Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I ask my wife for some lasagna...
First, I'm especially grateful to NBC PR for sending out a screener of tonight's episode, since I got to watch it before tuning into NBC last night and getting several promos that heavily featured the climactic misunderstanding 'twixt Coach and Riggins. Not that it was that stunning -- things were going so well for Riggins that you knew something bad would happen to ruin it -- but I'm starting to believe that the single greatest advantage of illegal downloading is being able to avoid spoiler-filled ads for future shows.
I'm glad to have the show back, and that they started production so early this season that they have more episodes left than most. I don't know that the show's ever going to get back to the creative heights of season one -- here, even with the manslaughter arc over and done with (sort of), there were a number of storytelling choices I found odd -- but at this moment in time, even slightly overcooked "Friday Night Lights" is like a feast for a starving man.
The tornado was pretty quite artery-clogging in its cheese factor (no doubt a sacrifice at the altar of the Promotable Moment), but at least we were done with it quickly, its primary purpose to set up one of our two uncomfortable living situations for the episode with the Laribee team moving into Dillon for a few weeks. Contrived though that situation was, the pressure cooker tension between the two teams -- one run by our heroic disciplinarian, the other by an overcompensating hothead eager to cause trouble -- created some nice dramatic moments. Even the more football-focused first season didn't deal too much with how ugly high school athletic rivalries can be (the only time they touched on it was in the racism two-parter), and for the first time in a long time, the football scenes felt more than obligatory. Football stories are good. Not only is football what the show is about, but it forces large numbers of characters together in the same plot, as opposed to going off in their own isolated twos and threes. This is a show about a community, or a series of interlocking communities, and all of them revolve around the team. If it took a bad CGI tornado to make the team important again, so be it.
(Plus, a point was finally given to the Stereotypical Lesbian Soccer Coach scene from a few weeks back, as Eric's decision to give her the bigger locker room made things worse here.)
Our other uncomfortable living situation was over at the Taylor house, which was already overcrowded with Shelly in residence, let alone Riggins. As Tami said, bringing Tim into that household was like putting gasoline next to a lit match -- just not in the way she meant. Sure, Julie is attracted to him -- having already crossed the "dating football players" threshhold and now in the standard bad boys phase, he's pretty much her ideal male -- but Tim, for all his epic self-destructiveness, knows not to cross that boundary, even if Coach doesn't know he knows. Rather, Tim's presence -- and his ability to once again ignite the hormones of a woman of a certain age -- brought the running conflicts between Tami and Shelly to the surface. "It's no wonder you're single" is pretty much the worst possible thing that a married person could say to an unattached, lonely sibling, but that moment felt so real. Mrs. Coach, much as we all revere her, is as human as everyone else on this show, and she's going to have moments when her temper gets the best of her and she says and does the wrong thing
The usual stellar work by Connie Britton, and by Jessyln Gilsig -- and by Taylor Kitsch, who became immeasurably more interesting as an actor once the writers realized last season to give him the minimum amount of dialogue possible. (Oddly, that's how the "Animal House" writers realized they needed to treat Belushi after a few weeks of filming.) It's not that he can't deliver dialogue, but that the mythic brooding quality of Riggins works best the less he says to anyone.
A great talker -- if not a great salesman -- is Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity, who played the hell out of Buddy's reaction to the news about his wife and the tree hugger, and especially the hurt little boy face upon realizing that he wasn't going to win her back with his sales pitch. On the other hand, that was an exceptionally weak pitch from the guy who's allegedly the Texas Car Salesman of the Year five years running. "You must forgive me" is beyond the hard sell; it's the no sell. (Which isn't to say it was a badly-written scene; I can easily buy Buddy being too blinded by ego to think he had to put more than a minimum of effort into winning Pam back.)
Finally, we have Tyra and Landry, who got a perfectly fine John Hughes type plotline with one rather large problem: it seems to be taking place in a universe in which Landry never killed a guy and they never conspired to dump the body. I know Landry makes a brief reference early on to having put that unpleasantness behind them, but none of what comes afterward -- none of what's said, or the feelings on either side, or the tone, or any of it -- is remotely informed by this great traumatic event they went through together. You could have inserted most of their scenes into an imaginary episode right before the season one finale with very minimal changes.
Now, as somebody who's been very vocal about the murder story being the dumbest thing this show has ever done, I suppose I should be grateful that the show is acting like it didn't happen, is taking steps to restore Tyra and Landry to the characters they were before the season began. But you can't unring this particular bell. It happened. They spent a whole lot of time on it, and it's the kind of thing that should both change both these people and inform all their interactions going forward, and there was absolutely none of that here -- just Jesse Plemons doing his best impression of Jon Cryer circa Duckie.
Short of permanently separating the two characters (and the actors who play so well off each other) or banishing them from the show outright, I don't know what the solution is. But as annoying as the murder storyline was, it's just as annoying to try to ignore it, you know? And that's precisely why I wish they hadn't done it. Whatever might have been gained in the short term doesn't come close to matching the long term effects that are now being awkwardly swept under the rug.
Still, it's good to have this one back for the next six weeks, and it would be a rare strike benefit if the number of original episodes helps boost viewership enough to ensure its continued survival.
What did everybody else think?