Tag Archives: Panthers

Season Premiere: Friday Night Lights – “East of Dillon”

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“East of Dillon”

October 28th, 2009

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts…”

In the very first episode of Friday Night Lights, a “can’t lose” football team became a longshot. When Jason Street went down on the field, ending up paralyzed, the Panther football program went from being a contender for State to being a rudderless ship with a rookie quarterback at the helm. The arc of the show’s first season was watching Matt Saracen become a leader in his own right, someone who would eventually deliver a State championship to the people of Dillon, Texas even when nobody really gave him a chance.

What allowed that team to come together as it did was that surrounding Matt Saracen was not only a collection of great players (Riggins, Smash, for all of their faults) but also a football culture that bred success. Panther Football was not only just the players involved, or even the inspired coaching from Eric Taylor, but a community that rallied behind its team because there was nothing else they wanted to do on a Friday night. That culture, that once seemed so far away for Saracen while throwing footballs through a tire in his driveway, has given the football program substantial financial support, and bureaucratic power in the form of lobbyists like Buddy Garrity. While some of the elements of Panther football were political and thus avoided by Eric Taylor (and, as a result of our appreciation for his character, maligned by the audience), they were parts of the team that provided a solid foundation. “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” is as much a construct of years of success as it is about the players or the words themselves, a fact which becomes increasingly clear in “East of Dillon.”

What becomes clear in this fourth season premiere is that the first season wasn’t an underdog story at all, but rather a story of a team recapturing glory that never really left them but for those brief moments when all seemed lost. The story of the East Dillon Lions, handicapped by a biased redistricting that we were once on the other side of, is a true underdog story because this team has nothing. Not only are they handicapped by the inexperienced nature of its players, but they are also crippled by their lack of that community surrounding them – they don’t have lobbyists, they don’t have an experienced coaching staff, and they only have a few storefront signs to bring them together.

All they have is Eric Taylor, a true underdog whose only weapons are his coaching ability and the words (and the emotions behind them) that inspired the Panthers to victory for three years. With them, he needs to build not only a football team but a community around it, the equivalent to Noah’s Ark more than a texas high school football team. “East of Dillon” establishes this challenge, and tells us two things: Eric Taylor is going to make this work, and the people who are going to help him are slowly lining up to be a part of it.

And I’m already in the stands to enjoy the result.

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Season Premiere: Friday Night Lights – “I Knew You When”

“I Knew You When”

October 1st, 2008

There is something very intoxicating about Friday Night Lights. I knew this before, I guess, but this is the ultimate test. Although a mere check of my ‘About’ page would tell readers of this post that there’s something amiss with my doing this review, I just can’t help it. Even with too many shows by half already on my schedule, and numerous real life commitments, it is not within my level of will power to wait until whenever NBC decides that they’re going to run the third season of Friday Night Lights.

The DirecTV exclusivity deal is designed to save the series, to give it one last chance to prove itself within a more financially viable model, and I hate to be “part of the problem” when it comes to the effectiveness of this model. But, I want to live in a world where that deal doesn’t exist, or doesn’t need to: the show itself was in enough of a creative rut last season that seeing whether Jason Katims can prove himself is more than enough to drive me to dig into the show’s third season premiere.

What I found in “I Knew You When” was vintage FNL, a show that seems to have returned to a less convoluted and ultimately more effective structure. While many of the season’s clear trajectories are left mostly untouched in the premiere (Saracen, in particular, gets short-shifted something fierce), what we see is a very common theme: much as with the show’s chances for a fourth season (or an extension of the existing order), there are those who think that it can’t be done, and those who hold out hope for something better. To put it into football terms, something the show smartly does this season, there’s a lot of people thinking about calling a Hail Mary, and that has created an environment rife with an excitement about the future – and even if the show never gets to see it, watching the characters move towards the end of the tunnel seems like it will be worth it.

[If you are amongst those waiting until the show airs on NBC, first off I admire your willpower. Second, I will be discussing the episode in detail, so feel free to view this all-too tempting opening as your sign that the show is on the right track to start off.]

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