Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Sing it, Six!

Spoilers for the "Friday Night Lights" episode "Backfire" coming up just as soon as I work on my Spanish pronunciations...

"Backfire" was a definite "Do the ends justify the means?" kind of episode, as the producers appeared to shut down a number of storylines that weren't working, but in a far more abrupt manner than they could or should have.

I'm glad to have Coach back in Dillon and coaching the Panthers, for instance, but the dispatching of MacGregor felt much too easy. The previous three episodes (plus the disastrous game at the start of this one) had shown MacGregor to be such a stubborn tyrant that no one (except Smash) could possibly want him to stay, just as the TMU had been shown to be such a clearly bad fit for Eric that everyone could see he needed to leave it. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if one or both of those situations was reversed? What if MacGregor was a tinpot dictator but Eric was having the time of his life as a college coach? Or, what if Eric hated TMU and knew his family needed him but MacGregor hadn't made any obvious missteps with the Panthers? The scene at the end where MacGregor confronted Eric about what he and Buddy had done was well-acted by both Kyle Chandler and Chris Mulkey and had a moral complexity that the rest of this arc lacked, but that doesn't change the fact that MacGregor was a strawman bad guy.

(Also, how did Buddy go from being a drunken pariah a few episodes ago to having the political capital to pull off this coup d'etat? Even if the rest of the town felt uncomfortable with MacGregor, I'm sure Slammin' Sammy Meade wasn't the only one who resented the hell out of Eric for quitting after last season. It might have been interesting to watch Buddy build himself back up into the power broker he used to be, as we watched him sell the other committee members on the swap, but instead it got glossed over.)

Meanwhile, I'm sure many people are glad that Julie and Tami have stopped being at war with each other (I never minded this subplot, but that seemed to be a minority opinion), and yet the turnaround came awfully quick. Having Eric back in the fold certainly helped, as he convinced Tami to not ground Julie, which in turn made Julie slightly more willing to listen to Tami's story about losing her virginity (and also made a date with The Swede less an act of rebellion). But she's just now noticing that "Anton" is a no-account slob just floating through life after high school? It's not like she hadn't been to his dive of a house before. Some more superb acting from Connie Britton (albeit not up to The Talk from "I Think We Should Have Sex," where the virginity story was implied but not articulated), but there was definitely a feeling that the writers were in a hurry to wrap this one up.

I'd like to think that they've also wrapped up the dead rapist storyline, but I don't think that's what's happening. When the detective who interviewed Tyra talked about closing a case, he meant the attempted rape from last season, not the cause of this guy's death. I suppose this could go in a direction where the small-town Dillon sheriff's department decides not to waste resources looking into the death of some lowlife serial rapist, or that they assume he died from the fall into the river (barring a crossover with the people from "CSI: Dillon"), but there's been so much talk about Landry's watch and the impending grandfather visit that I don't think we're done with it yet. When Tyra talked to Landry about how they had no choice, how they had to stick to the path they were on, it felt unintentionally meta: once the writers chose this unfortunate storyline, they had to follow it through all the way.

On the plus side, one storyline I was dreading -- Street and Riggins road-tripping to Mexico for the shark surgery -- turned out to be the episode's highlight. I used to complain a lot about Taylor Kitsch in season one, but damn if he hasn't won me over. As the karaoke scene devolved from drunken fun into a very loud expression of pain from Street, you could see Riggins finally doing the math and realizing how bad this has the potential to become. In an episode where a lot of characters either shed tears or expressed deep feelings of remorse, the most powerful moment turned out to be Riggins begging Lyla to come help him talk Street out of this dangerous con game.

Now that Eric's back in town for good, I want to give the rest of the season a clean slate (murder storyline aside). Maybe all the narrative shortcuts of last night's episode will allow the show to go in a more promising direction from here. Glass half-full, I hope.

Some other thoughts on "Backfire":
  • Loved Eric's confusion ("The what?") in response to Buddy's (no doubt rehearsed) "The eagle has landed" call.
  • MacGregor's "I'll be seeing you again" threat implied another Voodoo arc where he winds up on a team that faces the Panthers in the playoffs. For the Texas high school football types, how realistic is that? Do teams often switch coaches in mid-season? And wouldn't the fanbase of the defending state champs be far more panicked at a loss in only the second game of the season?
  • I wish the writers would treat Lyla's born again conversion as something other than a phase she's going through, and an excuse to meet new boys. The show usually does a superb job of portraying how faith helps govern these people's lives, but Lyla seems very much a poseur. If nothing else, she should have had an answer for Santiago the hunky delinquent's question about why God allows suffering. That's one that true believers get asked all the time, and they're supposed to have an answer.
What did everybody else think?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Meh. You didn't think Riggins' "He might die" speech was a little over the top and right wing?

I'm glad I'm not the only one who caught the foreshadowing of a Voodoo Redux arc.

Jerry Blank said...

I think the last scene was telling. When Coach T. was in the panthers locker room. The camera's showed Sarencen keeping his mouth closed. I think there will be conflict between them. Sarencen will lead the group of players resentful of Coach leaving them.

I am curious about the look exchanged between Landry's father and Tara at the police station. In this situation she is the victim. I wonder why he looked at her in such a judging way.

If Julie tries to get back together with Matt, now that the Swede story line has fizzles out, I hope Matt doesn't take her back. I would like to see him play the field a little. Not saying that they should never get back together but not right away.

Also, I'm tired Taylor's Kitsh's Canadian accent. Although, I did like the conversation between him and Layla.

Sandi K. Solow said...

I am starting to think that Street's surgery is allowing this show to give a whole new meaning to "jump the shark."

Anonymous said...

I think Julie's sudden realization about the Swede makes perfect sense. When the scales finally fall from your eyes, you see people completely differently.

It's possible that Landry's father would blame Tyra for almost being a victim of rape; unfortunately that's still not unheard of. Cops often treat rape victims less than compassionately, as does the entire criminal justice system.

KC said...

Alan, I think your several alternatives and possible plot twists to Coach's return to Dillon would have played out much better and had more impact than how they chose to do it. Also, the whole return seemed rushed.

I would have like it better had they made Coach sweat it out more and played with the manipulation and power plays. Characters on this show play there best when uncertainty reigns.

The angry/save-the-prisoner thing seems cliched but, oh well. I still loved the small real moments interspersed throughout and props to Taylor for showing us something beyond the sullen self-absorbed Riggins.

Charles said...

After 4 episodes this season, I've yet to see anything that leads me to believe that we're going to get anywhere close to even some of the lower-echelon episodes of last season. It's very disappointing. Last season almost everything that happened was relatively realistic, and the plot was determined by the characters. This year it's the other way around.

1) Waste of 4 episodes for Coach Taylor having him coaching college ball; the Coach from last season would not have put his family in that situation for close to a year. The "You haven't seen the last of me" line from the departing coach screamed cliched future plot twist, which is disappointing.

2) The rapist-killing and keeping it a secret is still ridiculous; there was/is no need for it; all the 'learning about Tyra and Landry and his family' stuff could have been accomplished without such a melodramatic and unrealistic turn.

3) The Mexico subplot - I know what it's suppoed to be doing, but Street from last year wouldn't have been nearly so stupid to think this is a remotely good idea. And where does a 18 year old (or around there; do we know how old Street is?) get his hand on 10 grand in cash? That is straining credulity.

4) The Magical Mexican girl for Matt - no explanation of how they've suddenly gotten her, she just shows up, then starts cuddling/massaging matt while singing some old song right after she went off about not being a stereotype.


What a dissapointment after last year. What an enormous disappointment.

BigTed said...

One way in which the show seems to have changed since last season is that characters don't talk about things they obviously would, just so the issues can blow up into larger confrontations later. Was there never any further discussion of Coach Taylor's family moving to be with him, instead of the other way around? The reasons they had for staying in Dillon -- Tami's job, Julie's relationships with Matt and her school friends -- seem to have fallen by the wayside anyway. And even if Eric didn't like being low man on the college totem pole, it was clearly the key to his professional future, which he's throwing away by moving back to Dillon. Obviously, the show can't go in that direction, but they should at least have brought it up.

Then, when Eric first addressed the team again, he should have said something about why he left, and why he's back, and how they all need to work together even if the kids resent him for having left them behind. I imagine he'll be forced to talk about the situation next week, but it seemed uncharacteristically tone-deaf for him not to see the reason for an open discussion right away.

The previews for this episode that they showed last week emphasized all the wrong things -- I thought Street and Riggins were going to spend their entire time in Mexico in jail, and that Eric would end up having no job for at least a while. I have a feeling the network really does think this is a different show than it is, or maybe wishes it was one that emphasized big, dramatic events rather than realistic life details. But like most of the show's fans, I certainly hope it doesn't go that way.

Mase said...

I wish the writers would treat Lyla's born again conversion as something other than a phase she's going through

This is the one part of your post I disagree with. Lyla's conversion is a phase; her 'beliefs' belittle actual belivers (e.g., the scene between Lyla's mom and dad and Lyla calling her mother 'unchristian' in not giving juvee-boy a job). She has not converted out of any true/real belief, but merely in an attempt to find a place for herself that is grounded after what happened with Street, her parents divorce, her sleeping with Riggins, etc. Essentially, it is a far pendulum swing the other way in a misguided way to correct (find meaning?) with all that has gone wrong in her life. ... plus, she is still just a teenager with all their I-know-best/holier-than-thou emotions (cf. Julie and the Swede/ Julie and her mom / Julie and her treatment of Matt).

Anonymous said...

The Magical Mexican girl for Matt ...

I like your alliteration but they've already established she's not Mexican.

And where does a 18 year old ... get his hand on 10 grand in cash?

Jason received a settlement from his lawsuit last year. Plus, he is employed now but still lives at home so I'm sure he can save money up. It doesn't seem far fetched for him to have that amount of money in cash.

What I don't understand is if Jason hates Dillon so much (as he indicated in his drunken confession), why doesn't he just take the money and move somewhere far away from there? Maybe to Austin with the tatoo girl from last season.

But I do agree if Coach Taylor was going to leave his "dream job" and come back to Dillon so easily why didn't they just do it in the first episode and save us a bunch of annoyance?

Although I am glad to see that skeezy Anton seemingly gone, I wish Julie's mom had asked her "why the heck do they call him the Sweede anyway" when they were having that heart to heart in the car during the driving lesson.

Crossing my fingers Carlotta and Santiago will go away together to have magical Latino babies. :D

Anonymous said...

The only thing disappointing in this season is trying to figure out exactly why people are complaining about it. In the hermetically sealed opinion bubble my wife and I exist in, it's just as good as the first season.

In season 1 there were plenty of plots that sprung from cliche ideas: Star quarterback gets paralysed! Smash does steroids! Riggins chases his absentee father! Saracen juggles an emotionally distant father, caring for his grandmother and growing into the QB role! But beautiful, realistic, dramatic scenes grew from those ideas and I'm seeing the exact same thing in the Season 2 storylines.

It seems that second seasons of shows always struggle because they have to go somewhere and people often seem to be unhappy with the changes and shifts that occur. I've loved every single episode of this season so far, and it seems sad that a show this wonderful is getting such mixed reactions.

(I'm not trying to belittle others ideas or say their opinions aren't valid or anything - just trying to explain how things look from my side of the rose-tinted fence).

Max said...

Riggins: "Can you at least buy me a couple tacos?"

Gold.

Chris Littmann said...

Alan -- Am I the only one that noticed Street appeared to look a little different getting off that boat next week? I don't want to be too spoilerific, but yeah...

Rodney said...

I'm with you "mister rose-tinted view". I loved last season and yet saw many blemishes which people either didn't feel were there, or have forgotten. Many of the complaints this season, were present last season - but, as with last season, there is an emotional core to this show which overwhelms the inherant cliches.

AndyW said...

After watching the pilot for season 1, I wasn't sold on this show. I could see the potential, I could see the strength of the performances, but it didn't immediately gell for me.

And that's how I feel about this season: I can see potential, but there's not enough there for me to stick around... except, of course, for the massive reservoir of goodwill left over from season 1.

Buddy and Riggins are the only things I'm still digging.

The Engineer said...

As far as I am concerned, the first three episodes of this season were all about generating a few more viewers. This episode was about eliminating (most) of the distractions the had to generate for those first three episodes.

One thing I don't quite get is the gripes about how everything last year was so "realistic" as opposed to contrived like this year. There were quite a few goofball moments last year, too. The Rapist wasn't a creation of Season 2 but of Season 1. Jason Street and Lyla were ENGAGED for a few episodes. There was the big lawsuit.

Everyone seems so quick to attack this year based solely on the murder plot that they are ignoring some plot contrivances from last year.

Matt said...

For fans of the show who haven't read Bissinger's great book which the show is "inspired by," Barnes and Noble (at least the one in Lincoln Center NYC) appears to have a massive overrun of film tie-in versions marked down around 5 bucks. It's a very well spent 5 bucks.

Jenn. said...

My bet is that Landry's father found the watch and suppressed it. Having seen Lyla in to identify the (dead) rapist, he's figured out that she had something to do with Landry's watch ending up with the dead rapist---either that she killed him and got Landry to help hide him or that Landry killed him for her and then hid him.

Jenn. said...

Oops. Tyra.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Everyone seems so quick to attack this year based solely on the murder plot that they are ignoring some plot contrivances from last year.

As I've said before, I recognize that there were problems with season one, bad storylines that I identified as such as they were taking place. But there was never anything remotely as dumb as the murder, and the problems tended to take place in isolation, where here we're getting a lot of bad storylines all at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I thought the scenes trying to teach Julie to drive were awesome and totally realistic. They are the show I love. Like Julie, I always got along with my parents. But I thought my dad and I were going to kill each other when he took me driving.

Anonymous said...

Alan,

I live in Texas, and high school coaches generally do not get fired mid-season. For one, all coaches must teach something, even if it is PE (FNL seems to look past this part). So to fire a coach means you are also firing a teacher and have to deal with replacing a teacher. It might be feasible that a team with Dillon's history would get rid of a coach in the middle of a year, but it rarely happens. Most coaches would stay through the school year (or at least semester) and then hire a new coach over the summer.

As for any foreshadowing with the Taylor/MacGregor scene, for the new coach to meet back up against Dillon in the playoffs, that would mean two schools would fire a coach early in the season, hire a replacement, and make a turn around to get in the playoffs. The second part of that scenario is more feasible, as playoffs are determined by district play, so pre-district games (like the one in this episode) do not count towards getting in the playoffs. The only way the writers could get Coach MacGregor onto another team would be for that team's coach to get hurt/sick or something. I understand what they are trying to do and will understand the story points they are trying to exercise if it does, but it is not realistic.

Matt said...

As someone who went to high school in Texas, while most head coaches for sports other than football did teach other classes and most assitant coaches for football taught other classes, the head football coach had that as his sole responsibility. (He might have had an "athletic director" title, but I don't recall.)

We fired a head coach near the end of my Senior Year, but it was for mal/misfeasance (use of school assets for personal business) and long after the end of football season.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of Alan and others' complaints/reservations, and wanted to add, in stark contrast to the Anon above who praised the Julie driving scenes, that I found the scene with Eric & Julie in the car together to be as wildly unrealistic as anything else this season. Even lousy fathers aren't stupid enough to start grilling their daughters about their lovelives while they're behind the wheel and completely inexperienced at driving. That's a sure recipe for a car accident, and Eric is both smart enough and a good enough father to know better.

More and more, this show seems to be sliding into the "smart people suddenly act like morons when it suits the lazy writers" trap. I've stopped watching the other shows that kept doing this. Here's hoping FNL rights the ship soon...

AlexR said...

I will stay in the minority opinion I guess and say that overall, this is till one of the best shows on Television every week, even with occassional missteps.

I actually found Riggins and Street going to Mexico the least realistic thing in the show.

Also, speaking of the Latina maid, what I found most unrealistic was she shows up 1 week out of the blue and there's huge blow ups immediately with Saracen's Grandma and now they are sitting at the Panther games, immediately, cheering Matt. I guess that this relationship could have (in theory) improved off camera, but still.

And despite some of these obvious problems, I dig the show and still would watch it over almost anything on TV. The only 1 hour Drama I have enjoyed more this year was "Mad Men" and earlier this year, season 1 of FML and the second half of season 3 of "Lost".

Kristin said...

AlexR, I completely agree. I still love this show, and I am really confused as to where all the criticism is coming from and why. The acting is still superb, the dialogue is just as real, the people are still believable to me. I love it.

And this week's episode was particularly strong. When I read the blurb for the episode, I thought it was going to be about Riggins acting like a jackass in Mexico, but it turned out to be such a real storyline about a friend who needs help, a friend who has no hope, a friend who is willing to believe in just about anything to get him out of the hell he is in. And Riggins was so poignant on the phone with Lyla. I've never heard him be so caring about another human being. I see Riggins finally growing up and out of his drunk stupor.

As for Julie...God, that was SO real. The blinders are on when you have a crush on someone, and then when they are taken away...whammo! Beer bottles/cans by the door. Blam! Mess of an apartment. Whack! Unshowered and uncaring about a forgotten 'date.' Smack! Bong right out on the table. Julie finally got it...and if she didn't want to end up like her mom, she did just that by leaving that place ASAP.

The quality is still there. I can hardly wait to see what happens next week.

AlexR said...

Hi five, Kristin!

You liked the Mexico story better than me, but the feelings are the same.

And as angry as Julie has made me this year with her dumping of Matt Saracen and choosing Anton (then only to see him for the digusting loser he really is), I am a 32 year old male so it's something I can't relate to (because she's 16 and female) but you are dead on - that is generally how a 16 year old female would act.

So while I may have been pissed to see how she treated Matt, it's completely realistic. In fact, them staying together and cutesey would have been more unrealistic.

I think all this criticism being slung by most people on here at FNL or another fantastic show, "The Office", is proof to me that people expect their 'shows' to be perfect all the time and have to nitpick everything to death.

While I adamently defend "The Office" and FNL as still being very much on their games (despite the majority of bloggers), I will agree that "Heroes" has been a mess in season 2 - that's a regularly blogged about show in here that I can't defend.

But I say lay off "Friday Night Lights". The acting and the writing are still top notch in my book.

TuckPendleton said...

Come on, people: you may or may not like the live-in aide living at the Saracens, but her arrival was clearly telegraphed by Matt's calling state services over and over again (every week, I believe he said) asking for help. When Matt's Dad visiting from Iraq last season, he also mentioned that Matt could get help from the local VA, or whatever the appropriate military authority would be. Regardless, the aide did not "show up out of nowhere."

Season 1 is over. Let's all stop dwelling on it. For as much as I disagree with some of Alan's problems with the show, I fully agree to with his "clean slate" approach. If you would prefer to look at it from a storytelling persepective, the story of Season 1 has been told. It's now time for the story of Season 2. If you were given the same stories as Season 1, you'd be bored and up in arms. New seasons, new stories. That's the way it works.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the live-in aide, I suspect people have more of a problem with where they fear the storyline's going than where it's gone so far. I don't have a problem with it, and I don't mind if Matt develops a crush on her, so long as it's not reciprocated.

But, in general, the quality seems to be down across the board. The exquisite moments are much rarer thus far, and the rest is much weaker. Most of the fan complaints I'm reading here I think are legit, and that doesn't mean people are dwelling too much on Season 1, or not giving the new plotlines a fair shake-- these new episodes simply haven't been very good.

But the season is still young, so there are plenty of reasons to hope. I don't think it's fair to take swipes at fans for bemoaning a drop in quality. If we didn't care so much about the show, we just wouldn't be watching at all.

mj said...

Not only are many of the commentators here comparing FNL-Season 2 to FNL-Season 1 but they're comparing FNL-S2 to the ENTIRE FNL-Season 1. I just don't know why. Short memories, I guess. After four episodes last year, I suspect many of us were impressed but were not as blown away by FNL as many of us were by the end of State. I'm with TuckPendleton, Kristen, AlexR, Rodney, MisterRoseTinted View, Max (especially), and others, AND our host Alan this week who all dug into the murkiness to unearth some shining moments *independent* of Season 1. Keep the faith, folks. Surely it's still the best drama on network tv (yes, it's ok to NOT compare the current season against the heady heights of Season 1). Or would ya rather watch the "nuances" of bang-the-viewer-over-the-head CSI: whereever?

paul c. said...

Lots of people nationwide are ticked about the murder plot line. Here's an article from the LA Times discussing this. It even references comments from someone on this blog critical of the murder plot line. Note though that the article contains some mild spoilery comments from Katims.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/tv/la-et-friday26oct26,1,2077955.story?coll=la-entnews-tv

Katims evidently has been taken aback by the criticism, not unlike the Lost crew after the uproar when Paulo and whats-her-name were introduced.

Kristin said...

Well, that's nice. But it doesn't bother me. So I would say there are just as many fans who are fine with this season.

What I don't understand is the vehement disgust from people who loved this show last season. Has it really gotten so bad so quickly? I think the complaints are so minor. To the point where I think most of it is nitpicking for no particular reason that I can see.

I just don't see it. I still LOVE the show. I look forward to it every week. I guess some of you are just never going to be satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Hey, good for you if you're thoroughly enjoying the new season so far. But the point I think Alan and many of us have made is that we're finding this season's episodes problematic so far-- the great moments aren't frequent enough to let us overlook all the mediocre-to-bad stuff. That's not "nitpicking" or "never being satisfied" or "unfairly comparing to Season 1."

There are many shows I enjoy, but don't get upset about missing from time to time, because the quality is inconsistent. If not for the goodwill FNL built up with me last year, it'd be in danger of getting downgraded to catch-it-when-I-can status. If you're more satisfied with these first four episodes, be happy about it, not defensive and accusatory.

Kristin said...

anon,

I don't think I'm being accusatory...just extremely befuddled as to where the comments are coming from because I don't see it. That's all. And, yes, it does seem nitpicky when some complain about a teenage girl not acting like a 'real' teenage girl or the plots being resolved so quickly...such as Coach's return to the school. This is exactly how it worked last season. Two or three weeks of steroid use, and then, voila, magically fixed. Two or three weeks of recovering from a horrible spine-wrecking accident, and then, voila, magically playing murderball.

It hasn't really changed that much from what was presented last year. The murder storyline is no more melodramatic than any number of stories from last season.

Perhaps some just don't see it that way, but I do.

Anonymous said...

Kristin, same Anon here, thanking you for providing some details as to why you're not bothered. Most of the positive comments have been of the "I like it, stop being so negative" variety, rather than "Here's why I like it."

It seems Alan's main problem is a number of weaker storylines all going on at once. My problem is partly that, and partly that the writers are making the characters act much stupider than they are, just to serve plot twists. I accept melodrama and quick resolution of plotlines as necessary evils of network TV, but I get bothered when writers betray their characters. I feel they're doing that way too often now, and consequently the show's losing some of its formerly potent sense of place and character.

sal said...

Why (and since when) does Riggins call Jason "Six"? Was that his number (I'm assuming)--did he always call him that?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Riggins has always called Street that, because it was his uniform number.

RandomRanter said...

Chiming in late, but part of the reason the Julie thing worked was not so much that it was new info, but that she told her mom last week that she didn't want to become her, and Tami's story helped show that Julie was closer to that path than she realized.