Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode three coming up just as soon as I quote "Finding Nemo"...
NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.
So here's my question of the week: Is JD McCoy bad or is he just drawn that way?
Certainly, Joe McCoy is bad, at least within the moral framework of "Friday Night Lights." Throughout the season, but especially throughout "How the Other Half Lives," McCoy the elder is doing everything he can to force Eric into benching Matt and starting JD. By now, he has the boosters and the whole town so caught up in a fever for JD and the spread offense that no one can even recognize that poor Matt left everything out there on the field against Arnett Mead. All they want is the kid with the rocket arm, and given the weaker position Eric's been in ever since he returned from TMU, I suspect he's going to have to give the people what they want, sooner or later.
But again, are we supposed to hate JD for the fact that his dad is overbearing and obsessed with his son's success, that he has an expensive private QB coach who's also a massive douchebag (check out Wade's smirk after Saracen fumbled the ball), that events around him are pushing him into a position to take our beloved Matt's job? What, exactly, does JD want? He's said all of two or three sentences all season, and his one big moment in this episode, where he finds Matt and Julie cracking jokes about his trophy room, could be read one of two ways: either he's just as arrogant as his support system, or he's embarrassed by just how much his father dotes on his success.
The reason I'm so curious about this is in part because JD hasn't had much to do or say for such a central figure to the season, in part because how the writers perceive him (and want us to perceive him) is going to say a lot about where this story is going. Is he just Voodoo 2.0, the hotshot imported QB who will send Matt to the bench for a week or two before his cockiness proves his undoing? Or is the first building block for a hypothetical "Friday Night Lights" season four, in which all of the current high school characters will have graduated?
(And, no, they won't be able to reboot Saracen's age as easily -- relatively speaking -- as they did with Riggins and Lyla and Tyra. While it was always implied that they were seniors like Street, it was never explicitly said, whereas last season Smash pointed out that Matt would be a senior the following year.)
Now, I don't know if Jason Katims has even allowed himself to think about a fourth season -- and before anyone asks about the ratings, it's going to depend less on that than it will on how valuable DirecTV thinks the show is for getting new subscribers, and therefore how much of the budget they'd be willing to pick up next time -- but I'm almost hoping that this is what JD is here for. We saw the Voodoo story already. I think it would be a lot more interesting if JD proved to be not only a good quarterback, but a good kid -- the sort Eric would be proud to coach, in the same way he was with Street and Saracen -- because then we get back into some interesting morally grey territory that the show was afraid to enter last season. Right now, it's easy to root for Eric and for Matt to triumph against the rich meanies, but what if the meanies are right? And what if Meanie Jr. isn't so mean?
Overall, this episode did a great job of building the obvious tension on Eric and Matt, and then they capped it with one of the show's best, most intense game sequences ever. Great editing, sound design, the works. I don't know if Zach Gilford lost his voice halfway through the shoot or if he was just playing it that way, but hearing Matt sound so raw really worked. And then, just when we've been convinced that we're going to get another fairytale sports movie ending for the Panthers on Matt's brilliant scramble, he loses control of the ball and the next thing you know there are For Sale signs scattered all over Eric's lawn. (That's a detail going back at least to the Buzz Bissinger book.)
It helped that Tami is trapped in her own vice grip right now, and I suspect that the Jumbotron and JD stories are going to merge very soon, with the McCoys offering to help Tami out of her jam in exchange for a little rhythm from her husband. And what's great about this story compared to last year's Taylor marital tensions is that we're seeing glimpses of the husband and wife who really love each other at the same time we're seeing them fight, where last year it was just a lot of fighting. Connie Britton did this perfect little squint as Eric began to compliment Tami about how sexy she was, as she could tell how the conversation was going to go and yet couldn't completely hate on the man saying that. And I loved this little exchange between Eric and Tami:
"You know who I miss? I miss the coach's wife."
"You know who I can't wait to meet? The principal's husband."
Last year, I think we get the first two lines but not the "Touche."
Some other thoughts on "How the Other Half Lives":
* I didn't like tonight's Smash story at all. It's like they signed Gaius Charles for four episodes and then tried to figure out how to use him, as opposed to coming up with four episodes worth of material about the Smash. No viewer in their right mind would think Smash would actually take the Alamo Freeze job, not after Coach had spent the last two episodes building his confidence back up, so this just felt like they needed to stall for an episode before he presumably aces the Texas A&M tryout and leaves the series for good.
* After the murder and the Riggins boys stealing from Ferret Guy, I could do without the show ever getting one of its characters involved in felonies or misdemeanors for a while, but Billy begging Tim to help him steal some copper wire felt a lot more natural than the previous crime stories. And I laughed when the guard dogs just kept on running right past the truck and to freedom.
* Also funny: Lyla completely putting her foot in her mouth by laughing at Mindy's use of "Finding Nemo" dialogue for her wedding vows. It's nice to be reminded that Lyla can't always control the mean girl reflex, and that it's probaby not a good idea to let it loose in front of the woman who broke up her parents' marriage.
* Anyone who's ever read "The Tipping Point," admit it: just like Katie McCoy, you too spent the first few months after reading it going around and bragging to everyone about how you're "a connector."
* Saracen's monologue to Julie in the cafeteria may be the most we've ever heard him say in one burst, and that's not necessarily a good thing. It's the first time on the show that Zach Gilford sounded like he was from Illinois (which he is) instead of Texas; the accent just went for a grocery run in the middle of that speech.
What did everybody else think?