The lovely drama begins its fifth and apparently final season tonight for DirecTV viewers, with an NBC replay expected somewhere down the road. But I'd say this is one of those nights when you want either to have DirecTV or make friends with someone who does. ...
The new season begins in the August following last season, as another school year is beginning. We quickly see what is up with many of the characters: Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is in prison, having taken the rap for his brother; Billy (Derek Phillips), Riggin's brother, is trying to stay on the straight and narrow; Landry (Jesse Plemons) and Julie (Aimee Teagarden) are preparing to head off to college; Tami (Connie Britton) is now the guidance counselor at East Dillon; Eric (Kyle Chandler) is beginning his second season as East Dillon's football coach after a 2-8 debut season, and his first opponent is the defending state champ; Jess (Jurnee Smollett) is still with Vince (Michael B. Jordan) but is also trying to run a household while her father is off franchising his barbecue place; Becky (Madison Burge) has to deal with her father's new family.
That's part of what we see in the season premiere, which also introduces a new character, but which also feels a touch thin to an old fan like me because there are other characters who are not around -- Jess's dad, for instance, and Becky's mom, and of course former regulars who have moved on. But there is still a richness and beauty to what remains -- even if it is not always plausible. (Julie going off to college by herself, for instance, just did not feel right.) Chandler and Britton remain one of the great couples in TV history. Tami's situation at East Dillon is very well drawn, both in her optimism and in the reality of what she faces at a poor, downtrodden school. (The scene of her first staff meeting is a little gem.) Where "Glee" is often presented as a show about the struggle to follow a dream and still fit in, "FNL" has addressed the same subject -- and does again tonight, with several characters, and does so with understatement, effective acting, and no songs.
I admit to being a little irrational about the show. I love the characters so much, the wheels would really have to fall off to keep me from watching. Even during the dreadful Landry-Tyra-murder episodes, I kept going on, hoping the show would eventually get off that story, relishing the good things going on around it. Yes, as has been the case before, there are flaws in tonight's premiere. But there are also things of beauty, like the staff-meeting scene, or Landry visiting Matt Saracen's grandmother. I am just so glad to have a chance to see moments like that again.