"You can't fake boosterism, Eric. Comes from the heart. That's the beauty of it." -Buddy GarrityI spent a lot of "Some Kind of Homecoming" trying to suss out the timeline. As the show's title tells us, high school football is played on a Friday night, so when Principal Burnwell, at the start of a school day, congratulates Eric on having finished a game "last night," I began to wonder if the East Dillon High schedule is designed to disprove Russell Cosby's old taunt that someone can be "like school on Saturday... no class!" (UPDATE: Several DirecTV viewers told me that the line was changed in post-production to "last Friday," so at least that's one inconsistency fixed.) And all through the episode, I found myself wondering what day certain events were supposed to be taking place on. Why was Devin taking Julie to the area's only gay bar on a school night? Why were Riggins going hunting on a Thursday? Hadn't enough days passed over the course of the episode that we should be close to the next game?
I'm not saying that all those questions can't be satisfactorily answered (some kids do go out on weeknights, for instance), nor that they ruined my enjoyment of the episode. But the weird timeline was emblematic of a sloppiness that "Friday Night Lights" occasionally falls prey to, and that was there in abundance throughout "Some Kind of Homecoming." It wasn't a bad episode, but it was one that felt more necessary (in that it moved a lot of pieces in place) than it was satisfying (because those movements weren't particularly graceful).
I didn't like, for instance, that Matt's motivation for staying in Dillon has now been rewritten to center on his relationship with Julie. When he decided to stay halfway through Mindy and Billy's wedding last season, it was a sad moment, because Matt deserved to get the hell out of this town, but also a sweet one, because it was obvious how much his grandma meant to him. Having him now say (and appear to mean) that he stayed for Julie makes the decision seem both more foolish (because she's going to college in a year herself) and less noble.
Now, Zach Gilford's no longer a regular castmember, and will be getting the Smash/Street Farewell Tour treatment later this season - presumably set up by the death of Matt's dad (who, don't forget, only went back to Iraq because Matt told him to, which will be yet another burden for the poor kid) - so shifting Matt's motivation may make it easier to write him out. But it didn't sit well with me.
Neither did a lot of the Vince/Luke interaction. When "Friday Night Lights" is at its best, it transcends the usual cliches of high school movies and TV shows, but here both their fighting and their detente felt exactly like the sort of thing I've seen a million times before, and not just in Riggins and Smash's arguments in the first two seasons. I know it's hard to introduce two new characters and so quickly have to put them at odds with each other and have it feel real and not trite, but "Friday Night Lights" has proven itself up to that task in the past. Just not here. I appreciate that both Luke (still hanging out with JD and his punk friends, and quick to judge Vince) and Vince (more in his interactions with Jess and Landry than in this story) were allowed to show ugly sides this week, but I'd rather the tension between the two of them be more natural.
Unsurprisingly, the best, most natural parts of the episode involved Coach and Mrs. Coach, with Tami continuing to suffer the fallout for sending Luke to East Dillon, and Eric scrambling to create a new booster club out of the alums from the 1983 Lions state championship team. Their combined fatigue led to a couple of hilarious moments - first an exhausted Tami realizing she had just volunteered to cook dinner for the potential boosters (Connie Britton's high-pitched delivery of "Perhaps, I am" killed), then Eric going from terrified to relieved when good ol' boy Buddy showed up at the booster dinner and turned out to be able to connect to his old opponents - but it also led to a nice moment where the alums, and the team, and some of the student body, all came together for the pep rally, and we saw that Eric's on the right track in trying to build a community to go along with his team.
Though even there, a detail bugged. Earlier, Principal Burnwell was giving Eric the okay to do a pep rally at the school since it doesn't cost money, so who exactly paid for Virgil to host and cater a gathering this big? Or did Jess convince him to not only loan out the space, but donate all that food?
Again, I'm not saying that the plotting in "Friday Night Lights" needs to be airtight all the time. It's a show about character, and place. It's just that the characters and their world felt as fuzzy as the storytelling for a lot of "Some Kind of Homecoming."
Some other thoughts:
• I'm glad to see that Landry has learned a lot from his time with Tyra about what not to do - and what to do - around a girl he likes. The awkward Landry of season one wouldn't have been able to so confidently plant a kiss on Jess and then walk away like that. (The Landry of season two just would have killed her and tried to hide the body.)
• Speaking of old relationships, Tim and Matt's hunting trip not only provided an opportunity for comedy, with Tim taking away Matt's gun, but also for as much of an explanation as the series is going to give us about Tim and Lyla, as Tim says, "I think we had different paths."
• And as we learn that Becky doesn't have her license yet - which, in Texas, would put her at 15, and therefore helps to explain Riggins' mortal terror at the idea that he might somehow fall into bed with her - we do see that Tim feels bad for his new neighbor, who's been abandoned by her parents just as much as Tim and Billy were by theirs. Becky's mom (and it took me until this episode, when we got to see her in the daylight, to fully accept that it was Alicia Witt playing her) is present some of the time, but clearly not enough. Riggins confessing his heartbreak over never making Miss Texas was another funny, and sweet moment.
• Still more detail oddness: we find the Panthers, due to the Luke Cafferty forfeit, are now at risk of missing the playoffs if they lose one more game, even though the season two team made the playoffs with more than two losses, I believe. Clearly, this is setting the stage for the eason to climax with the Lions facing the Panthers with a chance to knock Wade, JD and the rest of them out of the playoffs, gaining their dignity, if not a winning record, in the process.
• Did we have any evidence last season that Devin (who, as I recall, was a freshman at the time) and Julie are friends? They have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing from Devin being in a band with Landry and Landry being best friends with Julie's boyfriend, but it still seemed out of the blue for Devin to ask Julie to take her to the area's only gay bar.
• Their trip to said bar did allow Julie to discover that Stan is gay and in the closet. I really hope that this isn't used as the explanation for all of Stan's eccentricities - that he's overcompensating for his secret shame by being so loud and enthusiastic about football - because I think he's a much more interesting character if he's just this weird, gay or straight.
• Vince silently handing Luke back his wallet was funny, but wouldn't the cops have made Vince empty his pockets before they tossed him in a cell?
• JD remains an evil cartoon, but it's interesting to see that Luke continues to hang out with them - and that JD allows this to happen now that Luke plays for the hated Coach Taylor. Obviously, there's going to be more tension to come between Luke's old teammates and his new ones.
• I'm putting aside the "When will Angry Necklace Guy ask to rejoin the team?" question aside for one week, to instead wonder if the point of Jess's love of football will be to have her join the team as a much more gifted punter and placekicker than Landry could ever hope to be. If Kathy Ireland could kick for the Texas State fightin' Armadillos, surely Eric Taylor can find a spot on his squad for the offspring of a former state champion QB.
• A couple of good song choices, as per usual: "White Knuckles" by OK Go over one of the early practice montages, and "Teardrop" by Jose Gonzales over the soldiers arriving at Grandma Saracen's house to stun Shelby and Lorraine with the tragic news.
What did everybody else think?