'Friday Night Lights': 7 Things to Watch For



Friday Night Lights returns to NBC for its fourth season on Friday at 8 p.m. Let me first disclose my biases: I think it's the best show on television. It offers a realistic portrayal of small town life; the marriage of coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, is one of the best television marriages of all time; viewers can relate to the adolescents and the adults ... I could go on and on, but ultimately the show is great because it's really not about football. Sadly, many viewers never gave the series a chance because they thought it was a clichéd show about football and teenagers. And NBC did a remarkably poor job in scheduling the show—though FNL had a terrific pilot episode, it was initially slotted on a Tuesday night opposite ABC's ratings juggernaut Dancing With The Stars—and marketing it.

Last season ended with the Dillon Panthers losing in the Texas state championship game on a heart-breaking, last-second field goal. In many ways, the season had that "end of one chapter, start of another" feel for the original cast of characters. Brian "Smash" Williams, the team's running back, was given a chance to play in college. Jason Street, the quarterback who was left paralyzed after an injury in the series' pilot episode, found an opportunity to be a sports agent in New York. Both were sent off with emotional story arcs.

Among those who remained in Dillon for the duration of the year, Tyra got accepted to the University of Texas, Lyla decided to go to Vanderbilt, Tim Riggins chose San Antonio State, and Matt Saracen opted to give up college and stay in Dillon. Coach Taylor got replaced at Dillon and got assigned to East Dillon High School, a school on the other side of town that the school board decided to re-open. How these characters cope with their new lives seems to be a logical theme for this season.

Here are seven character arcs to watch as the new season begins:

1. Eric and Tami Taylor: At the end of last season, the school board gave Coach Taylor's job to Wade Aikman, the personal quarterback coach of J.D. McCoy—a talented freshman with an overbearing father. The board reopened East Dillon High School, and offered Coach Taylor its head coaching job. It was pretty obvious, though, that the district was sufficiently gerrymandered so that Dillon would retain all of the area's best football players. How will the rivalry that will surely ensue between these two schools impact the Taylors? Will it strain their marriage, or will it make them stronger?

2. Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor: Matt, the backup quarterback who filled in after Jason got injured, gave up an opportunity to study art in Chicago to stay in Dillon. He felt guilty about leaving his grandmother in an assisted living home, telling her, "You're the only person who's never left me, and I'm not gonna leave you." But it was also obvious that his heart was in Dillon because of Julie. How will their relationship evolve now that Saracen has graduated from high school and Julie enters her senior year?

3. Tim Riggins and Lyla Garrity: Both Riggins and Lyla reluctantly went off to their respective colleges. Riggins didn't want to go to San Antonio State, but his brother Billy urged him to go if for no other reason than to inspire Billy's future kids. Lyla wanted to stay with Tim and follow him to State, but Tim convinced her to pursue her dreams at Vanderbilt. It will be interesting to get an update on Riggins and Lyla and what has happened to them since they've gone off to college.

4. Landry and Tyra: Landry, like Julie, returns for his senior year of high school. Tyra, inspired and helped by Landry, went off to the University of Texas. Will they still be together as the new season opens?

5. Buddy Garrity and Dillon: How will Dillon's biggest booster and alum cope with Coach Taylor's move to East Dillon? Will they become bitter enemies? Or can they still manage to be friends?

6. New characters: Who will be the new characters on the show? Will they be as compelling as the cast from the first three seasons?

7. J.D. McCoy: How will he handle being "QB1" for Dillon? If things don't go well, will the Panther faithful blame his family for forcing Coach Taylor out?