Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Night Lights, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn": Flip this QB1

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode five coming up just as soon as I establish the ownership of my ankle...

NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.

Sigh... after the emotional highs of last week -- easily the best episode since the first season, and one of my favorite "FNL"s ever -- I suppose it was inevitable that the next episode would disappoint. But did it have to disappoint in so many ways?

Outside of Saracen's story and the Street half of the Street/Riggins plot, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" was slow and/or repetitive of other storylines the show had done in the past -- and, in some cases, weren't very good the first time around.

Was anyone clamoring for the return of Ferret Guy? (If you're going to bring back a recurring character from season two, you might as well show what happened to Santiago.) Did anyone need to see Tami again worry about Julie becoming too wild, and about Tyra potentially being a bad influence on her? (Yes, parents worry about this stuff with their kids all the time, but this was such an exact rehash of stories the show has done before that it was frustratingly dull.) Is there any way that Cowboy Cash isn't bad news for Tyra? And, if not, can we just skip ahead to the episode where he tries to get her hooked on cowboy candy along with him, or maybe even to the episode where Landry convinces her to clean up and have a little faith in herself?

And yet, the stuff in this episode that worked worked so well that I'm not too concerned. Even season one had a dud storyline here and there, and while that stands out more when there are only 13 episodes instead of 22 -- and when this could very well be the last season of the show -- it's not a sign of imminent creative doom, either.

Because Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are so great, it can be easy to overlook -- or, at least, to underpraise -- the work of everybody else, but Zach Gilford continues to bring it. The scene on the Saracen porch, where Eric delivered the bad news about JD McCoy getting the starting job right before Grandma and Shelby came home in a cheerful mood, was so intense because both Gilford and Chandler looked like they would rather be jammed with an electric cattle prod than have to stand on that porch one second longer while Grandma went on about how Eric walked on water. The locker room confrontation and Matt telling his mom about the situation were both just as good. It's a hard truth that Matt can give it his all, can do everything that's asked of him, and that still might not be enough when the second coming of Jason Street walks through the door. I suspect Saracen will be back under center at some point before the season is out, but football, like life, isn't always fair.

One complaint, even within that story: they wrote the climactic sequence of the big football game backwards. No way does the QB who just scrambled for the winning touchdown of a close game get ignored while the crowd cheers the name of the guy who moved the chains but came out for the big score. It would have made much better dramatic sense if Saracen were the one who did all the hard work, only for JD to get the glory because Eric sent him in for that quarterback keeper. (It also would have made more football sense; the defense would never expect the QB who runs the spread offense to be the one who scrambles with the ball.)

As for the first coming of Jason Street, it was nice to have the guy back. I suppose it made sense to delay his return until Smash was gone: there's not enough time as it is for all the characters who are going to be around a while longer without devoting two stories in each episode to the short-timers. I'm glad that the baby wasn't ignored -- looks like Erin listened to Jason when he pleaded with her to give the miracle pregnancy a chance -- but also that we didn't get a happily-ever-after scenario already. Jason and Erin had only just met, he's a couple of years out of high school and in a wheelchair, and this is a big mess. That makes sense. I imagine that, like Smash, Street will get his happy ending and wind up flipping Buddy's house for the cash he needs to make this family work, but it seems right that they're showing us the process along the way.

Some other thoughts:

* I was only half paying attention as the credits on my review screener rolled, but I don't remember seeing a picture of Smash, nor Gaius Charles' name at any point. Makes sense, if that was the case. Did anyone see or read Scott Porter in there?

* The return of Street also brings with it the return of Herc, who continues to be comedy gold while not being just comic relief. I like how obviously Herc likes the baby, and that for all his bluster, he knows what he's talking about most of the time.

* More great comedy: Landry listening to "November Rain" in the Landrymobile 2.0 while glaring at Tyra and Cash, while Matt complains that the power ballads are a bad cliche. It's always funny to see Matt with Landry, or even with Julie, because he becomes a much more verbal person when he's around a peer than he is around adults.

* And still more good comedy: Tim constantly quoting Buddy's line about rats fleeing a sinking ship and visionaries, and it working every time.

* And yet even more funny stuff: Grandma is "pretty serious about her cookies."

* I liked Street's pitch to Buddy, playing on the man's obsession with Panthers football to talk him into selling them the house, but I also wondered why he didn't bring up his relationship with Lyla. They dated forever and a day, and Buddy was like a second father to him. I know it ended badly -- and that Buddy got upset when Jason and Lyla were briefly engaged -- but that would have made an easy secondary tug at the heartstrings.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a hair metal nerd, but the song was I Remember You by Skid Row. Matt broke my heart when he said he'd stay on the team but he'd hate it, and Coach would hate it too.

Unknown said...

I agree that Tyra's storyline is a retread, and this wasn't as good as last week's episode. I'm looking at it as setting the mini story arcs for the next four episodes or so. I guessing we'll get the emotional payoff then.

Still, I loved all the tattoo scenes with Julie. As a parent, I have been there. What made it ring true was Eric asking if that what she spent her money on. Just one question, where is little Gracie Bell?

Matt's line about it being Texas made me laugh out loud. Great line.

Anonymous said...

You sure? I would side with Alan that was November Rain, and I was fairly certain that was intentional given the episode title.

Alan, to your point about the football sequence, a QB running the ball in from the spread formation would probably make more sense than what Matt runs, the I-formation, at least if you look at some of the instances right now in the college game.

But other than that, I really agreed as usual with you on most points. I just want to fast forward Cash/Tyra. I agreed it was extremely tough to follow up on last week's episode. It reminded me of Season One, when a really great episode was just impossible to follow.

As far as Saracen, I'd go as far as to say Zach Gilford might be this season's MVP for this show. (And maybe I'm overlooking the usual tour de force by the Taylor fam, but he's been great.)

Lastly, if you care, I did an interview with Taylor Kitsch. Thought you might enjoy it. He echoed Gilford's disappointment in Season Two, among other things. (One or two tiny spoiler-ish notes toward the bottom, but if you're a hockey fan, it's a good read.)

Anonymous said...

I think a trademark of this season has been that in many of the scenes you almost know the outcome that’s coming but the actors, writers, directors, and producers lay down the scene in beautiful, powerful, and heart-tugging ways that are unexpected. Some of the outcomes might well be “rehashed” but I have found the process of reaching those outcomes to be fresh and completely compelling. Take the scene with Buddy and Street. It was not too difficult to figure out what was coming at the start of that scene but the way in which Street makes his pitch is breathtaking. I could just see and feel the influence of both Buddy the salesman and Coach the coach in the way Street chose his words so deliberately and with such subtle conviction. And I just loved that Buddy melted every time Buddy or Street mentioned football during their conversation. In the space of a sentence, Riggins was the villain with Buddy’s daughter and Riggins was a hero on the football field and the contrast in how Buddy felt about the Riggins duality was, in turn, felt by this viewer. I actually enjoyed the football scenes because of the underpinning implications, not just the football outcomes. There was not a word said in those scenes about the naked exposure of the conflict in Coach’s incentives to keep his job by avoiding the loss and his incentives to be true to himself as a father figure to Saracen. But I couldn’t help but think it and feel it.

Anonymous said...

Although, I will say, after talking with my roommate who also works with me at SN, we decided the naked bootleg out of the I-form they ran tonight would've probably been more likely maybe five years ago before the spread really caught fire in the college game.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Chris, your understanding of football strategery is no doubt greater than mine, so I yield to the man from The Sporting News on this point.

Anonymous said...

Definitely NOT November Rain; I guess they couldn't get the rights for the song they wanted. Probably has something to do with not wanting "Chinese Democracy" to completely suffer by comparison.

Anonymous said...

That being said Alan, you're probably right that it would've been better, story-wise, to have J.D. score the TD after Matt did the work.

I bet I can answer this song question: I'm guessing Alan, like me, watched this on a screener DVD. I can tell you definitively what was on the rough cut DVD WAS November Rain. But, I could see it being changed on broadcast.

Anonymous said...

It was "I Remember You" ("Every Rose Has Its Thorn" was Poison, I think.)

Gilford was great in tonight's show. He says so much with a quiet scowl.

I think this season, so far, is better than season 1. I know, sacrilege. But no one's on steroids or trying to bring down a manic-depressive girlfriend.

I wasn't thrilled to see Ferret Guy, but he's also probably the guy who buys copper wire in a town like that.

R.A. Porter said...

Okay, now I've got it. Zach Gilford and Kevin Rankin in a buddy cop movie from Judd Apatow. That's what I really want to see at my multiplex next year. Who do I talk to in order to make that happen?

Actually, I thought it made more sense for JD to lead the drive down the field and Matt to get the cheap score and then *intentionally* walk away from the celebration. Matt's smart enough to know he was just a stunt on that drive, no better than having a lineman report his number to the ref as an eligible receiver on a play. It's not that he was ignored, but rather that he wanted to be ignored.

Each week, I'm blown away by Gilford's performance. I didn't think much of it back in season one, but having rewatched those episodes recently, I picked up a lot of subtle nuances I'd missed the first time around. I used to think Scott Porter was the best of the younger cast members, now I think it's all about Zach.

As those two go, I like that the writers are still finding ways to keep them linked, even if only in that both are whipping boys. Both of them get hit and get back up. Hit and get back up. Even in his chair, Jason won't stay down, just like Matt won't quit the team.

Because we all know things are going to get bad for JD McCoy. He's a modern-day Todd Marinovich and his fall is going to happen much earlier.

My review, and my thoughts on the likely path of Jason's final arc, are here.

Unknown said...

It was nice to have an episode with a lot of comedy in it to give the viewers a little break.

Billy complaining about now being able to hit Street because he's in a wheelchair had me on the floor.

Unknown said...

Jason telling Tim that Erin is "excited" about the house-flipping plan right after he learns that she wants to move back East is about as heartbreaking as this show gets. Jason has obviously done a lot of growing up since he found out about Erin's pregnancy. Clearly, he's a man on a mission--keep Erin and their baby in his life, even if it means being a part of a dimwitted scheme with his dumbass friends. Circumstances aren't ideal, but then that's small-town Texas.

This story line is quintessential FNL: a character who wants something grander from life, but is forced to work with the limited resources available to them.

Merrylegs said...

I loved Coach Taylor's way of "calmly discussing" the tatoo: "What the hell were you thinking?!"

Anonymous said...

I love how Jason was milking his football star history-first to the bank officer to get the loan, then to Buddy to be able to keep the house. He is doing the best he can working with the limited resources and has grown up a lot.

Herc coming up with "a guy" who was willing to buy the copper wire AND pay $20,000-double of what Ferretguy started out.

Tim Riggins muttering about the rats and visionaries was classic- who knew he was paying that much attention?

Matt is so sweet, the scenes with his mom were great, hope she sticks around

Anonymous said...

There are a few quick shots of Smash in the credits sequence (mostly in uniform) but both Gaius Charles and Scott Porter have been the first "guest-starring" after the credits for their episodes.

K J Gillenwater said...

I liked it. I didn't think it was any less quality than last week. I found myself cracking up, first over Riggins and his repeated lines about the rats which you mentioned, and the other was Coach talking to his wife in bed...and then trying to talk to his daughter about the tattoo when all he really wanted to do was yell.

I've loved Zach Gilford from the beginning. Always liked his quietness and his intensity of emotion behind his expressions. The nice, quiet kid who rarely gets angry, who everyone can rely on, who gets screwed over time and time again.

I'm kinda sick of Tyra...she seems to be the same person she was in season 1. Sleeping with men thinking it will get her somewhere. But I thought she'd learned the jerks were never going to do anything but take advantage of her. And now she's right back into a bad relationship.

Please don't make Landry take her back AGAIN when she comes crawling to him. PLEASE. Give that kid a girl who is worthy of him. Bring back that bookworm girl with the funky glasses. I loved her.

Without saying anything revealing, the scenes for next week look really good!

Anonymous said...

The picture at the top of this post perfectly displays how great of an actor Scott Porter is. Just look at the way he holds his hands. In every scene. I'll really miss the heart and devotion he brings to the show.

Anonymous said...

One of the funny things about keepin all the kids in highschool is that Lyla was engaged to Street when she was a sophmore in high school.

I liked this episode for the most part. I would still like to see a little more football and to maybe introduce a defensive player. Also I wonder what happened to Landry playin football, Im pretty sure we saw him in uniform this year but I wonder how he is doing.

One concern I have is that it seems like the writers are having trouble figuring out what to do with the female teens. The Tyra storyline seems odd after her getting serious about college and we all know whats gonna happen. Lyla has nothing goin on exept her relationship with Tim. Julie has gotten a job and renewed a friendship with Saracen, there should be somethin else to build on.

R.A. Porter said...

@anon, if they introduced a defensive player, it would merely be to scapegoat him for being part of such a shoddy high school defense.

And as for Landry, we saw him in uniform this week, standing next to Matt. He wears 85.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note about the JD McCoy/Matt Saracen thing based on my experience with Texas football.

Once the media machine gets going about the "new" QB that has all the talent and potential in the world", it doesn't matter what the other guy does. The new guy is the one that will get all the credit even if he is just average and the old guy will get pushed out and blamed for every tiny mistake.

So for me, McCoy getting all the credit even though Saracen scored the touchdown rang true for Texas football. I've seen it happen plenty of times (college, pro and high school) and it almost always works out this way. So kudos to the FNL writers for paying attention to the details of Texas football even when it doesn't make sense to anyone outside of the state.

Anonymous said...

So Landry sets up his wisdom tooth surgery right in the middle of the season?

I guess it's OK, though, since he's a backup (right?) and he did have it done on teh bye week.

Anonymous said...

Sorta agree with you on the game winning drive but it made great dramatic sense to have it end that way. Even when scoring the game winning td, all everybody can talk about is j.d.'s part of the drive and how J.D. is the future of anther Football. I thought coach would have known better and suck to his guns.

I also loved Matt's knee jerk reaction to quit and then when he's not allowed to quit, telling coach that they will both be miserable for the rest of the season.

Anonymous said...

I can't possibly imagine that I'm the first person to have noticed this, but, I did want to point out for the record that if you look closely at the whiteboard during the scene in the coaches' room, you'll see that someone on the set slipped in a nice little Dr. Strangelove reference.

Oh, anonymous FNL crew member, we need to be friends.

olucy said...

Seracen is definitely *my* MVP. I'm loving this awkward-starting-to-thaw relationship with his mom. Kim Dickens is great in this role.

Maybe it'd be a cliche, but I wouldn't mind having Buddy's "visionary" remark make full circle back to him, if only to see the look on his face.

I got impatient with all the bad judgment calls, especially in the Tyra storyline, but this ep also had a lot of outstanding little moments.

genevieveyorke said...

there's no question that this episode was a let-down from the emotional sledgehammer of last week. this episode was full of predictable teenage melodrama. but, it has to be said, it balanced out the melodrama with some serious LOLs. literally, i laughed out loud more during this episode than during the office and 30 rock combined.

Anonymous said...

As a tatoo-hater, I liked Eric's reaction to it, it was very dad-like and conservative. But Tami worrying that her type-A honor student was gonna drop out of school because of it? That was just annoying. She did have a great line after that lapse into Seventh Heavenism, though "You'll want that off before you're thirty, and I ain't paying for it."
Other than that, I liked this episode a lot. Kinda odd that boy scout Jason didn't even turn a hair at the Riggins' boys felonious cash being brought into the deal, but Tim quoting Buddy's rats line was priceless, and Herc treating Billy like a putz was great, too. The whole storyline around Saracen is great, especially Lorraine. Her face when Matt got called for delay of game, followed up by her grocery tantrum.

Anonymous said...

Grandma is going to go ape crap next week when she learns Matt isn't starting anymore. I wonder if she is going to change her thinking of "the man who walks on water"?
I am worried ferret boy is going to come after the Riggins in a later episode. (NBC watcher, so don't spoil!)
Seriously, this guy knows where they live, they have stolen from him and he has pulled a gun on them before. Why hasn't he gone over to Billy's house and shot him up already?

Anonymous said...

The song playing in the background was neither November Rain or Every Rose Has It's Thorn. It sounded like some derivative country rock song.

I saw the episode on Hulu. Are music rights only for TV or do they apply to the internet as well? Maybe the broadcast had a different song playing?

Shawn Anderson said...

The broadcast version used Skid Row's "I Remember You." I guess it was their third choice? (Behind Poison's episode title and G&R's "November Rain," which apparently was used on the screener.)

Anonymous said...

wow, even in an episode that was mediocre for the show, I still found moments of absolute greatness.

Zach Gilford is such an underrated talent on the show. I have always loved Chandler and Britton, but Gilford has stood out the most this season.

It was great to see Jason Street again. How do you not root for the guy?

That being said, I already miss Smash. Every scene with Smash and his momma had my eyes glued to the set. Good luck at A&M, Smash.

jenmoon said...

Yeah, I'd go with "mediocre," but with a few good moments. Jason knows how to play his handicapped football hero thing SO well to get what he wants in this town, and he played Buddy Garrity like a sweet, sweet violin. Best part of the episode. Worst part: Riggins Boyz again, 'nuff said.

I also thought Tami had a tramp stamp to show Julie when she got out of the car. At least "Julie Rebratted" was a short trip. I'm surprised Tami didn't say anything about the tat to Tyra. I guess Julie had to act up for the Tyra analogy (here we go again with the backsliding), but I'm still thinking, "Julie's not 18, how'd she get that again? Tami's not calling the tattoo parlor about this?"

Matt. Awwwwwwww.