Before I review the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, I’m going to do a mini-review of the series thus far, since it’s a show few have heard about, but which has received almost universal praise from those critics and fans who have.
Roughly speaking, it’s a teen drama about an American football team in the small town of Dillon, Texas. However, it’s got about as much in common with a show like The O.C. as The Wire does with C.S.I., or The Office with Fawlty Towers.
It’s filmed with multiple, as oppose to single, cameras at once. This gives it a documentary-style feel, and was chosen to give actors a bit more freedom to ad-lib lines and movement as and when they see fit.
The show also goes to great lengths to create real, three-dimensional characters. It’s difficult to think of another series, or in fact any other story where I was so connected to the central characters. The best way to describe the experience of watching the show is like catching up with old friends.
(From now on there’s Spoilers for Seasons 1 to 3 of the show – you have been warned!)
Season 4 then. The transition for season 3 to 4 saw possibly the biggest change to the show thus far. Coach Taylor was fired from the Dillon Panthers, and asked to take over the as yet non-existent East Dillon Lions.
Not only that, but with almost all of the original teen cast graduated from High School, the show needed to find a new younger generation to fill in the gap left by the exit of The Smash, Jason Street, Tyra and Lyla in the previous season.
Step forward Luke, Jess, Becky, and Vince (Wallace from The Wire). Their introduction to the series is a masterclass in how to introduce a whole new set of cast members, while retaining the spirit and feel of the series.
The writers’ wisely choosing to concentrate mainly on established characters at the start of the season, and then gradually giving the new cast more screen time in future episodes.
Fans of The Wire’s Season 4 will no doubt identify with Vince’s arc this season. As he, much like the four boys in the HBO show, has to deal with a drug-dependent mother and staying on the right side of the law to avoid going to juvenile prison. Like all things on Friday Night Lights, it’s handled expertly: with the right mix of realism but hopefulness at the same time.
Two of the (now graduated) characters who did remain were Matt Saracen and Tim Riggins. For me, these two characters provided the highlights of the season.
There’s an episode centring on Matt Saracen about half way through the season that is, in my opinion, the strongest single episode the show has ever done, and had me crying like a little baby on more than one occasion.
The development of Riggins’ character through out the season was equally well-handled. I was somewhat sceptical upon seeing him ‘return’ to the show, after his apparent exit at the end of season 3. However, the way his arc was handled more than justified it. The place he finishes at by the end of this season, a far cry from the Riggins we saw way back at the show’s beginning four years ago.
Friday Night Lights’ Fourth Season continues to be as engaging and well-realised as ever. Despite almost half its cast changing it still feels very much like the same show we’ve all come to know and love over the past few years. It’s a great credit to the show’s creators that they’ve managed to continue the brilliance and quality of its previous three years.