Having let DirecTV have first crack at the 13 third-season episodes of "Friday Night Lights," NBC begins airing them tonight. And if you have been eagerly awaiting the show's return to first-season form, you will most likely get it tonight. I will explain the "most likely" and talk a bit more about the show after the jump.
I say "most likely" because I am not entirely sure what you will see in tonight's "FNL," and what you won't. DirecTV's version of the first episode ran about 50 minutes commercial-free, and I expect NBC has cut that back to make room for ads. (Most hour-long commercial shows run about 42 minutes these days.) I asked NBC about any cutting of this or other episodes, but did not get an answer, and the network sent out the DirecTV cuts of the first 11 episodes of the season to critics.
So I'm just going to have to tell you that I have seen those 11 episodes, and they are indeed a return to form for the show -- no murder to cover up, just a lot of personal stories about the people of Dillon, Texas, and especially those involved with football at Dillon High School.
Not that everything is status quo. Tami Taylor (the remarkable Connie Britton) is now the principal of the high school, which changes some of the dynamics with her football-coach husband Eric (Kyle Chandler). Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), the Dillon quarterback, is facing a challenge from a new student -- one whose wealthy aggressive father isn't shy about getting what he wants for his son. Challenges also face two recent Dillon graduates, Smash (Gaius Charles) and Street (Scott Porter), as they try to figure out the rest of their lives. And it's not all that easy for some of the students stil at Dillon, especially Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Lyla (Minka Kelly).
Over the course of the season, you'll see major events for all these characters, some surprises, many satisfying moments, and the revisiting of old issues and romances. There are some flaws, but there is far more to entertain and even move you in the episodes I have seen. Enjoy. And let's talk as the season rolls along.