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'Friday Night Lights' recap: Clear eyes, full hearts, CAN lose

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It’s a new season of Friday Night Lights… for anyone who uses DirecTV’s 101 Network. Because EW readers — and this EW critic — love this series, I’m going to write weekly recaps of the show. I’ll put a dutiful SPOILER ALERT at the top of every post. So if you can’t wait until next year, when NBC airs these episodes, feel free to come here, read, and join in with comments and questions. OK? You are now officially SPOILER ALERTED. Here we go:

Oh, man, what a dust bowl that new East Dillon football field is. You can almost feel the grit getting into the eyes of Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor, and that red cap sits heavily upon his head. Since the re-districting of Dillon and his loss of the lead-coach position at (west) Dillon, Eric has his work cut out for him. Dusty, tedious work: building a new team.

That team will include Vince (Michael B. Jordan), a new-character tough kid whom the police brought to Eric at the start of the hour, hoping he’d take the kid on as part of the “Cops ‘N’ Jocks,” second-chance program for minor-offenders. It’s impossible to tell what Victor is like from the premiere, which required him to limit his reactions to sullen and wary (as who would not be, in his position — a black youth handed over to a white coach who doesn’t even understand him when he tells Coach the only football he’s played is the Madden videogame).

For FNL fans, the most rewarding scenes, as directed with crisp briskness by Peter Berg, were those that caught us up with key characters:

• Tim Riggins has had it with college — great moment when he tossed his textbooks out the window of his roaring pick-up truck, yes?

• Matt is having his dreams of being an artist dashed by a provincial art teacher who couldn’t care less that he’d been accepted to the Chicago Institute of Art. Plus, he’s delivering “Panther Pizza” door-to-door. Plus:

• J.D. McCoy, the callow wuss last season, has become a grade-A d— who condescends to Matt and comes on to Matt’s girl, Julie. Good fight material here. Or as Landry (the always-terrific Jesse Plemons) referred to it, Matt’s “Get thee behind me, Satan” even-temper has to blow up.

• Tami is feeling the heat as the school official who’s the public face of the unpopular Dillon re-districting. (And is it me, or is that face of Connie Britton’s more glowingly radiant with every new season?) But Tami is also wily, tough Tami: It was clever the way she turned the Panthers coin-toss into a small act of revenge against Joe McCoy (hello, D.W. Moffett, king of the witty smirk!). And speaking Joe McCoy, did you catch how depressed and dismayed Joe’s former champion, the great Buddy Garrity (welcome back, Brad Leland!) looked sitting in the coach’s locker room. Trouble’s a-brewin’ there…

• Do you think Tim Riggins’ new girlfriend will end up being the daughter of the bartender he bedded last night? Actress Madison Burge certainly seems to be set up to become the new Adrianne Palicki, who’ll have only minimal involvement in the show this season.

So, bottom line: Are you already engaged by Coach Taylor’s challenge to turn the East Dillon stragglers into guys who can complete the phrase, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”? Did you think the Dillon Lions’ forfeited first game was an exciting bit of realism, or a dramatic cop-out?

Or are you leery about having to follow two different teams plus all the FNL subplots? Is that going to stretch our favorite sports show too thin?

Comment away, please.

And you can follow me on Twitter.

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