Justin Stephens, NBC
A lot of things have changed as "Friday Night Lights" (Friday, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) begins its fourth season, but one thing hasn't. It's still one of the best shows on TV.
Season 4 picks up a few months after Season 3 ended. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been exiled to East Dillon High, which is more than a bit of a comedown from Dillon High.
The field is a mess. So are the facilities — the coach finds a raccoon in the lockers.
To call the team rag-tag would be an understatement. He's got a volunteer assistant. He's got Landry (Jesse Plemons).
One of his best prospects, Vince (Michael B. Jordan), is a juvenile offender. And he's dealing with players who live in a very tough part of town.
Let's just say that it doesn't look like coach Taylor will be battling for a state championship. And adding to the bitterness is the fact that Dillon — the team that was stolen out from under him — just might be the best team in Texas.
The re-opening of East Dillon has split not just the football team but the entire town. And Coach Taylor's wife, Tami (Connie Britton) — who's still principal of Dillon High — is caught in the middle.
A lot of familiar faces are back — Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden), Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) and Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), all of whom face some big changes.
Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett), the overbearing, interfering father who engineered coach Taylor's ouster is causing more trouble, and his son, quarterback J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter), is now as big a jerk as the old man. As is the new Dillon coach, Wade Aikman (Drew Waters).
And there are a number of new faces, including star running back Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria); Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), the daughter of a onetime NFL hopeful; and Becky Sproles (Madison Burge), a 15-year-old beauty queen who ends up at the center of a huge controversy.
And there is a huge controversy that unfairly, frustratingly puts Tami right in the middle.
As has always been the case, you don't have to like football to like "Friday Night Lights." Football is the framework for what remains a gritty, family drama with enormous heart.
The 13-episode fourth season of "Friday Night Lights" already aired on DirecTV from October-February — part of the deal that kept the show alive for Seasons 3, 4 and 5.
And it will return for a fifth and almost certainly final season, which is currently in production.
Given the quality of the first four seasons, it will be a finale worth waiting for.