed West Dillon) in a plotline that still doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense but involved the team's star quarterback, his abusive father, their personal coach who happened to be a highly touted college assistant, and a re-districting of the town that also didn't make a whole lot of sense. None of it really matters, though, since it left Kyle Chandler with even more drama in his character's life that he can't act the living shit out of. The East Dillon football team had been nonexistent for years and resurrecting a team with a shitty stadium and no good players is going to make this season more about getting a win than trying to win a championship. There are some excellent scenes with the new football team, who are gassed after 18 minutes of a Coach Taylor practice, and who suffer a mass exodus once he kicks off an arrogant but talented player for refusing to apologize for fighting Landry. The fact that most of the rest of the players who leave the team are black, leaving mostly whites and Hispanics, is a borderline racist scene, but in the reality of the television program, the remaining East Dillon Lions get slaughtered like lambs in their first game of the season, 45-0. At halftime. After which Coach Taylor forfeits, fearing his already injured and undermanned squad might actually get killed in the second half. Just great stuff.
The other major plot(s) involve those few high school characters who return for season 4 -- Landry and Julie and Landry's lesbian friend whose name I forget and of course, golden boy QB JD, who apparently became an asshole in the offseason, believing all the hype and turning into his father. JD gets into a fight with Matt Saracen, who replaced him in the playoff game the previous year but is now a pizza delivery boy trying to support himself and his grandmother after giving up a scholarship at the Chicago Institute of Art to stay home and take care of his senile relative. There's also a few new characters -- a delinquent football player who Coach Taylor is giving a second chance to and a girl in East Dillon who sings the national anthem (and has a sassy attitude that will clearly be used in future episodes). And of course, Tim Riggins returns after a single month at college, when discussions of Homer's Odyssey in English Comp were enough to get him to drop out of school. Not a whole lot happened in the episode, now that I write it all down, but every scene was riveting, every character, returning or otherwise, was a welcome sight on the screen, and every note played throughout was perfect. I mean, for crying out loud, they opened the show with Jose Gonzalez and The Books' "Cello Song" -- one of my favorite songs of 2009, and a song no one in the mainstream world has ever fucking heard -- and then they closed the dramatic finale with Sufjan Stevens' "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". I mean, shit. It doesn't get any better than this show.