Friday, February 01, 2008

Friday Night Lights, "Leave No One Behind": KHAAAAAAN!!!!!

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I order a Lemon Drop...

Dammit, why couldn't the show have been this good all season?

I watch a scene like Coach throwing Saracen into the shower, or Smash firing up the team, or Tami clutching Gracie as she watches Julie (who she could once hold that way) take her driving test, and I'm reminded of why I loved "Friday Night Lights" in the first place. And that only makes the bulk of this season so much more frustrating. How could the same people responsible for this episode -- and for season one -- have given us junk like the murder, the winter of our age-inappropriate discontent, the Riggins boys robbing meth dealers, etc.?

Which isn't to say that "Leave No One Behind" was perfect. The Smash story, for instance, conveniently overlooks the fact that a guy with Smash's profile doesn't have to worry about his football career being over. Even if no Division I school will touch him right now, even if, somehow, no other four year college will touch him (which simply wouldn't happen if he's as talented as the show keeps telling us he is), he would still be able to get a scholarship to a junior college, spend a year or two staying out of trouble and scoring touchdowns, and eventually transfer to a place on the level of a TMU. Happens all the time, to people who did things far worse than the trouble Smash got into. (For only one example, you can read this amazing Seattle Times story about all the trouble NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens got into both before and during his time at the University of Washington. I should warn you, though, that the story will likely make you sick to your stomach, as Stevens comes off as a horrible excuse for a human being.)

The Saracen story, meanwhile, suffered, as much of this season has, from bad episode-to-episode pacing. It was a bad idea to have Matt spend an episode after Carlotta's exit acting like nothing was wrong; they either should have moved this story into last week's episode, or else they should have had Matt seem much sadder during the handful of scenes he had last week, so it wouldn't seem like he got over the break-up just fine and then fell off a cliff all of a sudden. And, frankly, it could have been helped had some previous episodes dealt a little more with the awkward dynamic between Matt and Coach after Eric came back from TMU.

That said, Eric hurling a drunken Matt into the shower was the best scene of the season by a long stretch, great work by both actors and a moment that was about football and yet about so much more -- which, as I mentioned last week, is what the show should be, using football as the unifying force and a fishbowl to examine all these people's lives. Saracen getting his inner Riggins on may have come out of nowhere, and the scene may have spun out of a story no one really cared about (Matt and Carlotta), plus another story the show ignored for most of the year (resentment about Eric going to TMU), but damn if I didn't get chills when Matt started to unload on Eric and Eric was reminded of just how much weight this boy carries with him every day.

"There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you at all." Damn.

(Does any other current show use repetition of language as well as "FNL"? So many of the best moments in the show's history feature elementally simple dialogue that gains exponentially in power when it's repeated.)

And while the Riggins apprenticeship came and went in the space of an episode, it at least gave us a bunch of hilarious lines and moments: Riggins admitting he always skips on Wednesdays, Matt calling Carlotta "the break-up fairy," Landry worrying about Matt becoming "an at-risk youth" (followed by hungover Matt's "Oh my God! Stop talking!") and our first visit to The Landing Strip all season.

And after trying to pretend that the murder didn't happen -- much as we'd all like to forget it, it did happen and should affect the behavior of Landry and Tyra going forward -- this episode finally had Tyra acknowledge, to Landry if not to Tami and Julie, the nature and cause of their close bond. I love that Landry, much as he wanted to jump Tyra's bones right there, had enough respect for Jean to not do that to her in the middle of a date, and to make sure they had broken up before he made his move with Tyra. We've only got one episode to go this season (and maybe ever), so there won't be much time to see how this relationship goes, but a part of me sides with Jean about Landry making a mistake. Is Tyra with him because she really wants him or just because of that competitive streak she talked about with her mom? Was she using that as an excuse to not admit to anyone what her real feelings are? Or is this gonna crash and burn even worse than the Tyra/Landry 1.0 did?

Despite the above-mentioned plot hole at the center of the Smash story, I thought Gaius Charles and Liz Mikel were again terrific throughout, as was Kyle Chandler in those scenes with Smash.

Also good, albeit in another undercooked storyline, were Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden. As with the Matt thing, I don't think we've gotten enough build-up of Julie's latest reason to resent her mom, but the scene outside the DMV just about made up for the out of left field-ness of it all.

Some other thoughts:

-Another great Kyle Chandler moment: after Coach chews out a drunk Saracen, Mac asks if he could smell the booze on QB One's breath, and -- after a pause that makes it clear how much of Eric's future suddenly rides on this kid -- Eric says, "No, I don't."

-And still another: Coach turning on the charm with Grandma Saracen. At first, the scene of her back watching TV in the housecoat and not being completely clear on Carlotta's whereabouts suggested that she had immediately backslid from all the progress she made this season, but she seemed clear-headed enough to tell Coach that Matt needed help, which suggests that her faculties come and go.

-Adrianne Palicki still can't play volleyball convincingly. Maybe my whole "Tyra to strong safety" idea wasn't such a good idea, after all. (Though with a helmet and pads, it'd be easier to use a stunt double.)

-Was I the only one laughing hysterically at the scene where Jean asked Tyra about her intentions vis a vis Landry? Jean only coming up to eye level with Tyra's chest was one of the funnier sight gags this show's done.

-I've been watching some early season one episodes on the Universal HD channel, and there's a scene in episode two where Coach visits Street in the hospital and Street talks about the ways Saracen is different from him, notably that he listens to Bob Dylan and likes to draw. Matt's artistic side hasn't come up much since then; are we supposed to have forgotten about it, or is part of the point of his obnoxious behavior in art class that he's acting out in one of the classes he likes best?

-If other characters like Street and other stories like Matt's can drop in and out of episodes all the time, why must we get a few minutes with Lyla and Logan Huntzberger every week?

-I think Landry absolutely made the right movie choice. "Wrath of Khan" is freakin' genius, but even when you're going out with a proudly geeky girl like Jean, isn't it much better to go with a movie where she'll be inclined to stay very close to you the entire time? (Though, from the sound of their post-flick banter, Landry may have been the one hugging Jean's arm instead of the other way around.)

So that's it. One more episode, and then...? Since the show came back with new episodes last month, the ratings haven't gone down or up from their usual crappy level, and Ben Silverman and Jeff Zucker don't sound like guys who really care to be in the scripted TV business any more than they absolutely have to. Although a lot of that is because Zucker failed so abysmally when he was in charge of finding scripted hits for NBC, and some of their talk now is assuredly writers strike rhetoric, I don't know if "FNL" comes back next year, even if there isn't time for development of new scripted series.

Had you asked me a week ago if I would be upset about cancellation, I would have said no. (Hell, I was arguing for non-renewal at the end of season one, because I feared... well, pretty much what we got here in season two.) But I watch a really strong episode like this one and I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet, you know?

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I've been feeling less than enthusiastic about the show lately, but this episode killed me. It was a reminder of why I fell in love with this show in the first place. That joy of watching a near perfect hour of television unfold before your eyes, it's nothing less than magic.

There's no doubt Tyra and Landry will end up badly, but honestly, the show put his through a murder to get to this point, they should damn well follow through with the plot(say what you will about Katims, but thankfully he's not Shonda Rhimes). I really loved Jean though, and that scene with Tyra, just seeing Jean get so in her face, I was laughing out loud too.

Considering Silverman's less than enthusiastic remarks about the show at the Lipstick Jungle premiere to Radar, I'm really doubting its chances of survival.

If next week is anywhere near as good as this week, I'll definitely end up mourning the show if it does end up canceled.

Anonymous said...

I agree on virtually everything you said, Alan. This was the one that felt like last season, and will make it much harder to let go if the show is indeed on the verge of extinction.

I just wish Landry hadn't broken up with Jean in the middle of her hanging out with friends. That was a little cold for him, even though I'm sure he didn't fully grasp how selfish his timing was.

Anonymous said...

Does any other current show use repetition of language as well as "FNL"?

Um, The Wire perhaps? Isn't repeated dialogue one of that show's foundations.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Um, The Wire perhaps? Isn't repeated dialogue one of that show's foundations.

Not in the same way. The Wire has different characters utter the same line in different circumstances. What I'm talking about here is the way FNL characters will repeat the same simple phrase two or three times in a row to give more power to it.

Sandra said...

Did anyone notice that the other movie playing at the theater was "The Kingdom" directed by Peter Berg?
Nice inside joke! Loved the show tonight. I hope they don't cancel it; there are too few good shows left on tv.

Anonymous said...

You got about all of it Alan. And I agree about the cancellation thing, the last 2 or 3 episodes were poor and I thought the show was done, but after tonight I hope they can do another season. I just hope if they do get a 3rd season they let some of the characters move on and introduce some new high schoolers and get back to the basics. More football!

Way off topic, but for any Wire fans don't check out any of the message boards. I had a major plot spoiled accidently. Apparently these are spoilers from beyond episode 7, which I guess up to 7 are on the internet. Someone posted a clip. Why doesn't HBO take better care of the show?

Anonymous said...

I really do try hard not to praise Alan’s reviews only when they are full of praise of the show, but honestly, if the show hit the ball out of the park tonight, so did Alan with his review. I found it difficult to find much to add – it was complete, thoughtful, charming, touching, and warm. Much like the episode. The length, tenderness, and pan of the Landry/Tyra kiss was captivating. The timing and placement of the water from the shower immediately after Matt’s vent was perfect. The photography and clever camera angles (e.g., through the ajar door, and Mrs Coach’s bent arm, at Julie’s face) were simply stunning. Smash in the last scene or Mama Smash in her only scene were both defining FNL lump-in-the-throat moments (and Smash's emotional breakdown in the last scene was only a brief heartfelt moment, not a dragged-out few minutes). The beautiful simplicity of the dialogue alone made the episode worth watching again. The delivery of Landry’s “I’m on a date” was a showstopper. And I believe that every signature episode of the show, like this one, carries the show’s signature “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” without sounding worn out. Why can’t one of the cable channels pick up a third season? Is it any more expensive to make than Mad Men or Damages? Wouldn’t the upscale and consistent six million viewers follow this show to cable?

Tom Servo said...

A weird moment for me was when Jean was talking about MST3K shorts on YouTube I was grabbing all the MST3K shorts I could find and converting them to play on my television.

Anonymous said...

Just. Perfect.

I will miss you, FNL

Anonymous said...

A great episode tonight, but like you, I fear for the future of this show. It's almost too good for what television has turned into these days...

If it does come back for a third season, I hope they pick up at the end of this season and play out the rest of it--if they're still two games from the end of regular season and make a comeback, they'd have a full season of football and it would save them another year of high school on all of the characters.

Plus, I hear Katims had actually found a storyline for Street, so I'd love to see that!

Anonymous said...

Great post about a great episode, certainly the strongest of the year.

I too love the repeated dialogue, and in fact, Alan, you later mentioned my fave scene of both seasons, when Coach says to Jason, (something like) "You're a good person. You're a good person. It's people like you's why I coach." Chokes me up just to remember it.

Where has this writing been all year? Oh, well, this is a fine episode to have as the penultimate. And the best part is, since most of the other plotlines came and went so fast this season, you could basically watch this one right after season 1 and not really miss anything important or good! j/k

Anonymous said...

Okay, just watched that scene again online from episode 2.

"You're a good man. You're a good man. Your the reason guys like me want to coach. You're a good man."

Followed by Jason apologizing for letting coach and the team down.


Alan Sepinwall said...

FYI, the Radar interview Diana mentions in the first comment can be found here, but the short version is that the reporter asks Silverman over and over about the future of FNL, and Silverman's response every time is to tell him to watch 30 Rock instead.

Anonymous said...

I've also been watching some of season 1 on UHD and it really does remind you how much of a step down the show has taken this year. But here's the thing, I'd rather watch a bad episode of FNL than a "good" episode of 99% of the crap on TV these days.

Alan, you made the point about Coach Taylor pretending to ignore Saracen's odor because it illustrated how important Saracen is to his career right now... Maybe it did give off that impression, but if, as you've said many times, the season spent more time on the pressures of football, we would have felt much better in that scene how much Saracen means to Coach's career.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree, tom g, that a weak episode of FNL is far more watchable than 99% of network tv. If the show does get cancelled, I'd love to see a post from Alan that lists his top 20 FNL classic moments. I'd bet the moment that Carlos identifies above would make it, probably top 10. Interestingly, An article in Variety yesterday suggests that there is hope for a third FNL season. The article comes to this hopeful conclusion based on the upscale reputation that FNL viewers have, dvr ratings adjustments, the lack of pilots in development for Fall 2008, and the relative inexpensive production costs.

K J Gillenwater said...

Yay! Back to full-on love for FNL.

Saracen's moment under the shower was so perfect. I didn't realize that is how he perceived everything that had happened to him in his life...people leaving him. And him thinking there was something wrong...although he's probably the kindest, most thoughtful high school kid on the show.

I think he didn't fall apart last week because he hoped he had one more chance to convince Carlotta to stay. But then he came home & there was a note for him on his bed. It was the last straw, I guess.

*I died laughing at the 'at-risk youth' comment from Landry. I love that kid.*

I'm quite disappointed, though, that Landry would choose dumb-but-pretty over interesting-but-pretty. Jean's right...he's going to regret his choice. Jean is a more natural fit for him. Tyra likes the chase, but still is not going to want to acknowledge they are dating.

The question is, will Jean take him back?

Oh, and that scene with Smash crying in the locker room was brilliant. No, I don't think his college football career is over, but he might be forced to take a scholarship at a smaller school that won't give him the shot at the NFL. I'm guessing he'll end up at the black college his mother wanted him to attend.

AyPNancy said...

Yeah, add me to the "me too" comments. I LOVED this episode! So many good scenes, from start to finish. Not just the obvious Emmy-worthy scenes Alan mentioned, but just subtle things like the smile/look Riggins gets when he drives up in his pickup and sees Matt on the motorcycle "QB1 ...skipping school again", the look the guy at the DMV give Mrs. Coach when she asks him if he's a Panthers fan "No, I hate football", AND the sheer look of contempt and disbelief Smash gives Landry when Landry asks him "So what do you think: Wrath of Khan or Jaws?" and then picks up his tray and leaves. Just perfect. But Grandma Saracens brief lucidity pretty much sealed the whole thing "I'm sure glad you came by cause I think Matthew really needs your help."

Love, love love this show. I really hope they don't cancel it. Certainly Season 3 could be a return to basics. Pretty please?

jcpbmg said...

don't mind admitting that I did get a little misty-eyed during the last matt- coach scene (and calling it "the shower scene" just sounds wrong).

Anonymous said...

LOVED the episode. Smash at the end was just heartbreaking. I loved all the moments you mentioned, Alan. Did anyone else see that underneath the "P" on the wall in the locker room, someone wrote "Street" in black marker? (Or has that been there all along and I've missed it?) Either way, it's the tiny touches that make this show so wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Just when I thought that I would be sad, but not heartbroken, to see FNL not renewed, I get pulled back in . . . this ep reminded me just how good FNL can be and how much I don't want these characters to be finished.

Great to see football back at center stage, to see Landry hanging with Matt, even to see Tyra's Mom.

Sigh. Now I'm anxious.

Anonymous said...


I'm hoping it was taken out of context since the entire article is rather anti-Silverman. The last time Radar covered FNL they said it was moving to ESPN, so I'm gonna hope they're wrong again. Plus, it was kind of an odd event to ask that question at, I'm sure he was caught off guard.

Thankfully ratings were up 1/3rd of a million this week, not that that will change anything.

Mo Ryan said...

*I died laughing at the 'at-risk youth' comment from Landry. I love that kid.*

That was just one of the lines that had me on the floor.

What everyone else said. The scenes where they went for the heartbreaking emotion -- they just nailed it every time.

What is left to say? An NBC with American Gladiators and no FNL -- if that comes to pass, that'll be Silverman's legacy. That really says it all.

Anonymous said...

When did Landry become George from "Grey's Anatomy," the goofy comic relief dude who suddenly is fighting off the ladies? Sure, he had to kill someone to do that, but give me a break. And what the heck is up with the district? The guy who stands up for his little sister has questionable conduct but the guy who kills a man (justifiably, perhaps) but then disposes of the body gets to play?

Anonymous said...

This is another one of those shows where the first season is seen as great, ground-breaking, quite perfect, which causes everyone to start hating on the second season. The sitaution may be different here but still much the same: if everyone loved the first season a little less and gave the second season another chance, the show would be solid.

P.S. Is in Aimee Teegarden's contract to be a whiny brat whenever possible? It seems like she barely needs a reason. Why can't she like Matt and hold it all in until she's a druken mess? Oh, and no one at the DMV is that nice.

Mara said...

I thought at the beginning of the episode that they were re-writing the character of Matt Saracen - and I was getting very upset, thinking he was just another casualty of season 2. But the acting (and writing) in the Matt-Coach shower scene made me do a complete 180. Zach Gilford was amazing, I thought easily his best work of the season. It's almost an afterthought at this point to talk about how great Kyle Chandler is in almost every scene he does. Alan, you mentioned how well the show uses repetition of words, but in this episode, it's his wordless moments - the particularly piercing glances - that did so much to add to the feeling of the episode.

Aside from my usual annoyance with Aimee Teagarden, this was a really wonderful episode. I got choked up twice - first with the mama smash scene in the bedroom and then with the smash pump-up-the-team and subsequent breakdown (LOVED the return of "clear eyes full hearts can't lose").

In case anyone wants to head back to some old episodes, now has both full seasons posted online.

Anonymous said...

"I'm quite disappointed, though, that Landry would choose dumb-but-pretty over interesting-but-pretty."

While my feelings about the episode pretty much mirror everything said by others above, I have to take issue with this. Tyra has never been portrayed as 'dumb', quite the opposite. To the best of the viewer's knowledge she's kept her head down and worked ever since Tami took her on as her "new pet project" in season one. I mean yes, she's shown to be lazy and apathetic about learning, but reasons for her relationship with Landry heading south do not include her inferior intellect.


Donlee Brussel said...

Can I get an amen on this being the best episode of the season?

Can I start the petition now for Mama Smash to win a Best Guest Actress Emmy. Her 20-seconds here were her most powerful of the series.

Zach Gilford might actually have a shot at a Best Supporting Actor nod for tonight's episode. Just incredible, the range and arc he showed here.

The acting, the dialogue, THE FOOTBALL. How long has it been since we saw practice? Or heard the radio talking about the team?

When people tell us to stop bitching about how mediocre this season has been, it's only because tonight's episode shows just how good this show can be.

Anonymous said...


Piepiepie said...

Re. Mama Smash: In the scene where she told Smash she loved him, three out of four of us watching in my house were gushing "OH! We love you too!" in return. (The fourth viewer is the strong-but-silent type, but I'm sure he was thinking the same thing.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the lovefest for this episode, but I couldn't figure out the timing for:

A) High school volleyball game - since I assume the visitors would have to travel a ways... doesn't seem like this game would end earlier than 7... probably more like 8 or so if my high school memory serves correctly

B) Party at Mrs. Coach's

C) Julie sits at the DMV by her lonesome for an hour and then... doesn't drive home, so I assume that would take awhile

D) Julie & Mrs. Coach fight

E) Julie & Mrs. Coach somehow make their way to the DMV with five or ten minutes to spare.

F) The sun is still not down at this point, but if there are three games left in the season, we should be getting into the part of the year where the sun is down by 7.

The only explanation I can think of is that this was a Saturday, but that can't be true if the football game was the next day.

Anyway, this bothered me to no end. Everything (EVERYTHING) else was perfect and I will miss the show dearly based on this episode.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the ep again and caught a funny line that I missed the first time and that hasn't been mentioned yet.

Matt and Tim are drinking draft beer at the local restaurant, and Tim notices how fast Matt is emptying and refilling his mug from the pitcher. He looks at Matt and says (something like), "You want a funnel?"

Great throwaway line.

Anonymous said...

Finally saw the ep, Alan. And no, after this one, I'm definitely not ready to say no. What an outstanding episode. I was choked up in several scenes, a rarity in season 2, and something that happened about 6 times an episode in season 1. Fantastic work, and it really shocked me, as much as the Giants just winning shocked me (which I learned about from this blog! Whee! Go underdogs!)

But my favorite line of the night goes once again to Riggins: "You have great hair." BWAH!

I want to hug this episode, because I'd almost given up hope that this show still had the ability to create such magic.

Anonymous said...

Another good line not commented on:

I think right after Landry says "at risk youth," Smash chimes in with "a statistic." Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

It also looks like Peter Berg's presence will be fully realized on the show next week, as he shows up to play Tami's college ex-boyfriend.

The Jean/Tyra thing killed me. As I was yelling at the TV for him to not break up with Jean, the fact is that (sadly) any boy in his situation would probably do the same thing...hopefully Landry will realize his mistake before it is too late...

Anonymous said...

I think the reason for Lyla & preacherboy was to show the other side of Saracen's comment. That Riggins could have any girl he wanted. It was to show that everyone's situation looks simpler from your perspective. Of course the one girl Riggins wanted was unavailable. Much like Tyra and Landry, which turned out differently but still has the scent of heartbreak all over it.