Friday, January 18, 2008

FNL: Everything in black and white

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I bring over a box...

For an episode that was so much about the ugliness of stereotypes, "Who Do You Think You Are?" sure trafficked in a lot of them. We got the hood trying to drag down the buddy who just wants to get out, the racist bullies, the racially disapproving parents, the sexist good old boy giving his friend bad advice, even the ever-popular declaration of love that's so belated that the object of it is already kissing someone else.

The ideas behind all these scenarios were fine, but the execution of most was as subtle as an air horn.

I'm not saying that racism doesn't exist in small Texas towns, or even that it doesn't sometimes get as overt and ugly as it did in that movie theater, or even with Noelle's parents. But "Friday Night Lights" handles social issues best when it doesn't feel the need to present them in all-caps with yellow highlighter. The last time the show did a racism storyline, with Mac's comments to the TV reporter, the genius of it was the ambiguity of what Mac said and how he said it. You could see how what he said was offensive, just as you could see how Mac would never think that it was, you know? The premise of Noelle's parents and/or Mama Smash trying to break the two of them up over the interracial thing isn't a bad one, but I think it would have worked much better if her folks kept going on about how enlightened they are in the kind of patronizing fashion that makes it clear how much they aren't. There were a couple of lines where the scene almost seemed to go there, but most of the dialogue could have been straight out of the original "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" from 40 years ago.

The Buddy/Santiago story, meanwhile, featured the usual stellar work from Brad Leland (particularly the moment where Buddy slaps the watch down on the floor because he no longer gives a damn about it compared to the welfare of his foster kid), and some really nice characterization for Buddy, who's trying really hard to be as open-minded as any car salesman from Dillon can. But did they really have to make Francis Capra (Weevil!) utter a line like "When did you forget where you came from?" That's like a cliche of a cliche, and shouldn't be allowed in any script produced from about 2003 on, if not 1993. I winced when I heard it.

Of our stories dealing with prejudice and preconception, the best by far, as usual, was the one with the Taylors, because it was always aware of the stereotypes it was addressing. (And because, as always, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton rock.) Even the scene with Eric and Mac was fine, because Eric rejected Mac's caveman attitude out of hand. Even though he knows it would be easier for Tami to quit her job, that's not the kind of husband and father he wants to be -- and good on the writers for having him point out that one of the main reasons Tami didn't follow him to TMU (and, therefore, why Eric gave up on the college coaching career he'd always dreamed of) was so she wouldn't have to quit her job. The argument at the dinner table -- one of those overly-polite, seemingly-reasonable fights where even Julie had to ask if they were fighting -- was hilarious and dead-on. (And it was, of course, elevated to another comedy stratosphere when Buddy showed up with his Box Of Stuff, which none of the Taylors wanted anything to do with. Britton's delivery of "Buddy's here. He's got a box" may be the funniest line reading she's ever given.) Wherever else the show may stumble, it always gets the little details of marriage right.

The Lyla/Tim/Logan from "Gilmore Girls" love triangle? Meh. When the show bothers to remember that Lyla's still a regular and that she's supposed to be a good Christian and not just a poseur, she can be kind of interesting. And Tim prank-calling the radio show while Herc cackled in the background was damned amusing. (One question: if Tim's on such good terms with Herc and blink-and-you'll-miss-him Street, why couldn't he have crashed on their floor during his homeless odyssey?) But of all the various storylines the writers have tried out with Riggins this year, the only one I'm less interested in than his pursuit of Lyla is the money he and Billy stole from Ferret Guy, which blessedly wasn't mentioned.

Finally, did my eyes deceive me or did we get an honest to goodness scene of Landry and Matt hanging out together and acting like best friends? What's up with that? Is that still allowed?

And so Carlotta's gone, and I'm still not sure what the point of that story was, other than to fulfill the show's quota of age-inappropriate romances. As I noted a while back, it's been kind of unremarked upon that Grandma's mental state improved dramatically under her care, and the one way in which the story could have been justified was if the relationship went south, Carlotta left, and Grandma backslid as a result of Matt not thinking things through. She may still have a problem (though I suppose the insurance company should be sending a replacement), but Carlotta's exit had nothing whatsoever to do with Matt. I'm guessing he'll wind up back with Julie in a few episodes, which would make the point of Carlotta a stalling tactic while the writers got Julie through the end of her bratty phase.

What did everybody else think?

34 comments:

Chris Littmann said...

I'm just a sucker for the show, but I actually called my parents after tonight's episode, watching them leave Gracie at day care. We talked about them leaving me at places for the first time. Those are the great, genuine moments on this show. The conversation Tami has with Gracie toward the beginning -- when Gracie is saying nothing. Golden.

on the dole said...

Agreed on the maddening cliches often overwhelming what's good and what has potential. The Buddy & Santiago storyline in particular has brilliant flashes mired amidst the laziest sort of nonsense. The Taylor family now seems to be on a different, much better show than most of the rest of the cast.

Given how long I've been complaining about the two sets of best friends who never interact anymore, I should've been ecstatic tonight. But a brief glimpse of Street after so much time missing is just insulting. And the Matt and Landry belated catchup had me wondering if the rest of their conversation went like this...

Matt: So enough about me sleeping with the hot older woman working as my grandma's caretaker, what's new with you buddy?

Landry: Well, I lost my virginity, to my dream girl Tyra.

Matt: That's cool. How'd that happen?

Landry: Oh, you know, I killed this guy who was stalking Tyra, and we just sort of bonded after that. And then I was really guilt-ridden for a while, but I'm over it now.

Matt: Good for you. Wanna go to Applebee's?

Colin Fast said...

This episode was story overload for me. By my count there were 5 different plotlines being pursued simultaneously, and every major character except Tyra made an appearance.

The show works best when it concentrates on just a few stories each episode. And if there's a need to get more actors on screen, then play a damn football game.

Further, while I'm not looking forward to the "ferret man sticks a rifle in Tim's mouth" episode, I found it bizarre that story wasn't even mentioned. You know it's coming at some point, so let's just have the big showdown, get Landry to show up and kill the guy, and move on.

Anonymous said...

This episode was lacking compared to the 1st 2 of 08'. Need more football and the small town/ community element. It doesn't feel like where in the same place, same characters but just different. They have so many characters that the high school and just regular activities seemed to be left out. Whats the town saying about the team, the creators are leaving out the main ingredients of the show. Who decided it would be a good idea to show less football, I mean 8-10 minuites of game action is all you need.

What happened to John From Cincy, what about the sports talk radio. I still feel they should have brought in new characters and left the ones who should of graduated out. Riggins story has been good, but he is involved in too many.

I hope the next few episodes end up being good and the show gets another go around. I think I read the show was doing ok. The writers do need to look at moving back to the basics and getting rid of some of the cast and be able to bring in some new highschool students. There are plenty of issues and stories they can create.

There has been a lot of good moments this season, just not the complete well rounded episodes of season 1.

Andrew said...

I gave this show credit when Street dissappeared, because this show is about the town, with football as a framing device. When the crippled ex-superstar needs to go find himself, I thought it was smart to let him be on his own, unseen for a while, so when he comes back a changed man, we see what can happen away from Dillon and away from the Panthers.

But no. IT was just them not having anything for him to do. So they have him pop in for a cameo before the credits. Dissapointing.

I'd love to feel bad for Saracen, because he is probably the most sympathetic character on the show, but the Carlotta departure felt entirely unearned. Aside from them first getting together, we've barely seen them together, let alone seen them make any kind of connection, so it is hard to feel much for the end of a relationship we barely saw.

Even Mama Smash couldn't redeem her plotline. I never thought last week that her problem with Smash's girlfriend was racial. I thought her problem was that she was pulling her son away towards something that may not be best for him. At first I thought racism was a convenient way for her to team up with the GFs parents to break them up, but she seemed sincere. Lame and overly simplistic. This show and that actress can do so much better.

And are we to believe that Smash has never had to confront racism before? Aside from Mac McGill, he has never had anyone to point out to him that he's black?

Thank God for Coach and Mrs. Coach. I love them. I absolutely do. I love my folks, too, but Dammit! I want the Taylors, too. It is those little moments, like her telling him how the latch works on the gate, that are so utterly beautiful.

And Lyla is freaking dull.

Grim said...

Yeah there was a lot of heavy handedness, but I thought some of it worked fairly well, and elsewhere, despite the fact that many of the elements are cliches they are still very real.

I agree the interracial angle wasn't particularly well executed, as is oft the case in FNL things come right out of the blue and are fairly rushed (the theater scene would have been better if it was an episode later I think), but I thought what they did with Mama Smash advocating the bigoted pov was much more interesting than if they were to have her scream and holler at the dinner table.

On the Santiago storyline, yes it is fairly redundant dramatically, but that doesn't mean it isn't still an issue (just see Mike Vick and a plethora of other young athletes who can't/won't shake their entourages) that could be taken in an interesting direction, particularly if we get some Buddy & Santman bonding.

The Saracen stuff was just crap though. It was a totally unncessary storyline with an idiotic conclusion. They should have just have him stick with the Cheerleader till he gets back to Julie and the Nurse could have been either a nothing character or been used to some other effect.

Kristin said...

I hate to have to agree with everyone, but it was a very pointless episode. No main storyline at all, jumping around to a lot of rehashed stories...or so it felt like.

I am going to make a guess here, I don't think Carlotta made a permanent departure. I think she left for a reason...a pregnancy. God, I really hope not, but that would be the only thing that made sense in them having a relationship at all.

Matt has become less of a sweet-but-shy guy to kind of a blah character. Which is awful to say...he used to be my favorite last season.

Why, oh, why did they feel the need to stick Riggins with Lyla again? Boring. His puppy dog love is driving me nuts. I so much rather would have had some relationship happen between him and Julie.

The black vs. white was just cliched and awful. Did they really have to go there?

I am really hoping for better next week.

The only redeeming things about this episode was the fake call-in from Riggins. Hilarious falsetto. And the stuff between Coach & Mrs. Coach and the daycare issue.

KC said...

This episode seemed a bit heavy with the stereotype thing. Also, couldn't they have come up with a more creative way to play the 'don't forget where you came from' cliche?

I too never thought Mama Smash's problem with the GF was racial but tied to the footbal recruiting efforts but maybe they were playing to the complexity of the issue? Or possibly, Mama Smash just used the parents' issue as an opportunity to drop recruiter chick.

Landry, Matt, Carlotta, Lyla, Riggins...this all seemed like rushed storylines to me. Funny, sometimes they like to take their sweet time playing stories out and other times they just throw it all at you in one show and hope you can figure it all out. Weird.

The 'Dr. Drew' christian radio sex show thing is just bizarre enough to be funny. What next? Anne Heche leaves Alaska to join them for a 'Good morning, Dillon' love show?

TuckPendleton said...

another great detail in their marriage from this ep: Tami telling Eric how the gate at the day care center works, ("you have to lift it up" and Eric impatiently responding he already knew that, even when he (and we) know he didn't.

Don Porges said...

OK: was anyone else surprised to find out that Nicole's parents were both white? And paler than she is?

Also, yeah: Tim Riggins making Shroud of Turin jokes in a high-pitched voice! Granted, it may not be true to the character, but who cares if it's funny enough?

Anonymous said...

Why is Tim Riggins getting neutered? Since when does he get flowers? It seems like this episode was trying to get back to the good ol' days but it forgot how much development these characters have gone through. Also this show needs more Mac and Landry.

P.S. Was Santiago's friend the kid from Kazaam?

Nancy said...

ARGH! Kristin, you beat me to it. I was totally thinking "pregnant, much?" when Carlotta left. Terrible, just terrible.


Landry: Oh, you know, I killed this guy who was stalking Tyra, and we just sort of bonded after that. And then I was really guilt-ridden for a while, but I'm over it now.

Matt: Good for you. Wanna go to Applebee's?


LOL! That's hilarious. It would have fit right in with all the other rushed storylines in this episode. I really wonder now if anyone else in town knows about Landry and the bad thing. Apparently not.

Jim said...

Yeah, I didn't like this episode much either, cluttered and cliché'd. But some good stuff. Lyla is a very expendable character, though I do think they're handling the Xian angle pretty well: "I Was a Teenage Christian".... I've noticed a lot of Xian kids have that wry, go-ahead-and-make-fun-of-me approach to it.

Did anyone else think Mama Smash was offended by gf's parents' racism, but used it as an excuse to get her son away from a girl she doesn't like? That was the vibe I got. I really like that actress.

Matt can hire Tyra to to look after his grandma. One of my favorite scenes ever was Tyra and Lorraine bonding over a bottle of chardonnay.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I think my Tivo accidentally recorded an after school special instead of FNL, but so many of the actors were the same!

Anonymous said...

My perception is racism exists more in big New Jersey cities than small Texas towns.

I also thought that Smash's girl was a mulatto, or at least had something in the woodpile. So the casting really disracted from the plot line (pointless as it was to begin with).

But-- the moment where Coach and Connie drop off Grace at daycare-- THAT was spot-on genious. Anyone who's lived that moment, had to FEEL that moment again! Amazing.

jimmo said...

Definitely thought Smash's mom was just using the parents' racism as an a means to an end, not that she was upset so much by her being white (but like others have written, not nearly as white as parents!).

Also bothered that a kid in Dillon Texas doesn't know what a Quinceanera was, but the resident bad-boy football player drunk knows exactly where the Christian radio station is.

Though I have to say, I've mostly enjoyed the 2008 version of FNL...

Ravishing Rick Rude said...

I loved seeing Francis Capra from Veronica Mars (RIP *sniff*)getting some screen time even though his plot line has been done many times before on other shows. Does anyone else foresee a Street and Mrs. Taylor sordid affair? I got that vibe last season when he told her that he feels better when he was near her. Just wondering.

Dave S said...

Ugh... this show has to be the most frustrating thing on TV... it has occasional glimpses of genius, a first season that was near-perfect and so much potential. But each and every week I think of the million ways I wish they would've taken it and they never ever do.

They don't seem to be interested in momentum - we kind of weave in and out of storylines that never last more than a week, but then reappear three weeks later as if nothing happened in the meantime. I can only assume we'll get back to the stupid money-stealing storyline soon.

Shows like The Wire have ruined TV for me. This show needs to build up a little bit of steam - if they would've shown the racism stuff for several weeks now, I could've bought into that storyline. But they've been dating publicly for awhile, and the first whiff of racism we get comes in the form of the beat-you-over-the-head movie scene in the exact same episode where the parents tell them to stop dating because of racial tensions in Dillon.

Characters come out of nowhere and leave suddenly, so you never know what's going on. What happened to the pastor's daughter? Where did Logan come from? (And by the way - Lyla's been a Christian for all of a few months. No way she should be hosting a call-in show and doing it with the poise, confidence and eloquence of a time-tested, war-scarred disciple. This is somehow less believable for me than Street's murderball storyline).

I think this show suffers from a similar ailment as The Sopranos - week to week, it often feels like completely different writers are writing the show. The only cohesion comes from the actors. The Sopranos happened to have outstanding writers, so it didn't become maddening because of it (usually), but FNL's writers leave something to be desired.

If they get renewed, and I think I want them to, I hope the writers strike gave them some perspective. I also kind of wish NBC would give them a few years to tell their story. This show on HBO would be through the roof. As it is, it feels like every episode is hedging its bets. I'm frustrated.

Sorry for the long rant. This show should be the best thing on network television, but I fear it's always going to underperform.

Dave S said...

Woah. Sorry about that. I didn't realize it was so long and all over the place. Maybe I'll sit the next one out, stop talking for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Most of it was on point, sadly.

--AH

Carlos said...

Well, at this point I'm hoping FNL gets picked up for Season 3 and the writers just throw out Season 2 as some kind of extended (bad) dream sequence and give us the real Season 2 that actually builds on Season 1. I wonder how much of the Season 2 suckitude has to do with the way the writers cranked too many stories to conclusion in Season 1 (clearly, if you thought this show was going to be picked up for the long run, you wouldn't start a season with the all-world QB getting paralyzed in the new Coach's first game, and then end the season with that Coach winning State anyways -- you just resolved one of the core dramatic tensions underpinning the show).

Okay, on to this epi. Lyla = boring as dirt. Genuine question here: are there any evangelicals reading this blog? If so, is Lyla interesting to you? Why?

Boring as dirt Lyla + Riggins = Boring as dirt. Based on the "scenes from next week" it looks like we're not done with this awful storyline. What are these writers thinking? Riggins in the Taylor house = gold. But they couldn't end that plot line fast enough, yes, with another patented Three's Company misunderstanding. And why? So we could get back to Riggins + Lyla? Ugh.

Matt + CarHotta? As was pointed out above, these two never actually do anything on screen that creates any romantic tension, so it's hard to care aobu them. Plus, now that Matt has won State and has figured out that he can score any cheerbabe he wants just by shutting up, and he no longer seems to actually care about his grandma and no longer seems to need a father in his life (either his own, or Eric), well, he's getting to be as dull a character as Lyla.

I did enjoy the Matt/Landry scene, but that's because it was going on in some parallel universe where Landry hasn't become the walk-on game-saving, rapist-murdering, halftime-speechifying, school-brawl-starting TE on the state champs.

I also enjoyed the Mac/Eric conversation over game film. Yes, that's been done a bit before, but this really how a lot of guys actually talk to one another, interspersing candid rather emotional stuff in between saying things like "wow, did you see that hit?!" while watching sports.

The Taylors story line was great -- Eric recognizing that Tammy wanting/needing to keep working was the reason he didn't stay at TMU, Tammy not being able to drop Gracie off, their polite fight. I actually Buddy helped them by showing up and reminding them that they actually have a great marriage and are great partners for each other.

And Buddy is an absolute revelation, as he seeks some kind of absolution for his past conduct through Santiago.

Btw, where the heck do Herc and Street live? I always thought it was Austin, but then Rigg just shows up over there, so I guess not. The writers have left me pretty confused about how big or small Dillon is. In Season 1 it was clearly meant to be a very small town focused way too much on a bunch of HS kids and where a car dealer can be the town bigwig, but somehow in Season 2 the town has morphed into a pretty large and diversified place, with megachurches, enough real estate activity that the Taylors think Sister should stay, a barrio, a juvie etc.

Finally, On the Dole: well played!

Dave S said...

I'm a Christian (though the 'evangelical' tag has gotten a bit roughed up in the last eight years), and while I was initially optimistic about Lyla's storyline (the show has usually treated religion with some respect, especially how it relates to individual people), but I'm mostly bored with her story. They actually set her up to have multiple layers (kissing two guys, etc), but it seems like they just have her play the upright Christian when its convenient and the lapse-of-judgement Christian when that's convenient. That's not unrealistic, but like I said above, she wouldn't be hosting a call-in advice show a few months into this.

However, it does seem to be true that young new Christians catch on fire pretty quickly and end up in leadership and roles that need wisdom a little too soon.

I'm open to them doing something profound with her character, I'm just not holding my breath.

(on a side note, Christianity is also supposed to be one of the places where the beautiful people are equalized as much as possible in our culture, and having Lyla and Logan catapulted into a radio show seems false. Of course, I'm using my experiences from the Midwest and Chicago to make sense of a show taking place in the South. It seems like maybe those are different experiences.)

Frank said...

So we actually have a commenter on this site using the word "mulatto"!!!
Seems to me that this has become a complaint dump for control freaks who just can't like this show as it unfolds and want to write it themselves. Life is random. Shit just seems to happen. People speak in cliches. Trouble enters the picture just when you don't want it to. Relax everyone, this show is still brilliant.

Andrew said...

Um, Frank? No. No it isn't. While it has moments of brilliance, most obviously Eric and Tammy Taylor, this season has gone off the rails a bit too often and a lot too far. I love Season 1. I think it is close to a perfect season of television. Season 2, thus far, has been ordinary. Storylines that would be better off on One Tree Hill or Dawson's Creek, continuity errors, characters popping in and out for no real reason, and cliches abounding. And I don't just mean this Friday. Lame contrivances and overdone plot twists have been this shows calling card this year.

If this was the show's first season, I wouldn't complain much, but last year they set the show too high to let this stuff slide.

Last year I posted on Alan's site how much I loved the show. Every week brought moments of quiet beauty and realism. This year my postings have been more negative. And it is NOT because I have become more critical. There is just so much more that should be criticized.

Frank said...

Um, Andrew? Yes, yes it is. It's just as good as last season, better in fact. Moments that are ordinary but still brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Better? How?

Christy said...

I love the show so much I accept the flaws.

Lyla has always been boring, from the very first episode. I am interested, however, in seeing the way they deal with her religion. She comes from a church going family; (didn't Tyra's mom do her rant at the church steps?) it is only recently than she has turned to God in any real way. So it isn't like she hasn't heard for all her life the advice she is now broadcasting. So yes, this year she is more interesting. Not possible for her to have been less so.

I've never particularly enjoyed Street either. His entire story reminds me too much of the season of Homicide where Andre Braugher's character had a stroke. Braugher is a wonderful actor and he nailed the behavior of a stroke victim, but it slowed the story down to the point of boredom. Street has always bored me. So, for me, Street made season one less than perfect.

I am also of the opinion that Mama Smash used the opportunity to get rid of a girl she just didn't like. No racism involved.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Ms. Smash was using the racism angle as a means to an end. I was very surprised that the writers didn't do another stereotype of Strong, Angry, Single Mom Black Women with a "no you don't" speech.

I also am confused on the size Dillon. If they went to the movies across town, I assume it was still in Dillon. THere are been no mention on two Dillon High Schools, so wouldn't the kids know Smash? That doesn't mean they would not have that attitude, but it seemed no one there saw him any way but as the black guy in the wrong neighborhood.

mj said...

The ambiguity in this current season nestled in among the subtleties is what makes it stand out from the predictable drab borefest that is network tv, strike or no strike. Within the obvious network constraints that the show has, FNL almost always makes the viewer think. For example, what was going through the mind of Mama Smash at that dinner table? What has drawn Riggins to Lyla? At what point does Coach say the things aloud that he only dares to think about with having Mrs Coach quit her job? Why did Carlotta suddenly leave? Beautifully played, writers and actors.

Joe in Haddonfield said...

Bad episode overall. Too many stories, most handled poorly. I found myself fast forwarding through any Santiago and Carlotta scene.

But:

The Matt/Landry conversation was a perfect teen male conversation. Even after long separations, young males slide easily into the established roles and banter.

Also, Coach Taylor and Mac was the way men talk about uncomfortable things.

Forget this episode and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Frank, gotta agree with the majority (not just on this blog, but TV critics, friends, other sites): this show is far from brilliant anymore. I derive no pleasure from saying this. I want to love it again, I do. But I just "like it." That's not a horrible thing, I guess, but my love for season 1 was strong despite it's small flaws, so sometimes it does feel horrible.

So, onto things I liked about this ep:

"Buddy's here. He's got a box."

Tim's crank call in that wonderful falsetto. I had to watch it twice because I was laughing too hard and almost missed Street's appearance.

Landry and Matt hanging out... as friends! (Although their interaction didn't have any of the warmth, wit, or sarcastic banter as their conversations in S1).

Carlotta leaving.

Coach and his wife, talking and working things through about day care.

Sadly, these good moments were completely overwhelmed by, as Alan pointed out, the ALLCAPS IN HIGHLIGHTING, heavy-handed, cliched scenes that made up most of this episode. Extremely cringe-worthy.

And as much as I miss Street and loved him in season 1, having him pop in for 3 seconds depressed me a little.

Lastly, why does Tim love Lyla? I mean, I know she has great hair, but seriously, what the hell are they still doing this plotline for? I was one of those suckers who did like their storyline in season 1 and did kind of want them together, if only to give Tim some happiness. But now, it feels way off, it feels like something the writers are doing for ratings and not because it's organic to the characters or plot, and I want Tim to move on already.

kathyg said...

Hey, one of the posters here (on the dole, to be exact)was quoted on a Variety article about FNL! Pretty cool!

http://weblogs.variety.com/season_pass/2008/01/friday-night-li.html

Jim Monaghan said...

Well, certainly not one of the better episodes, but I'm not as down on either it or the entire season as it appears many others are.

Some random thoughts

- I was sure that Smash's girlfriend was from an interracial marriage. I was very surprised her parents were both white.

- I thought that Mama Smash resented the new girlfriend not because of possible bad advice this girl might give her son, but because she might actually give Smash the right advice about the recruiting process. I saw it more as jealousy.

- Glad to see the Matt/Carlotta thing over. The older woman/younger man thing had already been done with Riggins.

- Eric/Mac conversation was priceless, as is almost any Coach/Mrs. Coach conversation.

- Am I the only one who expected Eric to go back into the daycare center and get Gracie before they drove off?

Anonymous said...

- Am I the only one who expected Eric to go back into the daycare center and get Gracie before they drove off?

No, I thought that too ... but on further reflection, it seems like too much of a sitcom cliche, and despite the more uneven feel of season 2 (IMO), I don't think FNL has sunk that far!