After the jump, in case you missed it, is my Beacon Journal column tied to the fourth-season premiere, on DirecTV on Wednesday...
Never the kind of show that sat near the top of the ratings, Friday Night Lights has scratched to survive.
In its third and now its fourth season, it has done a mere 13 episodes. And it has survived not so much through the good graces of NBC, where it began, as from the help of satellite service DirecTV, which began underwriting the show for its third season.
But the price of DirecTV's participation has been that it gets the first run of new episodes. So, while NBC has indicated that it will carry the fourth season of Friday Night Lights in the late spring or summer of 2010, DirecTV will begin airing the new episodes at 9 p.m. Wednesday on its 101 Network channel.
Regardless of where it airs, I am glad to have a chance to see the show again. And the fourth season starts promisingly, with an array of new dramatic issues for its characters.
Fans of the drama about life in and around a Texas high school football program will recall that the third season ended with considerable uncertainty. Many of the student characters graduated. And Dillon High football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) was let go after a power play by an influential parent (D.W. Moffett), and forced to start over as the coach at the reopening East Dillon High.
The fourth Friday Night Lights season begins the following August, with Eric learning in great detail what it means to start from scratch, and with few resources. His wife, Tami (Connie Britton), remains principal of Dillon High -- now known as West Dillon -- but that involves animosities remaining from Eric's ouster and from the assigning of some students to East Dillon.
Former Dillon stars like Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) still have ties to the community, but not nearly the connection they had in high school. Saracen in particular has had to defer dreams to care for his ailing grandmother.
The season premiere does not always work. Eric's relationship with his new football team is often wrapped in the cliches of many previous football stories. But other times, the show is its usual compelling self. Its characters are still written with an understandable if sometimes unpredictable blend of good and bad qualities. History, and old wounds from previous seasons, are not forgotten. And it has actors like Chandler and Britton to carry moments when the writing needs help.
As I said, I am glad to see it. And anxious for more.