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'Friday Night Lights' rebuilding to glory

A scene from the

A scene from the "East of Dillon" episode of "Friday Night Lights." Credit: NBC Photo

In the fourth season of the NBC show, Dillon has been split into two school districts, and Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) heads to East Dillon High, while wife Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) stays with West Dillon as principal. In a power play by Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett), Wade Aikmen (Drew Waters) has been installed as new coach of the West Dillon Panthers.

WHAT THE EPISODE IS ABOUT: Tumbleweeds seem to bounce down the derelict field of the East Dillon Lions. Graffiti is scrawled on the field house, and a raccoon has taken up residence in a locker. Welcome to Coach Taylor's new gig. East Dillon's a grim place, too. Most of the money, attention and school pride went to the other side of the tracks.

East Dillon is mostly black and Hispanic, and the kids here haven't been coddled - or cowed - by the likes of Coach Taylor. He starts a team from scratch. There's Vince (Michael B. Jordan), a shy, troubled kid with great potential. Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) joins, too, and after redistricting shenanigans are uncovered, so does Panther star running back Luke (Matt Lauria). Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is taking art classes at a community college; Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is back in Dillon before long.

MY SAY: Coming upon "FNL" can be the TV equivalent of coming upon a deep, cool spring in the desert; you plunk your head down, drink greedily, come up for air and then spout hyperbolic praise. No difference after this drink, either. "Friday Night Lights" remains one of the greatest joys on TV. But watching Coach Taylor - and Riggins, Saracen, even Tami - in adversity has actually made it thrilling again. A stranger comes up to Taylor at a gas station and tells him to "find your inner pirate. . . . You might be the luckiest man alive and not even know it." "FNL" has found its inner pirate, but we're the lucky ones.

BOTTOM LINE: Quirky, funny, smart, wonderful acting, surprise cameos by cherished actors (Steve Harris, "The Practice"), and a one-two punch by Chandler and Britton that is unbeatable. What's not to love?



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