The fourth season of Friday Night Lights has gone gently into that Dillon night — at least if you have DirecTV. (And contrary to some online reports, there has been no official decision made on whether season five will be the last, according to showrunner Jason Katims.)
If you're waiting for the fourth season to begin on NBC, you still have 2 1/2 months to go. But for those who got to enjoy the past year, read on as On the Air's Stuart Levine, Cynthia Littleton and Jon Weisman share their thoughts about Wednesday's finale and the season overall.
Spoilers from season four below.
JW: I'm going to start right off by saying I thought it was a tremendous year. Not without its bumps, but overall, once again, as good as anything on television. The creation of East Dillon at the end of season three was a stroke of genius — serving both as a potential series finale or series rebirth — and having gotten the greenlight to move forward, "FNL" followed through with a great season whose main problem was too much story to fit into the 13 episodes.
SL: With Coach Taylor being shipped over to East Dillon in the season-three finale, that could've easily been a series-ending moment, and it would've been hard to argue against. And I have to say I had my doubts about continuing on, but Jason Katims and his writers continued with what they had been doing all along. Providing authentic storylines for a group of kids and adults who continually face life's challenges head on. Who would've thought that without folks such as Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki and Scott Porter the show wouldn't miss a single beat? On that note, huzzahs to Michael B. Jordan, Matt Lauria (right), Jurnee Smollett and Madison Burge for stepping up. Also, though he rarely gets the attention of others, Derek Phillips as Billy Riggins showed a vulnerability in his scenes with Taylor Kitsch that was truly heartfelt.
JW: Eric and Tami remain the heart of the show, but Kitsch has emerged as Heart 1A. I'll admit I was a little disappointed when college flew out the window so quickly, considering how important it was for him and Billy that he go at the end of last season, but it was more than made up for by his desire to grow up, as we saw through his platonic befriending of Becky, his volunteer coaching at East Dillon and his goal of buying that idyllic piece of property. Through it all, Kitsch was better than ever in conveying emotion through his restrained performance, so that when the fates slammed down on him at season's end, you were heartbroken.
CL: As our friend Brian Lowry observed, the casting directors on this show should be up for sainthood. They did an amazing job of recruiting a group of new thesps who were fantastic and fit right in with the formidable ensemble. I just can't say enough about Michael B. Jordan, who plays Vince, Jurnee Smollett (Jess), Matt Lauria (Luke) and most especially Madison Burge (Becky). The episode "I Can't" in which Becky wrestles with whether or not to have an abortion was one of the most incredible hours of television I have ever seen, and it is a credit to this young actress that she could pull it off. I want to cry just thinking about that episode.
SL: Talk about crying, the injustice of not seeing Kyle Chandler or Connie Britton's name on a list of nominees can bring a grown man to tears, and, sadly, I don't expect to see a change of course this year. I never get tired of Coach's pep talks with his Lions (and Panthers previously). I think it's because they're not always about winning, but about forming lifelong relationship with teammates that will last long after graduation. Riggins and Matt Saracen may never cross paths again — and likely won't, except for a reunion — but they will always be Panthers and share in the glory of state championship. That bond is immeasureable.
JW: I was wondering during last night's finale if Riggins and Saracen would cross paths one more time, but each had too much on their plate. One of the minor things that did bother me about this season was that they changed the reason why Matt had stayed in Dillon - originally it was about his grandmother, but then suddenly it was all about Julie. But those continuity cracks are pretty easily forgivable in a show of this quality. Similarly, although I thought Vince turned back to crime rather abruptly (after Jess's dad, played by Steve Harris, told him they would find a way to make things work for his mother's rehab), they more than salvaged the story with some showcase moments for Jordan and Smollett.
SL: Speaking of Jess, was sad to see her dump Landry for Vince, but I can understand why. Poor Landry can't get a break. After pining over Tyra for two years, she leaves him after going to college and now his suaveness is lost on Jess. Would've been nice to see Tyra make a visit in Dillon in season 4 and see how she's doing in school, but maybe scheduling conflicts couldn't make it happen.
JW: It does set the stage for a Landry-Tyra reunion in season five, which would be fine by me. Where is Landry going to college, by the way? And Julie? This season of "FNL" ended at Thanksgiving - there's going to be a lot of ground to cover in the opening moments of season five. Which I can't wait for. I think it will only help that Tami is back at East Dillon with Eric, even though it means that we'll hardly see anything at Dillon High next year. (Add to the list of things that got short shrift in season four: The fall of the Dillon Panthers under the new regime. For all the grief Eric Taylor has gotten, what kind of flack do Wade Aikman and the McCoys get for missing the playoffs entirely?)
SL: Yeah, all Eric ever does is win big games and play an instrumental role in turning boys into men. Shame on everyone associated with Dillon for firing him. Morons. They got what they deserved. For all of Eric's sainthood, however, was interesting to see him fall into some traps late in the season, including having a bit of an alcohol problem. Remember when he forgot where he parked his car after drinking too much with Buddy? His marriage with Tami has always been rock solid, but wouldn't be surprised to see the writers test that bond next season.
JW: I thought they were hinting at a potential drinking problem for Eric when they pushed that button for a couple of episodes, but he seemed sober enough in the finale. Again, maybe they just ran out of time, but I don't know now that I expect them to return to that storyline in season five. For that matter, nothing happened with us seeing assistant coach/Sears salesman extraordinaire Stan in a gay bar.
I wonder how receptive East Dillon will be for Tami next season. Under the circumstances, I'm not sure they'd be any happier to have her than Dillon High was.
CL: Tami Taylor is my idol. I want to be her when I grow up. And I just wish my hair had one-tenth of her bounce.