"See, you're the only one that didn't get the joke." -Levi BurnwellHaving established the new world of East Dillon and its most notable residents over the first two episodes, a busier-than-usual "Friday Night Lights" gets to showing us how lost so many of our characters are in this new place and/or their new roles.
Eric is continuing on his fool's errand to make the Lions respectable, and even risking some marital strife by paying for new uniforms out of pocket. Riggins moves tentatively into the world of unofficial assistant coaching and tries like hell to avoid being tempted by his underage new neighbor. Buddy finally loses patience with what Joe McCoy has turned the Panther boosters into (and with Buddy's own loss of relevance to the group). Landry, Luke and Vince are all asked to take on responsibilities they're maybe not ready for (punting, defense and team leadership, respectively). Matt's slowly starting to understand his new mentor, at the same time the mentor is advising him to get away from Julie. And having become the town pariah for the redistricting plan, and then for the Luke decision, Tami gets another sign that her daughter is also moving away from her when Julie admits she doesn't really care about church.
It's rare that we get an episode like this that gives virtually every character something to do. The downside is that the writers have to employ more shorthand than they probably should. The other boosters have to turn completely evil just so Buddy can be driven to renounce his Panther love, for instance, while Landry somehow becomes both punter and placekicker in the same episode, even though only the former job is mentioned or practiced(*).
(*) I know many high school teams have the same guy handle all kicking duties - or, in some cases, don't bother kicking at all - but they are different skills, and if Landry was going to do both, it should've been mentioned. In general, the show's never been great about the small detail work re: the actual playing of football. Football culture? Yes. Football strategery? Less so.
But if not everything works, a whole lot of it does, particularly Eric's continued quest to turn the Lions into a team, even while everyone in town either laughs at or ignores him. He has to pull cash out of his own pocket to boost his kids' self-esteem during the fundraising drive, then dig much deeper to write a $3,000 check to his buddy at Under Armor when all the boosters turn a cold shoulder to him and his ghetto school.
That decision leads to a terrific fight between Coach and Mrs. Coach. I hate when TV shows have couples argue for contrived reasons just because the writer wants tension, but when the Taylors get into it, it's almost always over something real, and if they're petty or stupid about it at first (Eric claiming the check was for dry cleaning), eventually they talk about it like grown-ups and we get a real resolution. I watch how these two are written, and played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, and I constantly want to chain writers of other TV shows in front of an "FNL" marathon to say, "See this? This is how you can write a happy, mature couple and still keep it interesting."
And while Eric manages to make peace with Tami, and apparently with East Dillon's principal (whose cheers at the end of the game imply he'll find a way to help pay for the uniforms), the team itself is still a mess - hence Coach's inability to sleep at episode's end.
Vince isn't responding at all to Eric's tough love approach, and Eric's request for Luke to be more of a team leader seems like it's going to drive Vince (whom Eric already set up as the leader last week) further away. With only 19 players on the team, most of them will have to play both offense and defense, and given that the only two guys with any discernible talent are both running backs, Eric's either going to have to run a full-time wildcat offense, or else try to turn one of them into a quarterback. (And I hope that it's Vince who makes the switch; seems trite to again make the overly polite white guy the QB and the cocky black guy the RB.)
But finishing a game, and scoring a touchdown - even if it comes on a busted play, and one play after the team should have already scored if not for a petulant Vince pulling up on a block - is a start. We started this season with the team in such a huge hole that even baby steps like that feel huge.
Some other thoughts:
• There was a deleted scene from the season three finale where Buddy - who was already sick of Joe at the time - offered to team up with Eric at East Dillon, but I think this timing works better. With Buddy at his side from the start, things wouldn't have been quite so dire for the Lions. This allows, again, for a slower and more natural learning curve.
• Whatever Landry's special teams responsibilities may be, his practicing gave him another opportunity to spend time with Jess. The revelation that Jess's father played football himself provides a more natural excuse for why she might be hanging out with young Lance and/or the rest of the team. Because of the nature of the show, our two new female characters are still lingering behind the two new guys in terms of being integrated into this world, but hopefully, we'll get there. (At the start of the series, it was easier, because Lyla, Tyra and Julie all had pre-existing relationships with someone on the Panthers.)
• So, anyone want to rank the reasons why Tim might be so afraid of falling into bed with Becky? So far, possibilities include: 1)She's underage (though he's only 19 at most, and she's not that much younger than Julie); 2)That she's his landlady's daughter (and that he already slept with the landlady); 3)Loyalty to Lyla (who hasn't been mentioned so far; as with Tyra and Landry, I'm just assuming they broke up over the summer rather than trying the long distance thing). Whatever the reason, Taylor Kitsch is doing some good comic work playing it, particularly his attempt to get out of the room before Becky started trying on pageant dresses. And if Tim is successful in foisting Becky off on Luke ("wish I was renting a room from her mom!"), then we have another excuse to bring all the characters together.
• To bring back a question from last week, how is it that Luke and Tim haven't met before? Again, unless they're going for the silliness of telling us Luke is a freshman, he's enough of a stud that he should've been Tim's backup last season. Or, at the very least, the star of the JV team, and someone Tim would have been aware of. But if Luke's been magically inserted into Dillon (just like most of the East Dillon characters), at least they're doing a good job of showing what's motivating him. He seems as driven to use football to get out of town as Smash was.
• I really liked the Tami/Julie subplot. This show is rare in that it's completely comfortable at dealing with faith as a fact of its characters' lives, which then leads to a low-key story like this where one character has to deal with the realization that another doesn't exactly share that faith. I can think of lots of shows that might have tried it, but had Julie suffer some kind of personal crisis - even the encounter with Richard Sherman - that had her running back to church. Instead, she and Tami reached a nice compromise: Julie will go for her mom, and Tami won't act like it's anything but.
• Speaking of Richard Sherman, still not loving that story. I keep waiting for the "Karate Kid" moment when Saracen discovers that doing all of Richard's gruntwork has magically turned him into a great artist. But it would be interesting, I suppose, to see that Matt stayed in Dillon and somehow still wound up drifting away from Julie.
• "FNL" is usually so spot-on with its dialogue that a line like "You a long way from home, boy" (like JD's "This is my Dillon now!" from the season premiere) sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only does it sound cheesey and like something out of a bad high school movie, but (as Fienberg pointed out to me), it's not even accurate, as we've established that this school is much closer to where Luke lives than his old one was.
What did everybody else think?