'Friday Night Lights': Separating great story arcs from lame ones
This week’s Friday Night Lights split down the middle for me: some very good stuff, some pretty lame stuff. I’ll get the lame out of the way first.
• There was the moment we all saw coming weeks ago: Matt’s smooch with caregiver Carlotta (Daniella Alonso). Plus a scene where she teaches white-boy to dance by having him put his hands on her hips to feel the Latina rhythm. This was so corny I can’t even muster true annoyance about stereotypes.
• The Julie subplot. New teacher in town—why, it’s John from Cincinnati! No, I know, it was Noah from a Milwaukee newspaper, but for the 99% of you who didn’t watch the HBO series I’m referring to, actor Austin Nichols played the title role in John From Cincinnati. Anyway, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) suddenly developed a case of motor-mouth this week—hasn’t she spent the preceding month being moodily monosyllabic?—and gushed about her life to a complete, if cute, stranger/authority figure, and it was groaningly obvious that she was going to have an insta-crush on the guy. The only thing that will make this subplot worthwhile is the fierce tongue-lashing her mom (the reliably superb Connie Britton) is going to give this guy to stay away from her daughter.
• Now, this next point is not so much about lameness, but rather about having writers and producers who should trust their characters more. It’s great that Smash (the glowing Gaius Charles) is getting a lot more screen-time, but I thought the pressure his mother (the marvelously controlled Liz Mikel) put on him to seriously consider the black college recruiter’s pitch was unworthy of this fine woman. She’s obviously intelligent enough to understand why Smash isn’t interested in going to a school with a losing football team. Why couldn’t those scenes have been more subtly written (like, oh, the entire last season of Friday Night Lights!), to allow her to express both disappointment and understanding, and for Smash to be more than just a Porsche-lusting stubborn kid?
Okay, those are my reservations. Now, here’s what I liked about the episode.
• Every moment Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) was onscreen. This girl candeliver a line like nobody’s business. Loved the way she dealt withbegrudgingly allowing the abruptly-homeless Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch)to stay in her trailer for only 48 hours. Loved the way she took chargeof the Pantherama fund-raiser in the boys’ locker room. Loved the briefscene she had in the hallway, listening to Landry pour his heart outabout his agony over his dad burning “evidence”—the car involved intheir crime.
• Every moment Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler, pictured) was onscreen. He hadsome great scenes last night, starting with his speech to the teamabout the deviousness of college recruiters, his admonition to wifeTami in her school office (“Don’t you whisper-yell at me!”), and hisamazing, subtle scenes in his own office talking to Smash’s mother.That last one called upon him to do a lot of listening, and to utter afew heartfelt remarks, and Chandler did all the acting with theflickering of his eyes, and the way he’d start to speak and then stophimself. It burns me that he and Britton don’t already have Emmys forthis series.
• And call me a softy, but I even liked the scenes where Buddy Garrity(Brad Leland) went through with his notion to let ex-con Santiago(Benny Ciaramello) live with him as a (semi-? quasi-?) officialguardian. I know that a plot twist this was pretty unconvincing, but Istill enjoyed the interplay of these two odd-couple characters, and achance to see Buddy in a kinder light.
Now that I’ve written it all out, I guess I liked the episode more than I first thought: more like 70% very good, 30% lame. Which is still a helluva lot better than I can say for the two shows that flank Lights—Deal Or No Deal and Las Vegas. Really, NBC: will you never find a good spot in which Lightsmight grow and thrive? Take advantage of the writers strike, forheaven’s sake, and rerun this thing all over your schedule for a while…
What did you think of last night’s episode? Are you with me on my 70-30 ratio? And how would you promote this struggling series if you ran NBC?