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Friday Night Lights

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Bill Records

9-10 PM · NBC · Returns Oct. 5

May we propose a tweak to the oldest cliché in sports: It’s not whether you win or lose — it’s whether or not they let you play the damn game. Fortunately, NBC’s Friday Night Lights — a drama about a Texas high school football team, but really an exploration of relationships, race, and more — received a second-season renewal by the pigskin of its teeth. While this was thrilling news for a show that didn’t crack last season’s top 100, no one is practicing end-zone dances just yet. ”We’re still on the bubble, and we have to pull the numbers if we’re gonna complete the season,” declares Kyle Chandler, sounding a lot like his blue-capped, no-nonsense alter ego, Coach Taylor. ”We’re in the mindset that we can do it — and we will do it.”

From his lips to the Peacock’s ears. ”There’s a huge cheering section within NBC,” notes exec VP Erin Gough Wehrenberg. ”The hurdle is how to [attract] people who’ve decided just from the name that this isn’t a show for them.” The network will emphasize the show’s ”fun and exciting” content over the critic-lovefest angle, and move FNL to the more adult hour of 9 p.m. on the less competitive (and titularly appropriate) Friday. ”On Fridays, they’ll give us time to build slowly,” says exec producer Jason Katims, ”which is what the show is saying it wants to do.”

The story resumes eight months after the Panthers claimed the state title and Taylor accepted a college gig in Austin; he temporarily returns to Dillon to assist pregnant wife Tami (Connie Britton) with the delivery. ”It seemed liked a good idea [when] they decided to do this long-distance relationship, but they realize that maybe this is a huge mistake,” says Katims. Adds Britton: ”I came back this season, gave birth, and experienced postpartum depression — that was my first day of work!”

As the Panthers adjust to a new, bullheaded coach (Chris Mulkey), running back Smash (Gaius Charles) believes his own hype, fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) parties even harder than usual, cheerleading trauma magnet Lyla (Minka Kelly) finds Jesus, and — get this! — paralyzed quarterback-turned-mentor Jason Street (Scott Porter) regains some movement. Elsewhere, Coach’s daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), and QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) will grow apart when she meets a college musician and he befriends the nurse trainee caring for his grandma, while a dark event ties reforming bad girl Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) to mathlete Landry (Jesse Plemons). And producers have even discussed the possibility of asking fan Rosie O’Donnell to guest-star on the show.

Will any of this transform FNL into a prime-time player? ”I’m not above holding females in the 18-to-49 demographic at gunpoint and saying, ‘You better watch!”’ says Britton. Chandler is (slightly) less violent: ”Why not be the underdog? If you get too lucky, your knives get dull and someone’s going to kill you. We’re sharp out here.” We get the point — and hope that the rest of America soon will, too. —Dan Snierson