As a logical extension of its old "It's New to You!" marketing campaign for reruns, NBC finally trots out the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights tonight (8 p.m.), months after the critically acclaimed, unjustly ignored drama had its farewell run on DirecTV.
The fourth season ended with many of its main characters in transition: Tami Taylor steps down as West Dillon's principal after refusing to follow the school board's apology script for not counseling East Dillon student Becky Sproles to not get an abortion; Tim Riggins braces for a prison stint after taking the fall for his brother's chop shop operation; Julie Taylor finally makes a clean break of her relationship with Matt Saracen; and Landry Clarke kicks the game-winning field goal against West Dillon but loses the girl to East Dillon quarterback Vince Howard.
Tonight's opening episode is all about saying farewell to a few principal characters from past seasons and introducing the next perceived savior for East Dillon football.
Julie Taylor and Landry Clarke appear headed to, at best, cameo stints in an episode revolving in part around their departures for college. The season opener also leaves you wondering if Jess Merriweather's father Vernon (played by Steve Harris), who played a key role in FNL's fourth season as the former East Dillon quarterback and stand-in father figure for Vince, is gone for good.
(IMDB indicates that Harris' time as an FNL cast member was limited to the fourth season.)
Vernon Merriweather's absence factors into the depiction of his daughter Jess' struggles to rein in her younger brothers, and Vince stepping into a big brother mentor role for them.
Gone also is Becky's mother, leaving her home situation even more fractured and difficult than last season. Will she end up on the Taylor family's couch at some point this season? That seems a requirement for all troubled Dillon youth.
The one new character introduced tonight is Hastings Ruckle, a standout basketball player at East Dillon who resists Coach Taylor's efforts to join the football team because he considers football players "roided-up toolbags" who celebrate the worst instincts of American culture. We know he's supposed to be a hip iconoclast because he wears a ski cap wherever he goes.
At first glance, he appears to be a knockoff of "Sunshine," the shaggy haired military man's son who plays quarterback for T.C. Williams in the Denzel Washington movie "Remember the Titans," but we'll give actor Grey Damon a chance to flesh out the character.
It's too soon to tell if he's supposed to be the new Tim Riggins, who's limited to one brooding prison yard scene, but Hastings clearly is destined for a larger role in the final season.
As a transition episode, tonight's season 5 opener offers enough reminders of why Friday Night Light loyalists (all 127 of you out there who don't prefer 'Wipeout' or NCIS reruns, apparently) have stayed with the show. Now it just remains to find out how many loose ends will be left when this final snapshot of life in Dillon wraps up.