Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Girls will be boys

There's a part of me that just wants to let that picture speak for itself, but fish gotta swim and critics gotta write, so "Friday Night Lights" spoilers coming right up...

This show is really a testament to getting the details right. Any show can go for the big moments, like Tami feeling beat down by the kids or the black players staging their protest -- though few shows would do them as artfully -- but what really elevates "Friday Night Lights" are the little things. Things like Matt's grandma holding up a sign cheering on Julie as quarterback, or the way Mac unwittingly stepped so deeply into the reporters' trap that even they couldn't believe they had gotten him to pull an Al Campanis, or Julie teasing Coach about his guarded praise of her passing skills, or Coach being amused by Landry trying to exert his authority as ref, or the very clear logic behind why Matt chose Julie third, or...

You get the point. The small details are always so painstakingly-crafted, and usually so subtly. As soon as Tyra entered the car dealership, Marian and I both said, "Uh oh," as we both assumed she was going to find Buddy leaning her mom over the hood of a late-model sedan. To have it be just some late takeout made the point just as easily, and maybe even made it worse for Tyra, because she didn't have an excuse to blow up and go off on Buddy then and there.

(And speaking of Tyra, I appreciate that neither she nor Lyla come off as purely good or evil in their rivalry. Lyla was genuinely trying to be nice when she approached her in the hall, and Tyra had to get all nasty about it, but Lyla's had her own nasty moments, too.)

I'm glad they did the racial storyline, as the movie completely wimped out on this aspect of Bissinger's book. My only complaint was how tied it was to the Smash/Waverly relationship, and I'm completely bored by her. (Not to mention, I don't believe she'd be with him at any point, much less for this long.)

A few other random thoughts:
  • I know Street was supposed to be the next Peyton Manning and all that, but they're still rushing the hell out of the quad rugby storyline by giving him the invite to training camp after he's been in the chair for all of five seconds.
  • Also, am I nuts or have we seen Street driving already?
  • I usually hate NBC's promos, but the one for next week's episode was awesome. "Is there anyone else I can talk to?"
  • Coach's joy at belatedly getting to help his kid play quarterback brings up a question: why do they only have the one? Am I misremembering some earlier discussion of this? Because given their backgrounds and personalities, I can't see them stopping at one, especially if that one wasn't a boy Eric could play catch with.
  • Out of curiosity, did anyone here go to a high school that didn't have a Powder Puff game? Mine did -- complete with cross-dressing male cheerleaders -- but Marian reacted like it was some kind of horrific foreign concept.
  • Speaking of Powder Puff -- and getting back to the awesomeness of the above photo -- I think I've hit on a solution for two of the show's problems. There aren't enough recognizable players on the team (and no defensive players that we know of), and the writers don't know what to do with Tyra, so why not have her play strong safety? If nothing else, it would give Kyle Chandler new levels of disdain to play.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

My favorite part was Julie's transformation from sullen, angry teen getting lectured by her parents to sweet, happy daughter when learning QB plays with Coach. It's a nice follow-up to how young Julie seemed in comparison with Tyra that every once in awhile she still gets to be a kid, partially because she has such a wonderful family.

I thought the different coaching styles of Tim and Matt were hilarious.

Heather K said...

My high school didn't have when I went there, but started it back up the year after I graduated. Two year later (after my sisters senior year) girl athletes were banned from it and it fizzled out. Athletes got banned because they were being way too violent and getting hurt and knocked out of their own seasons.

Anonymous said...

I loved the way Kyle Chandler played the scene where he's suppose to disciplining Julie. When she says Matt is having her play quarterback you can see his mind trying to figure out about fifteen different things she could have said instead, ultimately realizing that YES she did say quarterback and hot-damn this is terrific! It was so funny and, yes, so subtle.

Anonymous said...

There was no powderpuff football at my school, but nobody gave half a damn about football at my school--we were more basketball country, and the girls' team was better than the boys.

There were, however, male teachers in cheerleader drag at the annual pep rally. TRAUMA.

Matt said...

I don't know that the film completely wimped out on the racial aspects of the book. Yes, it played down the racial divisions within Odessa and the class distinctions between Midland and Odessa that are very much part of the book. But there's still the scene where the Permian coaches and the Carter coaches are negotiating in code about the racial breakdown of the refs for the big game.

Daniel said...

No Powderpuff Girls at my high school, or at least not that I can remember. Then again, In six years of college and grad school I never missed a single home football game, but in high school I never had the slightest interest. But I'd like to think this is something I'd remember.

I loved the episode, though I'm having a hard time with the arc that Smash has had to go through in the last four episodes from angry 'roid-head to repentant sinner to rediscovering his love for football to Black Power team leader. That's in the course of maybe two weeks.

I can't say enough, though, about how spectacular Aimee Teegarden has been in recent weeks, though the cutest thing this week may have been the director and editors had to work around the fact that in real life, the gal clearly can't throw worth a lick.

Oh and Rick mentioned it over on Zap2it, but it was totally bush league for Coach Taylor to have done a trick play in the waning seconds of a game that the team already had in hand. I know it's the playoffs, but still...


Alan Sepinwall said...

Dan, I like to think of this as the producers making up for lost time with Smash, who along with Tyra was a glorified extra for the first third of the season.

There was only one shot where you could even see Teegarden's throwing motion, and you're right about its absolute badness. Then again, none of the Powder Puff players were all that convincing, save Tyra. And I don't know that Teegarden's arm is any worse than, say, Tim Robbins'.

And the halfback option play was bush, but it was also a necessary contrivance to get the reporters asking Mac about why Smash isn't the quarterback.

K J Gillenwater said...

We had Powderpuff at my high school (this was almost 20 years ago), but it was reserved for the jerky popular girls and cheerleaders. There was no way for the average joe girl to even make it on the team.

Seeing as I was part of the nerdy smart crowd, we never even considered going to a game.

But I definitely would be in out in the quad for the "Miss Wilcox" contest during lunch every year. Guys dressed in drag competed for the title. It was glorious. I'm guessing now this would be considered offensive to gays and crossdressers, so it no longer exists? I went to school in California, so I'm guessing the tradition died out long ago...

This was a great episode. I also loved the different coaching styles of Matt and Tim. Tim was definitely hard-core. Also like the realistic awkwardness between Matt and Julie. Can't wait to see Julie go down a bad road starting next week. What I'm really hoping for her is she goes out with some horrid guy and have Matt be tortured by that...perhaps coming to her rescue at some point?

The race storyline was a little forced. Like no one knew this coach who'd been there for 27 years had these thoughts about the kids on the team??

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm guessing now this would be considered offensive to gays and crossdressers, so it no longer exists?

Riggins and Saracen and a few other players all got into drag for the pep rally to support the cheerleaders a few episodes back, otherwise I'm sure there would have been a crossdressing gag here.

If anything, I would think schools in certain parts of the country would frown on drag-related hijinks not out of concern for offending real crossdressers, but for upsetting parents who don't want their kids exposed to "gay culture" or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can just assume that the trick play came early in the game, and the cut to the scoreboard is a jump ahead to the end of the game.

Count me as another one who didn't have that girl football game in high school.

Anonymous said...

I just love this show. I am sad already at the possibility of it not coming back next year. Thought this was a great episode and I completely bought that the kids would've tolerated Mac until they just couldn't. Smash has been so frivilous up until this point that I liked him being the one to "see the light". Waverly is ho-hum but I still believe that she never went to Africa and went away to have a baby instead.

My high school (went to a huge, competitive football school) had powder puff. I played for two years and it was always a lot of fun though there was only one game. It was canceled after I graduated because it seemed rigged for popular girls only. I didn't think so at the time but considering you could only play if you had the jersey of a Varsity football player (which meant you had to already have a relationship with a player) I can see why it needed to be canceled if they weren't planning to change that silly rule. A lot of fun, great scenes between the ref and coach.

The relationship between Coach and Tammy is my favorite on TV. Realistic, mature and still very sexy.

Well done all the way around.

Anonymous said...

Another first-rate episodes, for all the reasons Alan and the commenters have noted. No one has mentioned my favorite scene, though: When Coach comforts Mrs. Coach after the forum of race relations didn't go terribly well. Earlier in the episode, when she first informed him that she was holding the forum, you could sense his displeasure; like several other ugly incidents that have befallen the team this year, Coach would clearly rather put it past him and focus on the next game. She's always been the one to arouse his slumbering conscience, and, at bottom, he appreciates her deeply for it.

I'm trying to think of a TV marriage that I've cared about as much as this one. Currently drawing a blank.

Anonymous said...

Alan, to sort of answer your question, I don't think Jason was driving in an earlier episode. I remember the moment you are thinking of when he and Lyla were in the car--maybe just hanging out--it wasn't clear--and he asked her to get his chair after their talk. At that point, I assumed he wasn't driving yet, becuase he surely would have had a system figured out for when driving by himself.

Anonymous said...

Since no one's mentioned it after Alan: Didn't Smash and Waverley break up at the carnival? Was there a conciliation scene I missed?

And yeah, Smash's rapid-fire character developments have to be taken with a grain of salt, but I felt that the racial division storyline was fair game -- fans of the show can correct me, since I haven't watched all of the episodes, but I thought that the "kids hanging out" scenes at the high school have generally reflected an unspoken racial self-segregation. The real question is how long the issue will be allowed to play out -- through sweeps, or less?

I must say, too, that I really thought the one black assistant coach would have gotten a speaking part out of all of this.


Anonymous said...

It´s about the little things...definetly what I thought when I watched that episode but FNL´s love of details is generally overwhelming.

Another example: I always love the shots during the games when they show the crowd. In the pilot you see Landry standing next to Grandma Saracen, now he was also next to Julie and Mrs. Coach. It´s a great thing how FNL even manages to show character development not only on the actual field but also up in the stands by seemingly unimportant shots.

Also how awesome was Tammy´s - Mrs. Coach´s - slight break-down back at home?

It´s amazing how you can actually watch FNL episodes repeatedly as you always catch something new.

I really LOVE that show although as an European I have never ever watched a whole (American) football game. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

What was the logic behind Matt choosing Julie 3rd for powder puff? I didn't catch that...?

Alan Sepinwall said...

They're in the middle of a fight and he's afraid to pick her first, plus Tyra's eight feet tall and bone mean. Then he's still afraid to have her on his team, plus now he's worrying that he didn't pick her first, so he picks some other girl. Then it finally dawns on him that he's gonna be real screwed if she winds up playing for Riggins, so he picks her, at least one, if not two, slots too late. (Again, you can defend picking Tyra first because she's bigger than Vin Diesel, but after that he had no excuse except for being deer-in-headlights Matt Saracen.)

mridley2 said...

Alan, im fInally getting around to watching this show. Initially I was not interested in this show as sports especially football is not exactly in my wheelhouse. But your reverence for the show along with other critics I respect & read convinced me to give it a shot. So glad I did. As I grew up in a small town in rural GA where football was king and team members close to godliness i find this show incredibly spot on in its depiction of Football culture.

Can I just ask. Where is the Panther Marching Band?? Maybe eyll have an appearance in later seasons. Would love to see that. I know I know. players & cheerleaders are all you need but the Band at my school was very much an institution and no doubt our tremendous spirit & support lead our team to victory many times. Just sayin'!

Thanks for your reviews of this show, Alan. Glad your old blog is still active for those of us catching up on these shows late in the game. Har har.