They gave me a slow clap. Those magnificent bastards at "Friday Night Lights," perhaps worrying that they hadn't already tailored a TV drama to my specific needs -- with the Underdog Sports Movie stuff and the subtle characterization and the docu-cam and the amazing acting and the realistic teen angst -- put in a damn slow clap. I love them all so very, very much right now.
But here's the thing: I'm not sure how happy I am that the Panthers won the big game.
After watching a screener of the finale, I chatted with Maureen Ryan, who was happy about the victory, and Dan Fienberg, who was aghast. My reaction falls somewhere in between, but leaning more towards Dan's point of view. I can see the value of wanting to give the devoted but tiny fanbase a happy ending in the event the series is one-and-done, and I also realize the writers had painted themselves into a corner where Coach couldn't realistically return to Dillon if the team lost. (His lawn would be set afire nightly if he tried to stick around after being such an obvious scapegoat for the loss of a coveted state championship.) But I also feel like a victory -- especially such an improbable zeroes-to-heroes halftime turnabout -- goes against the show's philosophy in general and Coach's halftime speech in particular. (Mo has a full transcript of that particular goosebump-inducing bit of rhetoric, in case you feel the need to recite it before bedtime tonight.)
Maybe if the actual game action had been better-written, I would feel differently. But where most of Dillon's other stirring victories of the season have had some kind of significant character arc to them -- Saracen coming off the bench to save the season after Street's injury, Riggins sobering up and turning into a much more effective ball-carrier, Street turning Saracen into a different quarterback for the Mud Bowl -- the only arc here was for Taylor, and his part was done, as far as we were concerned, after halftime. There was some carryover of The New Saracen with him confidently calling for the hook-and-lateral play with the clock winding down -- and that was, to an extent, Matt making peace with Coach's exit and working with him again -- but this is the first really big game of the season where the actual football (as opposed to the speech) didn't raise my goosebumps. Maybe if they had taken the time over the season to establish a single defensive player, we could have gotten excited about him knocking Voodoo all over the field, but as it was, he was getting hit by the extras.
The rest of the episode, though, was fantastic, if overstuffed, as the producers tried to give closure to every character, again just in case this is it.
The Tyra/Landry story got co-opted into a Tyra/Lyla story halfway through, for instance, though they captured Landry's pain so well throughout. I've been, if not in identical circumstances, then definitely situations where I had built up time spent with a girl into the be-all, end-all, only to have the real world get in the way. There's the great possibilty that, even had things gone perfectly, the girl wouldn't have felt nearly as strongly as I did, just as Tyra tried to let Landry down easy with that peck on the cheek -- which he no doubt will completely misinterpret and lead to months or years of hurt feelings, confusion and humiliation for him. (UPDATE: Well, they cut the kissing scene -- which I describe in the comments -- from the final air version, which means Landry got shortchanged even more. They also tweaked Coach's halftime speech, so Mo's transcript doesn't match the final version.) Sigh... so good, and yet so cruel, and if there's a part of the show where I wish they had sacrificed the reality and thematic faithfulness in favor of giving the fans a happy ending, it's this one. But that's just me.
I'm going to leave discussion of the smaller details of the episode to you fine people -- the Landry party wagon alone is Zapruder-esque in the amount of things you can discover if you study it enough -- and instead move on to the big question: the future. Specifically, will/should there be one?
The news that NBC ordered six scripts doesn't exactly have me jumping out of my chair. It's a minimal-cost way for networks to spin their wheels on a decision while still giving the illusion of hope to the producers and fans of a show, plus it's just sound business with a Writers Guild strike looming. I'm still mostly optimistic about renewal, since Kevin Reilly seems to love the show so much, but I worry that there will be too much pressure from other corners of NBC/GE/Universal/Scheinhardt Wigs for him to go with the bottom line and make "30 Rock" the network's only charity case. I've been burned too many times in the past to get my hopes up.
Or maybe it's just, as I've alluded to here and there (mostly in comments to posts in the last two weeks), I'm starting to wonder if the Good-Looking Corpse approach isn't the right one here. What we have here is a near-perfect season of network television drama, one that, for the most part, gave all its characters a beginning, middle and, if not end, then at least some closure to their stories. I look at what NBC did to, say, "Homicide," from season four on (even parts of season three) and shudder at how the suits might force Katims and Berg to make the show "more accessible." Get ready for the charity car wash episode with Lyla and Tyra giggling in bikinis! More big speeches, less opportunities for the actors to convey what their characters are feeling through a look or body language! More product integration, with the Alamo Freeze going out of business so Saracen and Smash can go work at The Gap! Landry becomes the emcee at the local rock club, where the hottest indie bands stop by for unexpected concerts!
I'm not saying that's what will happen if the show gets renewed, just that it could. (I imagine the bikini car wash note was already made by someone at NBC earlier this season, but Katims went with Powderpuff instead.) I love the show and its characters too much to really wish it into cancellation, but I would hate for it to get renewed and become this thing that tarnishes the memory of what came before.
So let's not worry about renewal right now, since I doubt a decision will be made before upfront week in mid-May, and appreciate the genius we've had the privilege to witness for the past 22 episodes, brilliant moments like:
- Tami having The Talk with Julie;
- The prayer circle after the miracle victory in the pilot;
- The first (and presumably only) concert by Crucifictorius;
- Street, Smash, Riggins and Saracen getting drunk on the field;
- Tyra turning into Dick Butkus during Powderpuff;
- The entirety of "Mud Bowl";
- The ominous shot of Voodoo making his first walk across the Panthers' practice field;
- Landry at the Landing Strip;
- The team getting pelted with food and garbage after the brawl in the racist town;
- "I'm crippled, and I want to listen to Nirvana!";
- "Hi, Mrs. Coach.";
- The Members Only jacket, and Coach's reaction to it;
- Coach following Mrs. Coach to bed at the end of last week's episode;
- Saracen singing "Mr. Sandman" to his grandma;
- The sound of the buzzsaw cutting open Street's helmet in the emergency room;
- The pure joy on everyone's face at the victory parade (not to mention the season-bookending use of "Devil Town" on the soundtrack);
- Coach's abrupt mood switch when he found out Saracen had made Julie his quarterback;
- Tyra getting photographed at the police station like she was the perp and not the victim;
- Coach deciding to stay in Dillon because of the baby and Tami talking him out of it (though in the end he seems to decide to stay for a reason that he won't regret later);
- Buddy being magnanimous about Coach's new job;
- Slammin' Sammy Meade and his listeners not taking more than a second to bask in the victory before piling on Coach for leaving;
- (Insert your own here, or 12 if you like)
What did everybody else think? And please don't pelt me with food and garbage if you think I'm history's worst monster for second-guessing the desirability of a second season. I'm gonna be mad as hell if the show's not renewed, but I'm feeling awfully protective right about now.