Thursday, February 15, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Let's go to the strip club (today)

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon I speculate on how long the producers had to argue with NBC to show that one JV kid's acne...

A very strong episode, with one caveat that I'll get to in a bit. Let's take the silly before the serious.

Landry Clarke at a strip club? Absolute comic genius. The writers and Jesse Plemons have done such a wonderful job of establishing the ABC's of Landry that I started laughing at the very idea of him going there, well before he actually wound up in the dressing room. (Nice garnish: that one stripper nodding enthusiastically at Landry's speech about how they work hard for their money, so you better tip them right.)

The preview for this episode tipped off most of Coach and Mrs. Coach's scene, especially the "Is there anybody else I can talk to?" punchline, but it was still funny in context, plus there was a new capper with his reference to all three of them being scary. The Taylors have one of the most realistic, honest and entertaining marriages on TV. And am I the only one who keeps flashing back to Tami telling Tyra "I used to be like you" (or words to that effect) in an early episode? While Tyra's absolutely a bad influence on Julie, I also think Tami is protesting so vehemently because she identifies too much with Tyra.

Now, for the serious. I was so pleased by the nuanced way the show dealt last week with the Mac plot until now, how Mac's comments were unpleasant but not Tim Hardaway-level automatic proof of violent biogtry, how people like Coach and Riggins let their focus on the playoffs blind them to what needed to be said and done to defuse the situation, Smash's gradual awakening, etc. And I liked a lot of the material here: Mac's confession that he picked up some attitudes from his old man that he wishes he hadn't, Mama Smash's speech, Riggins finally standing up for Smash (and why didn't he tell Coach about the "tarbaby" comment after the fact?), the team being pelted with garbage while walking to the bus in full uniform, and that scary-ass traffic stop.

But I also feel like the show took the easy way out on Mac, both with Coach's line about him being the one who integrated the team and him saving the day with the redneck cops. First of all, if Mac was really the man responsible for integrating the Panthers, shouldn't that have come up really early in the whole media firestorm? Second, both bits -- and the nasty depiction of the rival team and its fans -- seemed to be a case of the writers trying to say, as Rich Heldenfels put it to me, "our racist is better than your racists." It was like the show went to a place that was really complicated and scary, and someone -- either the writers or NBC -- decided it was a little too scary to stay very long, so they wrapped things up neat and tidy. Rich wants to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that Smash and Mac's relationship will be an ongoing subject, but it looked from this seat like they put a bow on the whole thing.

Still, if there's any network show right now that deserves some benefit of the doubt, it's "Friday Night Lights." What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I thought the episode was incredibly strong. I suppose I might be giving the show some slack because I think there are limitations on the ability of a network television show to deal with something this complicated.

Although there may or may not be significant on-screen follow up between Smash and Mac, I feel like the situation is clearly not resolved. Mac made racist comments and then tried to hide behind his coaching position when Smash confronted him; just because he knew how to handle the redneck cops doesn't mean that goes away or proves anything. It's not entirely unrealistic to leave things unfinished, though it may be dramatically unsatisfying.

I acknowledge that I may be reading shades of gray into the episode that aren't there.

I love how well the show's found its humor, and how the actors are getting so comfortable in their roles. So many cast members were terrific from the beginning, but I think everyone's just getting stronger.

Anonymous said...

Great episode. I thought that Mac standing up to the redneck cops was well done because he understood what they were trying to do and knew how to stop them. Thats my hope at least, maybe it was just a quick way to reconcile his storyline and now we won't see him with a speaking part for the rest of the season.

I realized why I liked this episode so much thanks to my DVR. Lyla did not come into the show until 30 minutes in and she was only in long enough for us to see Jason leave her behind. Kudos to Herc for backing the truck up early so he didn't have to see anymore of their high school mushy-ness. Tyra's character doesn't make a whole lot of sense all the time but at least she's a better actress.

I've really started to love Smash's mom. One of the most levelheaded characters on the show that I always enjoy seeing on screen.

Best line of the night for me had to be "I've got a guidance counselor emergency" as he kicked that girl out of the office. Kyle Chandler deserves about 18 emmys for his work on this show. I can't imagine anyone else doing near the job he has done.

Anonymous said...

I know that it wrapped things up a little too easily, but that scene with the sheriff and the bus really caught me off guard. It was scary because it was way, way too real.

It was a good A plot and almost makes up for the short shrift they had to give Jason's story this week.

And I am just blown away by the Taylors. Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler just knock it out of the park week in and week out.

Anonymous said...

What a great episode - very strong, for all the reasons already mentioned.
My favorites: Landry at the strip club bumming cash from Matt "for nachos," and getting 2 bucks and an eyeful before getting busted; an impatient Coach Taylor outside the police station: "All the other parents have picked up THEIR perps!"

Fred Farrar said...

I thought the episode was, as usual, excellent.

And, based on the fast nationals, to actually improve by 822,000 viewers over last week, while tackling such a tough subject, was very encouraging. As was the #2 18-49 rating in the time slot.

Maybe there is some hope for a second season after all.

Anonymous said...

There was a warning about graphic language before last night's episode. I'm still trying to figure what exactly that was. Does anybody else have any idea what that was all about?

Anonymous said...

I think the writers were wise not to try and use Mac's intergration of the team as a defense, because it almost certainly would not be useful as one. It would still be perceived as him using their "junkyard doggedness" for his own means, not as true progressive thinking. And while the police situation might be a bit of a cheat, I liked the way they handled it. Rather than explaining what he had done to Smash, Mac just said they made a mistake like he had, which is far more of a sincere apology than Smash had received up until then.

Daniel said...

I agree that the Tyra-to-Laila ratio needs to continue along its current path. As hot as I find Minka Kelly, if you compare the way she's handled her character to the ways that Adrianne Palicki and Aimee Teegarden have pushed theirs, you can tell why the writers have gone the direction they have.

The slight uptick in viewership for "FNL" coupled with NBC's abrupt and premature pulling of "Studio 60" feels like a good sign that "FNL" might sneak in and grab a second season.

Knock on wood.

My favorite scene, one that nobody has mentioned yet, was Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton discussing how soon to go in and pick up their perp.

I would also like to propose a "Shopping With Landry" spin-off series...


Anonymous said...

Given the complexities of racial issues, I think FNL did about as good a job as you can in a 60-min TV drama. Maybe if the topic pops up again somehow, it will make it a bit more realistic.

I agree with everyone about Chandler and Britton, but I think the actor that plays Saracen is awfully good too. He has the insecure teenager nailed.

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode was outstanding. Yes, they had to wrap things up a little bit tidily but I defy you to find a network television series that has dealt with a racism storyline as nuanced and layered as this one has been. That, along with some amazing moments from the Taylor family and Matt/Landry, made this my favorite episode of the series so far.

My favorite line of the night was when Julie told Saracen she was worried about him during the fight and he replied, "Oh, you don't have to worry about me. In fights I just stand in the back and yell things." HA! So funny, and so perfectly in character.

Anonymous said...

Quick website question - has anybody else noticed that the RSS feed has been messed up the past few days? I keep getting a mishmash of current posts along with posts from Sep./Nov. of last year.

Is it just my RSS reader (Sage plugin for firefox) or are others seeing this?

And keep up the great work, Alan. When I moved from Jersey, I missed the TV columns the most - and keeping track of them on is frustrating at best. I check my RSS feed for new posts every day.

Anonymous said...

can we officially declare Logan and Veronica over and say that Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor is the best tv couple out there?

Yes, I know, that's the girly thing to say here, but it had to be said. Word to what everyone else said about Smash and Mama Smash and Landry (double word!) and the Taylors. Can their be any doubt that this is the best show on network tv? I simply adore it.

And how bout Landry's "never look at them in the rack." Right. Cuz you wouldn't want to do that at a strip club.

That guy reminds me of so many people I've known. Honestly, an amazing episode. Anything NBC does next season is fine by me as long as they renew this gem.

Anonymous said...

I figure the graphic language was "tar baby".

By the way, this was the first time that I knew that Landry was his first name, not his last, and then I realized why, in this context, you'd have a guy whose first name is Landry. Duh.

Anonymous said...

"[O]ur racist is better than your racists." Exactly right. Mac's heartfelt story of childhood exposure to racism would have meant more if he'd actually shared it was Smash, or with any of the African American players to whom he owed an apology. Moreover, Mac was wrong. The cops didn't make "a mistake" -- they attempted to abuse their power to incarcerate an innocent black teenager they found threatening. The ending was a little too pat to drive that point home, I thought.

Like you, Alan, I thought the rest of the episode was sharp -- Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Taylor both had great monologues that reflected clearly thought out points of view. The press conference sequence addressed how awkward it would be for a star player to complain of unfair treatment -- The reporter's questions were sharp, and Smash was just the right mix of indignant and inarticulate. Coach Taylor clearly had the short end of the stick -- rather than have Coach face (and maybe even defend) some tough facts about the type of man Mac is, the writers instead softened Mac up and made him the convenient integrator of the team.

Still, I would like to believe this storyline isn't over, even though it might lay dormant for a while. In particular, it seems to me like there should still be simmering tension among the players, who are still pretty much divided along racial lines. All in all, a pretty impressive story for only a few episodes.

And somehow they had a full Julie-Matt-Landry-Tyra storyline, too. I know some have said the Tyra/Julie friendship seemed sudden, but I always thought it made sense that Julie would be willing to look to Tyra as someone experienced in the ways of dating a football player -- we saw some of that this episode, with her "handling" of Matt. I think the friendship will become strained when Julie sees that Tyra's Riggins-derived cynicism doesn't apply to Matt (or the friendship will be strengthened when it does). Either way, by that time I can only hope Landry and Tyra hook up, because that would be comedy gold.

I don't dislike the Lyla-Street storyline, but what doesn't make sense to me is how Lyla isn't more broken up about her Dad cheating on her Mom. I mean, Tyra pointed out her mom with Buddy in the stands during Powderpuff. Didn't she look? Doesn't she at least have questions for Buddy? The disillusionment story arc has got to start soon.

Wow, thinking back on the episode, there was barely a wasted scene. And not only do we get Coach's great line about his three scary women, but we get an unexpected and intriguing Angela Davis shout-out from Smash -- a sign of Waverley's influence, I assume, and not something he picked up from his mom (who rolled her eyes during this sequence, right?) or from school.

And all of those poor, scrawny, pimply JV kids.


Alan Sepinwall said...

Donboy, what I love most about it is that Landry's parents obviously expected their son to follow a very different path in life when they hung that name on him.

Anonymous said...

Just because no one has mentioned it yet, my favorite exchange was at the jewelery store.

Clerk: "How bad did he mess up?"
Landry: "Three girls in a hot tub bad"

As far as the Mac history goes, I don't see a conflict with his history of integrating the team and the recent comments - Based on his stated views, he would have integrated the team with "superior runners" just to keep the team competitive. Just because he let blacks on the team (to play RB) doesn't mean he sees them as equal (and therefore capable of playing QB). As others have said, I wouldn't be surprised to see the issue pop up again in future episodes.

Great episode as always.

Hal Incandenza said...

Loving the show (totally shameful that I'm only getting around to it now), but, now sixteen episodes into the first season, I really like they need a football fact checker, as once again, the scoreboard suggests something other than what the announcer says (Dillon's up 34-24 before Smash's TD puts it out of reach/the brawl starts, yet the announcer says Dillon by four). A little annoying, but a very minor complaint. Terrific episode, terrific show.