"We're not scrappers anymore. We're Lions. And this is our time. This is your time." -CoachWe're in the second half of this season now, which means it's time for the Lions to finally get in the win column (in part because they've improved, in part because they're playing an even worse team than they are). But it's also time for the characters to start thinking more seriously about their futures, and for the show to start moving them into position for the fifth and presumably final season.
So even as Eric is coaching the boys up to play Campbell Park, we see lots of characters being interviewed for future opportunities: Julie (at Boston College) and Tim (at Sears) most obviously, but also Buddy trying to cut a deal with the Spanish-language radio station and Luke faking his way past the doctor so he can keep playing and hoping for a scholarship. Even the awkward dinner with Vince, his mother Regina and Jess has the feeling of an audition, with Regina desperate to win the role of sober, attentive mother, and struggling right off the bat because she missed (presumably while high) Vince and Jess's break-up.
(Vince doesn't have a comparable audition scene himself this week, but we see in his conversation with Angry Necklace Guy that he's just barely hanging onto being an attentive, rule-following football player in the same way his mom is just barely hanging onto her sobriety. One bad development, and either one could backslide into a life of crime/addiction.)
In the end, some of the interviews go well, while others don't. Julie impresses the admissions officer, Buddy signs a deal with the station and begins a second career as the team's radio color man, and Luke is able to get a new painkiller scrip to allow him to play a key role in the team's first win of the season. But Tim doesn't get the job at Sears, even after all of Becky's (very funny) pageant coaching, and has to stupidly(*) go in with Billy on the chop shop scheme so he can afford his dream ranch. Vince is still wary of his mom. And after Vince's awkward quasi-date with Jess seems to have gone better than the one she has the next night with Landry, it's the pasty punter Jess tracks down to celebrate with after the big victory.
(*) I still feel way too burned by season two - both the murder and then the pointless Ferret Guy storyline - to ever feel totally comfortable with the show getting into the world of crime. But at least the Riggins boys have established a pattern of criminal idiocy in the past, so I believe they would do this, even though I wish they - and the show - wouldn't go there.
Of the stories unfurling here, the one I think I'm most interested in is Luke's. One of the things that usually sets "Friday Night Lights" apart from the average teen drama is its reluctance to moralize about underage drinking (save for those periods when Riggins does nothing but drink) and willingness to accept it as a fact of life. I don't expect Luke's painkiller dependence to end well (not to mention the abuse he's putting his body through just by not letting the injury properly heal), but I'm expecting the story to play out with more nuance than the typical Drugs Are Bad, Mmmmkay? approach you usually see on high school shows.
Julie and Tami's Boston trip didn't have quite the resonance of Street and Riggin's New York adventure last season (both of them shot on location), but the earlier one had the advantage of being our final glimpse of Street, where Julie still has the rest of this season. (And given the character's connection to our two leads, I'm sure we'll be seeing some of Aimee Teegarden next season.) But I thought it did a nice job of again showing Tami Taylor, perfectly imperfect mom, in that Julie was probably right at the start (Tami enjoyed that professor's attention way too much) before coming up, as usual, with the necessary words for her daughter at the end.
And getting back to the Landry/Jess/Vince triangle, I'd like to see Jess move more into the forefront in this back half of the season. I want more of an idea of how things with her and Vince fell apart, and what she sees in Landry besides his sense of humor (and obvious willingness to kill for his woman). Again, the show is juggling a lot of characters, both new and old, both staying and going, and it's hard to service them all every week. But I'm assuming Jason Katims and company were smart enough to make all four newbies underclassmen, which means they'll be carrying a post-Julie-and-Landry show next season, and I feel like I have a much stronger handle on Luke and Becky at this point than I do Vince and Jess.
"Friday Night Lights" doesn't need to audition for me to get it to watch the rest of this season or all of next. It already nailed the job, way back in the pilot episode (around the time Street's helmet was cut open in the ER). I just want it to be working as well as it can going into the home stretch.
Some other thoughts on "Toilet Bowl":
• As I've mentioned in the past, Taylor Kitsch went from cast weak link to indispensable around the time the writers started to take a less-is-more approach to his dialogue. Every now and then, though, we get an episode like this where he's asked to talk a lot - particularly in the scene where he confronts Billy about turning the Rig into a chop shop - and I'm reminded that talking is the one part of his game that still needs work.
• While it was nice to see Buddy being active in his role as a Lions booster, didn't he more or less agree to be a booster four episodes ago? Why is he talking to Eric like he's just finally decided to get with the program?
• With Matt Saracen gone, Landry needs other platonic friends, and thank goodness the show hasn't forgotten about his band. Devin and Jimmy's bored, frustrated reaction to Landry's latest romantic crisis was hilarious, particularly when Jimmy played a rimshot in the middle of the discussion.
• As mentioned often in the past, the show is much better at being a realistic depiction of football culture than it is being a realistic depiction of football itself, but rarely has the show seemed as bad on that front as it has with Landry as placekicker, because Jesse Plemons' kicking form looks awful. When we saw the ball go through the uprights during the game, in the same shot as when Landry kicked it, I started wondering if they had to create a CGI ball to get that effect.
• Two notable songs this week: Delta Spirit's "Trashcan" over the Taylor women's arrival in Boston, and "Killed Myself When I Was Young" by A.A. Bondy over the final sequence.
• A reader last time out pointed out that, in the credits, Angry Necklace Guy's name is Calvin Brown (and he's played by Ernest James), but until a character refers to him by that name on-screen, I'm sticking with Angry Necklace Guy. And now that he seems excited by the Lions' (one-game) winning streak, do I need to re-revisit my prediction that he'd end up back on the team before the season's over? Or will he continue to exist just to tempt Vince and the Riggins boys over to the dark side?
• Was anybody else expecting Tim to reach out to crazy Stan to help get the Sears gig? And has Sears replaced Applebee's as the show's main source of product integration money?
• I was worried at first when Tim didn't pull back from Becky's kiss, but he did eventually, and even she reacted like she just remembered why she wasn't supposed to do things like that.
• Gracie continues to be comic gold. The scene where she stands in a daze, pants-less, just watching the rest of her family be crazy, was another great usage of that little girl (and/or her twin).
What did everybody else think?