So here’s a conundrum: I’ve been complaining about the Landry storyline for weeks, and yet last night’s episode – about 95% manslaughter angst-free – was maybe my least favorite of the season. If it hadn’t been for the Smash subplot, which was repetitive but thematically on point, it might have been completely forgettable.
As soon as Carlotta the Magical Latina nurse showed up for lots of wacky misunderstandings about sleeping quarters, laundry and porno mags, I assumed she and Saracen would be entangled romantically. It took longer than I had feared, mainly because Carlotta and Grandma Saracen disappeared for the last batch of episodes, but now we’re here, in the midst of an episode packed with age-inappropriate relationships. Tim moves out after catching Billy and his ex-girlfriend Jackie the MILF in casa Riggins, then flirts with Tyra’s older sister Mindy to the point of being threatened by Tyra. Julie, having broken up with slimy older guy The Swede, now falls under the spell of the school’s dreamy, deceptively young-looking new newspaper advisor, Noah Barnett (played by John From Cincinnati himself, Austin Nichols). And, of course, Carlotta gives Saracen some lessons in dirty dancing, and, after the initial shock, doesn’t seem that unhappy to have been smooched by QB1.
I’m baffled for all sorts of reasons. First, why are the writers so fascinated by stories where the high school kids date older people? I suppose some kind of thematic point could be made about how Dillon is such a dead-end town that the kids are desperate to get with more mature partners outside the high school gene pool. But the only stories where that really applied came last year, with Tyra’s forgettable dalliance with the traveling salesman (back when the writers had no idea what to do with Tyra) and Street’s hook-up with Tattoo Girl. These other stories just feel phony and larded with cheese.
Second, as my evil doppleganger Fienberg points out in his own take on “Pantherama,” the show has adopted the familiar, unfortunate double-standard about May-September (or, at least, May-July) romances: younger woman + older guy = creepy, but younger guy + older woman = potentially hot. Complicating matters is the fact that we’re not clear on how old some of the older partners are supposed to be, and using the actors’ ages doesn’t help. Aimee Teegarden is nine years younger than Austin Nichols, but she’s also seven years younger than Zach Gilford.
Speaking of age confusion, it turns out that Lyla is still enrolled at Dillon High, even though, as I vaguely recall, she was planning to go to college with Street. (Did Jason have no friends in his own class?) This provides an excuse for the writers to remember that Lyla and Tyra kinda sorta reached an understanding in the first season finale, but mainly it’s an excuse for a lighter story where Tyra flirts with a lot of boys and teaches them how to shake their booties.
I don’t object to lighter stories on principle – some of my favorite “FNL” moments are the funnier ones, like Landry and Matt’s various shopping trips – but this one wound up being another illustration of the wider-ranging folly of the Landry/rapist plot.
Again, that story barely got mentioned here, other than a scene where Landry told Tyra about the car fire and she largely blew him off. (“Landry, I don’t know what you want me to say.”) But it still colors how I then look at Tyra and Landry when they’re participating in unrelated plots. I don’t think there’s a believability problem with tough, pragmatic Tyra being untroubled by both the killing itself (which she was never bothered by) or even by the way Landry’s tearing himself up about it, but it makes me like her a lot less. I shouldn’t be watching a comic relief storyline and focusing on how callous one of its main characters seems to be, but that’s what happens when you introduce a subject as big and scarring as death and a cover-up into a show that’s not about that.
I’m glad to see that the writers remembered that Smash – and, especially, Mama Smash – existed, and that both were placed in a storyline that was germane to the series’ main subject matter. The shadiness of college recruiting and the unrealistic dreams of athletes who assume they’re destined to turn pro aren’t exactly new subjects, but they’re still relevant, and they apply well to Smash. As Mama Smash, Liz Mikel is one of the show’s best recurring players, and in scenes like the poster-ripping or her confrontation with Coach, the show felt grounded in itself in a way that it didn’t for most of the episode.
(I do think, though, that the 2-9 black college with no athletic scholarships was an odd choice for Mama to hang her hat on. There happen to be schools with equally strong football and academic programs that could offer Smash a full ride. Also, while the Whitmore recruiter mentioned academic scholarships, aren’t those merit-based in some way? Otherwise, what’s the difference between the school having athletic scholarships or just giving academic ones to football stars like Smash?)
I’m not sure how I feel about the Santiago plot yet. First, it still seems odd that a defending state champ football factory school would be spending so much time on an inexperienced walk-on (and at a position where they already have another inexperienced walk-on in Landry). Second, the wounded puppy Santiago of the last couple of episodes doesn’t seem quite the same character who first challenged Lyla about her beliefs when he was still in juvie. I think there’s potential in the idea of shameless booster Buddy doing what he thinks is a favor to the team and finding himself seriously involved in this damaged kid’s life, so I’ll wait and see.
Some other thoughts on “Pantherama”:
- In the midst of all the Matt/Carlotta silliness, it’s hard not to notice how much more lucid and focused Grandma has become since Carlotta’s arrival. If this story is heading in a place where the relationship – or, more likely, it’s awkward end and Carlotta’s departure – causes Grandma to backslide, then it might be slightly redeemed.
- Connie Britton is almost as good at the sarcastic faux-charm as Kyle Chandler, as she displayed in her strong-arming of Tyra and Lyla into helping with Pantherama. ("Oh, honey, you are not using Jesus Christ our lord as an excuse to get out of helping your counselor, are you?")
- Was I hallucinating, or was that a “Thundercats” logo sticker on the inside of Matt’s locker? Or did the show introduce a new Panthers logo modeled on the “Thundercats” logo and I only just noticed it?
- “Don’t whisper-yell at me.” Ha!
- Speaking of seeing things, did I catch the long-forgotten lesbian mayor of Dillon in the Pantherama crowd? If that was her, she’s clearly still in the closet, judging by her overenthusiastic response to the striptease.
- I have no idea where they’re going with Tim’s new roommate, but despite the obvious attempts to make him look like a complete sleaze, any guy who names his pet ferrets after the sheriff from “Dukes of Hazzard” can’t be all bad, can he?