Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode two, coming up just as soon as I enroll in one of Buddy Garrity's yoga classes...
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.
You know I like to begin reviews of the better dramas on television with some kind of signature quote from the episode, but when "Friday Night Lights" is clicking like it does for most of "Tami Knows Best," it's the moments where nothing's said that tell the story.
Following on last week's B/B+ effort, "Tami Knows Best" continued to retreat comfortably back into the show's wheelhouse -- Saracen's family burden, Riggins' self-destructive streak, Buddy's ruthlessness, etc. -- but it added more than a few of those spine-tingling moments I didn't get from "I Knew You When."
Start with the scene the episode should have ended on (more on the reasons for that in the bullet points): Eric walking out of the Williams house and pausing to enjoy the sounds of joy from inside as Smash, Mama Smash and Sister Smash celebrated the news of his Texas A&M tryout. Just perfectly played by Kyle Chandler, who has Coach's emotional meter so finely tuned that he can wow you just by changing the mood a degree or two.
It was one of two great Smash-related scenes this week, with the other obviously being the bulk of the Panthers roster coming out in full pads to help Smash regain his confidence by feeling part of something larger. I suspected that was what Coach had in mind from the minute Smash confessed his fears, but it was still goosebump-inducing to see them march out. (Even better was the pure delight on the faces of everyone in the scrimmage, including Coach calling plays in the huddle. Because of the big-time pressure of Texas high school football, and current issues like JD McCoy, Riggins' self-confidence, etc., the games themselves always feel really tense; it was nice to be reminded just how much fun these characters can have with the game.)
Or take most of the moments of the Saracen storyline. Even more than the pressure to succeed as the starting quarterback, Matt's home life has been the strongest part of his story (the brief return of Mr. Saracen from Iraq was one of the few season two arcs that really worked). Zach Gilford and the writers (and, for that matter, Louanne Stephens as Grandma) just kill it every time we have to see what a huge and unfair burden Matt has to live with, and to pivot that and have Matt tell Grandma that he's become a good man because of her was really beautiful. Just as good was Matt's brief, tense encounter with his mom (played by "Deadwood" vet Kim Dickens), where the simple line, "It's me, Matt... your son" told us all we needed to know about how long it's been since they saw each other and/or how little Matt thinks of his mom.
It looks like we're heading towards a Matt/Julie reunion, and while I don't have any strong feelings for or against, it was nice to see him get to see the world through her optimistic eyes for a moment, to imagine what it must be like when your biggest problem is whether you'll get to buy a used Celica, and to see that Celica as a life-changing vehicle.
The other stories weren't quite as abundant with the goose pimples, but they were all solid, nonetheless.
I continue to believe that Tami is being incredibly stupid and/or naïve about the JumboTron situation. Ganking the money in the first place was questionable -- she should know by now what Eric tried to tell her about the unstoppable force that is Buddy Garrity -- but rather than continue to stonewall and point to her rights within the bylaws, she should have switched from the stick to the carrot and agreed to return most of the money in exchange for keeping some for badly-needed school programs, and/or sweet talking Buddy and the boosters into making more of an effort to fund the entire school. That said, I believe that she actually would be that naïve in this situation, so it's not a credibility problem. And this storyline is giving Buddy -- who was a pathetic, comic relief character for a good chunk of last year -- his teeth back, which is important in the grand scheme of the show and its themes about the true cost of caring so much (too much?) about this team.
Buddy also got to bare his fangs for poor Riggins, who had let Lyla talk him out of his usual neuroses and was all prepped for a good, well-behaved time with the McCoys, only to have all his confidence stripped away in about 10 seconds. Riggins' refusal to rat out Buddy to Lyla rang true with his refusal to tell Eric the truth about Julie last year: deep down, Tim feels like he's supposed to be punished for things, and also that nobody would probably believe him if he told the truth about situations where he isn't at fault. The usual good work from Taylor Kitsch (and I can't believe how far he's come from early in season one, when I would have been happy to never see him or Minka Kelly again), and I also like that the writers have let Lyla understand Tim enough that she doesn't freak out at entering the Riggins house to find Tim in his boxers watching TV with Tyra.
And speaking of the very tall and politically adept Ms. Collette, Tyra's run for student council president on the slut ticket was primarily comic relief, but it was worth it for the final scene between Tami and Tyra. If she manages to survive JumboGate, I can see Tami getting into more trouble over her pet project, and Tyra's impulsive enough that it may be hard for her to rein in her tendency to make the easy but dangerous choice.
All around, I continue to be extremely pleased with the show's rebound from season two.
Some other thoughts on "Tami Knows Best":
* Chronologically, the final scene with Matt and Julie should have been placed earlier in the episode, since Matt was only borrowing Landry's car for the one night to see his mom, and since we already saw him back in town the following night for the scrimmage with Smash. (Plus, we got a scene back at school, which meant the entire weekend had passed.) So why was it at the end as opposed to the Coach/Smash scene? My guess is that, with Smash on his way out, they didn't want to close the first two episodes in a row on his storyline, but that they wanted to close on some kind of hopeful note, and the bit with the Celica seemed better than Lyla bringing Riggins a cheeseburger.
* Speaking of the Landrymobile 2.0, how understanding is Mr. Clarke to buy Landry another car after what happened with the last one? Or did he just feel guilty for burning the station wagon?
* Yes, that was Janine Turner from "Northern Exposure" as Mrs. McCoy. It doesn't seem that long ago (even though it was nearly 20 years!) that she was going to be the Next Big Thing, but as happens so often with NBTs, it never quite materialized.
* I'm sure I'm far from the only viewer who got a big Tracy Flick vibe off of the actress playing Tyra's political rival. (God, "Election" came out nearly 10 years ago. Somehow, that makes me feel even older than looking up the "Northern Exposure" premiere date.)
* I should say, by the way, that I didn't in any way find Tyra's victory implausible. I was wildly unpopular in my school, and yet somehow I wound up as student council president because the school had recently eliminated parking privileges for anyone who wasn't a senior, and in my speech to the then-sophomores, I promised to do my best to bring back junior parking. Like so many campaign promises, it was harder to achieve than it was to talk about, but it proved as effective a wedge issue as sex at the prom was for Tyra.
* Lyla actually had a bunch of funny lines tonight, including her telling Tim that the only thing he knows about dressing himself is "how to put on a plaid shirt and button one button," and, in response to Google-savvy Tim insisting he isn't retarded, "Sometimes, you act like you are." For that matter, her reaction to Buddy asking the condom question was pretty priceless. I don't even mind Minka Kelly anymore, really.
* The mortification in Julie's voice as she said "Yeah, I work at Applebee's" sounded like it was half about Julie, half about Aimee Teegarden being annoyed to get stuck with the product integration this week.
What did everybody else think?