"Friday Night Lights" kicks off its final 13-episode run on DirecTV with "Expectations."And as East Dillon seems to be on the rise with a devoted guidance counselor, a handsome new student and an organized football team, the last vestiges of our formerly beloved Panthers leave town for college."FNL's" return always makes our TV fall, so this last outing is clearly bittersweet -- much like everything that happens to the poor saps on this series. As they say, spoiler warning: "I'm actually gonna miss this place"Julie's (Aimee Teegarden) awkward roommate-intro phone call really set the tone for her and Landry's (Jesse Plemons) departure -- though we already know she's not actually going anywhere. Everyone else either left the series off camera or under different circumstances, so it was appropriate that we got that we finally got to experience that surreal last night in the hometown. We still remember visiting our own best friend's senile grandmother and getting a lap dance after our Christian metal band's final performance. Memories... It warms the cockles to see Julie emerge as the cool, amazing, mature person we saw in this episode. She's always been a good egg, but it's been frequently marred by hissy fits and unwarranted teenage snark. What girl gets her funny-looking male friend a lap dance the night before he moves off for college? The best kind.And of course Landry would refer to Grandma Saracen as his "lady." He's that kid. And thank god he is, because otherwise we wouldn't have gotten any of that darling old biddy's zingers. How this woman still manages to avoid being put in a home, despite the fact that all of her family members are dead or on different shows, boggles the mind. "Your mama's not gonna be on that casino boat for ever"In a convenient turn of events, the parental population Dillon seems to have fled Dodge for the final season. Becky's (Madison Burge) mom is working a casino boat in what we imagine to be the greatest spin-off we'll never get to see, Jess's (Jurnee Smollett) dad is franchising their family BBQ restaurant and Luke's (Matt Lauria) parents went "out of town for the weekend." [Editor's note: born-again ranchers don't take vacations.]Poor Becky. Her dad, who must have some secret history as "Reno 911" extra, is living life on the road and she's stuck with her trashy step-mom. But not for long. Riggins' (Taylor Kitsch) pre-prison promise that she could count on his family comes through when she asks Billy (Derek Phillips) if she can move in and he accepts. We cannot wait to what Mindy has to say about this.And speaking of the Riggins boys: Our hormonal glee at the unexpected Taylor Kitsch cameo deflated after about 10 seconds of that painful interaction with his on-screen brother. We don't fault Tim for his resentment towards Billy, but its still hard to stomach.Almost as hard to stomach as Billy's attempt at assistant coaching for East Dillon, which sees him vying for secretly gay Stan's (Russell DeGrazier) status as most likely to induce folded arms from Coach Taylor. "The hippy" What better way to introduce the newest East player than to have the team's two resident stars flirt him into submission. Vince (Michael B. Jordan) and Luke's initial reluctance about "Hasting Ruckle," (played by "Grey Damon," who, like his character, sounds like an imported tea) soon melts into blatant homo-eroticism, with both trying different methods to get Hasting on the team. Luke showed off his family's prize pig while whispering drunk nothings into Hasting's ear, while Vince went the more traditional root of sacrificing his hot girlfriend for the good of the team. Jess cannot be tamed. And though she's managed to keep hold of Vince since dumping Landry late in Season 4, that can't be for much longer. She and Hasting have instant chemistry. And even though she and everyone else in Dillon mocks him for his highfalutin, new age, basketball-playing ways, these two are destined to hook up. Oh, and it's 2010. We're pretty sure 17-year-old boys from the wrong side of town say "hippy.""I do not like the way this is starting"Don't get us wrong. They killed it with this opener, but there is too little to report on the Tami/Eric front. And while we appreciate the set-up for Tami's counseling woes -- Can we meet "Epic" now? Please? -- and Eric's revitalized football program, where's the interaction? Clearly, we'll never get our fill of watching Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play off of one another, so we'd probably have the same complaint after 43 uninterrupted minutes of them eating dinner together.And we know the series already wrapped, but does that necessarily mean it's too late to pitch a storyline about them bonding over taking Gracie Bell to some sort of developmental therapy? We're getting concerned about the fact that she only communicates through grunts. "What's stupid about football?"Let's pause for just a moment to praise the unsung heroes of "FNL" -- those mysterious voices commentating on Dillon public radio and at the high school games. They've truly been the Ishmael of this series, only with hilarious metaphors and dad jokes. So are these lions but lambs headed for the slaughter or will they be Cinderella at the dance?Cinderella, duh! The state of East Dillon football is infinitely stronger than when we last saw it, and, not so surprisingly, the episode ended with an upset victory for the underdogs. We didn't catch exactly where the game was held, but if that was East's field, Buddy's reallocated booster efforts are paying off. So lush! So bright!"FNL" may rake its characters over the coals in their personal lives, but they'll ultimately triumph on the field. And as much as we're fans of the series' commitment to realism, we love this divergence and will be shocked and appalled if it doesn't end with East Dillon supremacy at State -- which will clearly not be held at Texas Stadium again, as that was demolished before this season went into production. Nostalgic tear! Expect a lot of those, actually. There are but 12 episodes left of "FNL." What did you think of the beginning of the end?Follow Zap2it and MikeyLikesTV on Twitter and Zap2it on Facebook for the latest TV, movie and celebrity news. Photo credit: NBC-Universal

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