Full disclosure: I have been nursing an obsession with Kyle Chandler since I was 16. I had a letter to the editor published in Us Magazine in 11th grade, extolling his hotness, and in my yearbook's senior predictions I believe I said I would marry his Homefront character Jeff Metcalf. Strange? Perhaps. But also, kind of cool, because not many people know who he is, so it makes him more mine. Wait, I think I hear a cease and desist letter knocking at my door. For what it's worth, he did marry a writer and have two daughters. Coincidence? Yes.
Homefront was a gem of a show. His follow-up, Early Edition, was not and I didn't love him enough to watch it anyway. So imagine my relief, when he came back to television in the role of Coach Eric Taylor on critically-acclaimed Friday Night Lights, except that at first I didn't watch. Football and Texas are not necessarily my thing. (Except tonight - Go Ravens!) When I finally did tune in, what I found was a show only marginally about football and actually about everything else that makes parenting and growing-up complex and gritty and wonderful and sad.
After striking a deal with DirecTV, where the third season aired last fall, FNL was saved from the ax, and the premiere of Season 3 was on NBC Friday. It's the beginning of a new school year and Tami Taylor is the new principal; Coach Taylor is officially back to getting beat up on local sports' radio as the Panthers head coach; Smash suffered an ACL injury that cost him his scholarship and Lila has made the switch from raising herself up to Jesus to laying down with Riggins (and really, who wouldn't?). Tyra and Landry are on a break and Saracen and Julie are status unknown. I assume, as the season moves on we will see how Jason Street is managing the unexpected pregnancy from last season.
There is also the addition of a new freshman QB, whose talent could jeopardize Saracen's place on the team. The kid is talented, and even Grandma Saracen noticed.
Coach Taylor is just a regular guy with a family and a football team. He loves his wife (the impeccable Connie Britton) and two daughters, though they generally cause him a fair deal of confusion. He has high expectations for his players, but knows that Riggins is a drunk. He isn't above throwing a player off the team when he has to, or taking him back. He tossed Saracen in the shower last season to sober him up and give him the Coach lecture, only to find a scared kid, heartbroken at the string of people who keep leaving him alone. He might try to heal everything with football, but he endures and that quiet devotion is what makes this more than a football show.
Friday's premiere found him helping Smash get healthy. On a show soaking in authenticity, Smash isn't doing anything but working at the Alamo Freeze fast food joint. Football is everything. It's a ticket out of Dillon and to college. Without it, many of these guys don't have far to fall to the bottom. I have a feeling whatever Smash's future holds; it's going to make all of us weep to watch him and Coach sort it out.
Tyra was the other focus of the premiere. As much as I want her to get away from Dillon and her stripper sister and drunken mother, I also feel frustrated that she has to deliver speeches all the time. FNL doesn't really do speeches, unless it's Coach getting his team pumped for a game (Clear Eyes! Full Heart! Can't Lose!) And yet, Tyra had to deliver a speech to her counselor. It's not that he didn't deserve to be told off, but the best part of this show is the quietness and the struggle to find the right words. I did, however, love her assessment of Billy's engagement to her sister. Marriage, baby, divorce, fights over child support. Ouch. The boys aren't the only ones hoping for a better day.
Of course there was Tim Riggins — currently star football player and hot as hell; future washed up football player and town drunk. He and Lila are all flummoxed about whether or not to let on to Dillon and all of Tim's girls-on-the-side that they are a couple. They share a kiss at the post-game party that settles the issue for the moment, but Riggins carries the wounds and weariness of a man twice his age, so I think this couple has some hurdles ahead of them.
No Friday Night Lights would be complete without the perfection that is Tami Taylor. When she took Buddy's jumbotron money away so that she could pay for school supplies and teacher's salaries, I just about cried with pride. I think Tami the Principal and the Panthers might have a few disagreements this season. It's been so interesting watching this character come into her life. From her job as school counselor, to a surprise pregnancy, to navigating her marriage and Julie's high school years, to her new promotion, she has shown what it looks like to emerge from the shadows. It's messy and exhilarating. I will cherish her character as one of the best on TV — ever.
Next in blogging land: Gossip Girl and maybe the inauguration (looking for the words!).