NOTE: This and all other "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.
"You know what? No matter what happens, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, I'm always going to be behind you. Always and always and always." -Tami TaylorAnd you know what? If, by some miracle, NBC and DirecTV both decide it's in their best interests to keep "Friday Night Lights" going for another season(*), I'm going to be right behind it. I've enjoyed this season overall, but these last couple of episodes, and the set-up with Eric taking over East Dillon High, has me for the first time really pulling for renewal.
(*) Obviously, this review was written months before NBC and DirecTV teamed up to order two more seasons of the show. But the sentiments expressed within it all still stand.
"Tomorrow Blues" does a fine job of seeing off several of the graduating characters. If we never see Riggins or Lyla or Tyra again, then I'll be okay with it because their exits (Tim and Tyra's, especially) were handled with such grace. And the developments with both Saracen and Coach work either as thematically-appropriate farewells to both characters -- we've known from episode one that, in the world of "Friday Night Lights," not every person gets the fate they deserve, no matter how hard-working or pure of heart -- or as springboards for a fourth season.
Good as this season has been, we're all aware how much of it was retracing familiar ground from the show's first year. A fourth season with Eric as coach at East Dillon -- with lousy facilities, no boosters, and all the good players gerrymandered into the Dillon High district by Buddy and Joe McCoy -- has potential to not only be very different, but really inspiring. It's one thing to see Eric work in a system where he's the master of all he surveys, and quite another for him to be running a team where "Lance"(**) could conceivably be his most talented player. Eric and Buddy as enemies instead of allies could be great to see, as would a possible story where Joe edges Buddy out as king of the boosters and Buddy winds up re-teaming with Eric to try to make something of the disgraceful East Dillon squad. There are a whole lot of ways this can go, all of them potentially fascinating, all of them very much fitting in the themes of the show, and none of them rehashing what's come before. And unlike Eric going off to coach at TMU, this is a change in the status quo that doesn't ever have to reset. They could very easily get through a fourth season or even (pie in the sky time) several seasons with Eric stuck coaching the runts of the town while Wade Aikman tries to ride JD McCoy's arm back to State, and it would still be "Friday Night Lights."
(**) According to this very interesting interview that Jason Katims did with Sporting News writer Chris Littmann, Landry and Julie were both juniors this year, and would therefore be in play for a fourth year.
And while I don't like the decision that Matt made about abandoning art school so he wouldn't have to abandon Grandma, I understand it from Matt's perspective. It stinks that he feels he has to set his own future aside to stick by the one person who always stuck by him, but life ain't fair, not everybody gets a happy ending, and I can absolutely see the stand-up kid we've watched for the last three years make this choice.
I'm also relieved to know that, in the aforementioned interview, Katims said they didn't have a hypothetical season four in mind when they chose this route for Matt. Again, I get it, and it feels true to the spirit of the series that someone would wind up stuck in Dillon after high school.
And for a good chunk of the finale, it looked like that someone would be Tim Riggins, and that he would be more than happy to be stuck under a hydraulic lift at his brother's garage, drinking beers, fixing cars and forever telling stories of the glory years playing with Six, Seven and Smash. But Billy's speech about how one member of the Riggins family needs to get out of this town and make something of himself so that future generations know that it can be done was a lovely idea. And I like that Tim's exit is somewhat bittersweet. He's really made peace with the world over the last couple of seasons (his emotional journey was one of the few highlights of season two), and I can easily imagine that he'd be much more content staying in this comfort zone than he might be going out into the world, struggling against college competition and real academics (or as close as a party school can get). As with so many things in the finale, it felt right.
Tyra and Lyla's exits were a bit easier. Lyla in particular turns out to have an uncle who can magically solve all her college tuition problems, and Katims and Jeffrey Reiner obviously deemed her inner struggle over whether to stick with Tim or go to her dream school not interesting enough to actually show. But I found the maturity with which she accepted Tim's refusal to hold her back a nice contrast to the girl from the start of season one who had built her whole life around Jason Street.
And with Matt getting the short end of the stick, Tyra pulls off an unlikely but still touching escape when she gets off the wait list and into Texas. Though I often found her stories problematic (even ignoring the murder), Adrianne Palicki always gave this character everything she had; just look at the way she's shaking with equal parts fear and hope as she opens up the admissions letter. That, ladies and gentlemen, isn't a hot blonde. That's an actress. I hope (and expect) to see a lot more of her in the future, as well as Taylor Kitsch and Zach Gilford and the rest of this brilliant young cast, whether the show comes back or not, whether Katims decides to bring back the graduated seniors or not.
If the show somehow continues, I'm excited for the possibilities created by the East Dillon move. And if it ends, we'll always have those moments where "Friday Night Lights" reached deep into our guts, or brushed across our spines, and moved us in a way that few of us would have expected from a show about Texas high school football.
If this is the end -- if the last image of the series is of Eric and Julie holding each other and staring out at that abandoned field that's about to become Eric's new professional home -- then we'll still have our memories.
Last time (or not): Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!
Some other thoughts:
* I joked at the end of season one that a renewed "Friday Night Lights" would feature NBC-mandated changes like murder mysteries and Tyra and Lyla working at a bikini car wash. We eventually got the murder (though it came from Katims, not NBC), and we got the bikinis, too, but the brief glimpses here didn't so much feel titillating as they did wistful, as we saw Lyla with Tim, and Tyra with Landry, enjoying those peaceful and carefree last days of high school and the welcome arrival of spring and then summer.
* Just as last week gave us a Street reference with Tyra's brainstorming session for her application essay, this one gives us one last Smash reference, as Buddy invokes his name as a recruitment tool. That was a nice touch.
* Speaking of which, for the last time this season, it's time for me to call on the high school football experts (Texas or otherwise) to explain exactly how you do recruitment (or whatever Buddy called it) when, in theory, kids go to whatever school is in their district.
* The moment where Eric and Julie gave Julie a new car was sweet, but whatever happened to the used one she planned to buy with her Applebee's money?
* Another nice nod to the show's history: Buddy and Tyra's mom dance at Mindy's wedding, and enough time has clearly passed that they can do it -- and Lyla can watch -- without anyone's feelings being hurt.
* Loved Billy's stupid white tux and ten gallon hat. Just a perfect choice.
What did everybody else think?