Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Night Lights, "Tami Knows Best": I like my squab rare, dagnabit!

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode two, coming up just as soon as I enroll in one of Buddy Garrity's yoga classes...

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.

You know I like to begin reviews of the better dramas on television with some kind of signature quote from the episode, but when "Friday Night Lights" is clicking like it does for most of "Tami Knows Best," it's the moments where nothing's said that tell the story.

Following on last week's B/B+ effort, "Tami Knows Best" continued to retreat comfortably back into the show's wheelhouse -- Saracen's family burden, Riggins' self-destructive streak, Buddy's ruthlessness, etc. -- but it added more than a few of those spine-tingling moments I didn't get from "I Knew You When."

Start with the scene the episode should have ended on (more on the reasons for that in the bullet points): Eric walking out of the Williams house and pausing to enjoy the sounds of joy from inside as Smash, Mama Smash and Sister Smash celebrated the news of his Texas A&M tryout. Just perfectly played by Kyle Chandler, who has Coach's emotional meter so finely tuned that he can wow you just by changing the mood a degree or two.

It was one of two great Smash-related scenes this week, with the other obviously being the bulk of the Panthers roster coming out in full pads to help Smash regain his confidence by feeling part of something larger. I suspected that was what Coach had in mind from the minute Smash confessed his fears, but it was still goosebump-inducing to see them march out. (Even better was the pure delight on the faces of everyone in the scrimmage, including Coach calling plays in the huddle. Because of the big-time pressure of Texas high school football, and current issues like JD McCoy, Riggins' self-confidence, etc., the games themselves always feel really tense; it was nice to be reminded just how much fun these characters can have with the game.)

Or take most of the moments of the Saracen storyline. Even more than the pressure to succeed as the starting quarterback, Matt's home life has been the strongest part of his story (the brief return of Mr. Saracen from Iraq was one of the few season two arcs that really worked). Zach Gilford and the writers (and, for that matter, Louanne Stephens as Grandma) just kill it every time we have to see what a huge and unfair burden Matt has to live with, and to pivot that and have Matt tell Grandma that he's become a good man because of her was really beautiful. Just as good was Matt's brief, tense encounter with his mom (played by "Deadwood" vet Kim Dickens), where the simple line, "It's me, Matt... your son" told us all we needed to know about how long it's been since they saw each other and/or how little Matt thinks of his mom.

It looks like we're heading towards a Matt/Julie reunion, and while I don't have any strong feelings for or against, it was nice to see him get to see the world through her optimistic eyes for a moment, to imagine what it must be like when your biggest problem is whether you'll get to buy a used Celica, and to see that Celica as a life-changing vehicle.

The other stories weren't quite as abundant with the goose pimples, but they were all solid, nonetheless.

I continue to believe that Tami is being incredibly stupid and/or naïve about the JumboTron situation. Ganking the money in the first place was questionable -- she should know by now what Eric tried to tell her about the unstoppable force that is Buddy Garrity -- but rather than continue to stonewall and point to her rights within the bylaws, she should have switched from the stick to the carrot and agreed to return most of the money in exchange for keeping some for badly-needed school programs, and/or sweet talking Buddy and the boosters into making more of an effort to fund the entire school. That said, I believe that she actually would be that naïve in this situation, so it's not a credibility problem. And this storyline is giving Buddy -- who was a pathetic, comic relief character for a good chunk of last year -- his teeth back, which is important in the grand scheme of the show and its themes about the true cost of caring so much (too much?) about this team.

Buddy also got to bare his fangs for poor Riggins, who had let Lyla talk him out of his usual neuroses and was all prepped for a good, well-behaved time with the McCoys, only to have all his confidence stripped away in about 10 seconds. Riggins' refusal to rat out Buddy to Lyla rang true with his refusal to tell Eric the truth about Julie last year: deep down, Tim feels like he's supposed to be punished for things, and also that nobody would probably believe him if he told the truth about situations where he isn't at fault. The usual good work from Taylor Kitsch (and I can't believe how far he's come from early in season one, when I would have been happy to never see him or Minka Kelly again), and I also like that the writers have let Lyla understand Tim enough that she doesn't freak out at entering the Riggins house to find Tim in his boxers watching TV with Tyra.

And speaking of the very tall and politically adept Ms. Collette, Tyra's run for student council president on the slut ticket was primarily comic relief, but it was worth it for the final scene between Tami and Tyra. If she manages to survive JumboGate, I can see Tami getting into more trouble over her pet project, and Tyra's impulsive enough that it may be hard for her to rein in her tendency to make the easy but dangerous choice.

All around, I continue to be extremely pleased with the show's rebound from season two.

Some other thoughts on "Tami Knows Best":

* Chronologically, the final scene with Matt and Julie should have been placed earlier in the episode, since Matt was only borrowing Landry's car for the one night to see his mom, and since we already saw him back in town the following night for the scrimmage with Smash. (Plus, we got a scene back at school, which meant the entire weekend had passed.) So why was it at the end as opposed to the Coach/Smash scene? My guess is that, with Smash on his way out, they didn't want to close the first two episodes in a row on his storyline, but that they wanted to close on some kind of hopeful note, and the bit with the Celica seemed better than Lyla bringing Riggins a cheeseburger.

* Speaking of the Landrymobile 2.0, how understanding is Mr. Clarke to buy Landry another car after what happened with the last one? Or did he just feel guilty for burning the station wagon?

* Yes, that was Janine Turner from "Northern Exposure" as Mrs. McCoy. It doesn't seem that long ago (even though it was nearly 20 years!) that she was going to be the Next Big Thing, but as happens so often with NBTs, it never quite materialized.

* I'm sure I'm far from the only viewer who got a big Tracy Flick vibe off of the actress playing Tyra's political rival. (God, "Election" came out nearly 10 years ago. Somehow, that makes me feel even older than looking up the "Northern Exposure" premiere date.)

* I should say, by the way, that I didn't in any way find Tyra's victory implausible. I was wildly unpopular in my school, and yet somehow I wound up as student council president because the school had recently eliminated parking privileges for anyone who wasn't a senior, and in my speech to the then-sophomores, I promised to do my best to bring back junior parking. Like so many campaign promises, it was harder to achieve than it was to talk about, but it proved as effective a wedge issue as sex at the prom was for Tyra.

* Lyla actually had a bunch of funny lines tonight, including her telling Tim that the only thing he knows about dressing himself is "how to put on a plaid shirt and button one button," and, in response to Google-savvy Tim insisting he isn't retarded, "Sometimes, you act like you are." For that matter, her reaction to Buddy asking the condom question was pretty priceless. I don't even mind Minka Kelly anymore, really.

* The mortification in Julie's voice as she said "Yeah, I work at Applebee's" sounded like it was half about Julie, half about Aimee Teegarden being annoyed to get stuck with the product integration this week.

What did everybody else think?


R.A. Porter said...

I was so happy to get chills again, it wasn't until I was writing up my short review that I realized they'd run *five* stories tonight and not one of them felt like it got short-changed.

So that's two weeks in and JD still isn't getting much to do. But I have a suspicion that story's going to be front and center in the next two weeks. I expect Joe McCoy will shock everyone and back Tami, or replace the funds out of his own pocket for the education budget, in order to cozy up to her. He's struck out going through Buddy and directly to Coach, so the next logical step to get his son playing time is to butter up the Coach's wife.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on all points, particularly on the welcome return of spine-tingling. I was a little worried last week when I didn't quite feel the level of goosebumpery I'm used to, but that was more than made up for by the two times I welled up this week (at the Matt/Grandma scene in the house and at Family Smash's response to Coach's news). Lovely stuff for lovely characters.

Additionally, I got a chuckle out of Landry's whole "can I help you, Matt" thing at being woken up. Jesse Plemons is a comic genius.

Anonymous said...

Just to condense my thoughts that I wrote over on FirstCuts:
-- I have a hard time not smiling when they get Julie and Matt together. When the show feels hopeful, I just enjoy it more for the most part. And I loved the “Would now be a bad time to tell you your grandma is yelling at the line cooks to make her chocolate pudding?” line.

-- Felt like Buddy being this evil was somewhat out of character. He's done some slimey, outside-the-lines stuff before, but I sort of feel like he's never really hurt anyone, as opposed to what he did to Riggs and Tami.

-- Riggins going pantsless right after walking in the door was classic. (And my worst fear was averted that they were throwing a horrible Riggins-Tyra hookup at us. I would've been pissed.)

-- The way the Williamses reacted to the news, with coach outside giving a smile, was brilliantly shot and just outstanding.

-- Didn't like the bringing strippers to school stuff. A little over the top and felt like something out of Season Two.

-- Another great Matt/Julie exchange: “An emancipated minor? That sounds sexy. Does that mean you get to vote, drink, smoke or rent cars?”
“No, it means I get to take care of old people.”

Anyway, I enjoyed it. Alan, what'd you think of the 400K audience they got for the premiere. Does anyone have any feel for what that even means? DirecTV said they were pleased, but who knows.

Anonymous said...

Meant to include the link to my expanded thoughts: FirstCuts: 'Tami Knows Best' recap

R.A. Porter said...

@chris, enjoyed your notes at SN, but I'm far too lazy to give all that personal information just to leave a comment. Hope you're tracking these.

I didn't think Tyra's behavior was problematic. I mean, it was dreadful and I would have suspended her for it, or at least yanked her off the stage for mentioning sex at the prom, but I think it was just within the bounds of her character. She's been torn between two poles: her mother and sisters on one side, representing Dillon and the limited future it has to offer; and Tami on the other.

Tonight's stunts increased her conflict with Tami and how that storyline plays out over the rest of the season matters more now, I think. The side she chooses decides her fate.

Michael said...

Riggins getting interest from OU, Smash walking on at A&M.... what, do the writers have something against the University of Texas here?

Go Horns, beat OU!

Anonymous said...

@r.a. -- It just seems like she was trying to turn this corner and when she gave that assistant principal that stern talk at the end of the last episode, I sort of expected that kind of stunt to be behind her.

Anonymous said...

Yes, please advise as to whether 400k viewers should give us hope for more FNL after this season. Thank you directv!

Anonymous said...

Since I don't have DirectTV, I don't know what happened, I'd just like to point out to any TV execs passing by that this is one of the stupidest set ups imaginable. Is NBC just trying to piss people off at this point? At least throw the episodes up on the web.

R.A. Porter said...

@jim, I don't know why so many people think this is "one of the stupidest set ups imaginable." NBC needed DirecTV's money to justify continuing to air (and produce) the show. DirecTV's presumed assumption was that some small percentage of diehard fans could be peeled away from cable providers or Dish Network with this deal. Whether that's happened or not, no one's really said. The numbers aren't particularly bad for it - 400K out of 17M subscribers watched the season premiere.

Putting the episodes online would defeat the exclusivity part of the deal and would, I assume, be a breach. And why would DirecTV have given them money for a non-exclusive right to air?

Would you be happier if the show had been canceled? Because without this deal, that's probably what would have happened.

Anonymous said...

yet another breathtaking review, Alan, that matches the sheer quality of the episode. Thanks. I thought there were three Smash related scenes that were noteworthy. You mention the first two. The third was the Alamo scene and Coach's emphatic: suck it up!
Also did you notice there was at least two Mad Men like transitions?

StuThorn said...

The Matts dad return storyline was season 2? I couldv'e sworn it was season 1 and that all Matt got in 2 was the craptastic Carlotta storyline.

Only recently watched Deadwood yet didn't recognise Kim Dickens outside of the period garb and Joanie was my favourite character on that show.

All I really have to say on FNL is this seems to be the show I first watched a couple of years ago and thought might turn into something special (season 1 did), I'm hoping this season turns out the same!

Anonymous said...

The Matt's dad storyline was from season 1, not season 2. I like how you're retroactively trying to make season 2 better in your mind Alan. I'm just going to forget season 2 ever happened.

Anonymous said...

Forget goosebumps - I burst into tears as Coach was walking away from Smash's house and the celebration began. The look on Kyle Chandler's face was the perfect way to show that scene - SO much more impact than if we had actually seen Smash and MamaSmash celebrating. How has this man (and this show) not been nominated for the major Emmys like best actor and best drama?

Am loving season 3 so far - my only quibble is that Landry hasn't had enough to do other than be Tyra's neutered pet, but maybe season 2 taught us that he's better off not being featured quite so much?

princessapr said...

I really have been enjoying this season. I swear I could watch Season 1 and Season 3 and just forget last season even existed. The scrimmage with Smash reminded me of the episode in Season 1 where the coach (and Smash, I think?) were "coaching" the little kids on the block.

I'm not really pro Tami being principal. It doesn't seem plausible, but I don't hate it as much as I thought I would.

I do think the strippers were a little over the top. Otherwise, I can understand that Tyra was working her strengths after being frustrated with the system. That Vice-Principal needs to be fired for talking to any student like he did. The way he told Tyra that she essentially has no future was ridiculous.

I also second all the other good moments comments.

Anonymous said...

I am incredibly sad that I do not get to see these eps yet. Really, really sad... I didn't even read your post because I don't want to spoil myself, but I just want you to know there are tons of FNL fans out there who really, really wish they had direct TV. Sigh.

Zac F. said...

Since I'm watching these on NBC, I've only seen the 1st 2 episodes obviously, but these 2 episodes were better than all of season 2.

As much as I love seeing the Landry/Tyra, Eric/Tami/Julie, football, Smash/Smash family storylines, my favorite is Matt and his grandma.

The idea that a 17 year old kid is trying to keep up in school, lead the football team, have some sort of social life and on top of all of that, take care of his deteriorating grandmother is one that could have been handled clumsily or wrongly, but in the FNL writers hands and the superb acting of Zach Gilford and Louanna Stephens, it becomes engrossing and heartbreaking.

I wonder what the wake up call for Tim Riggins is going to be. He has all the talent in the world, but would rather throw it all away. He needs someone like Momma Smash to keep him on track.

I understand where Tami is coming from, but I also understand where Buddy and the boosters are coming from, so it'll be interesting to see how JumboTronGate is resolved.

You know you're invested in the future of a fictional character when every time that characters gets hit, you hope that his knee is okay.

I, too, got a Track FLICK vibe from Tami's opponent in the election. Too bad none of the guys at my high school who ran for student president had dancers promoting him. :)

Is the Landing Strip the only strip joint in town? I expected someone to question why Mr. Trucks knew where the girls were from.

From the looks of the previews for next time, it looks like Tim Riggins continues to go down the downward spiral.

If the rest of the episodes keep up the quality of these first two, I'll be beating the drum loud and clear for the Academy to bestow as many Emmy nominations as possible on this fantastic show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

As mentioned in the previous post, I temporarily re-posted the last two reviews from the DirecTV run, so if you missed them, get 'em while you still can.

Anonymous said...

wow, I love this show so much. Rarely do you find a show about high school where the young actors bring it so well. Freaks and Geeks did it, and a few of the OC'ers did it... but not like FNL. Saracen, Smash, Riggins, Landry and the rest are all so convincing.

That scene where the Panthers jogged onto the field to help Smash was great. I was so excited to get goosebumps.

Also, what does Kyle Chandler have to do to get an Emmy or at least a nomination? Rarely will you ever find an actor so perfect for a role.

Unknown said...

Julie's dream car wasn't a Celica it was actually a Corolla.
That tiny mistake aside, this episode was Friday Night Lights at its best.

Anonymous said...

"Speaking of the Landrymobile 2.0, how understanding is Mr. Clarke to buy Landry another car after what happened with the last one? Or did he just feel guilty for burning the station wagon?"

Alan, please. Landry's car never burned up. That was just a bad dream. Never happened.

As for Smash's story line, I blew out my knee in high school too. The way they are treating the Smash storyline feels so real. Although I still have some difficulty believing that Smash is really physically totally back to his old self.

When I watch football, all I see are a bunch of knees banging together. That is just the way they have been filming these football scenes and it is great.

Jon88 said...

Is anybody tracking the scenes cut for NBC's reduced-time broadcast?

Anonymous said...

That was the first time that I watched a complete episode of FNL. (I've tried in the past during season 2, but...)
Anyhow, I was really shocked how quickly and completely I became involved with (and rooting for) the characters. I actually had tears in my eyes at the end. It will definitely be on my must-watch list for now on.

No spoilers please, but is the rest of the season going to match (or come close) to the level of last night's episode?

Anonymous said...

@sophietje, I don't think I am going out on a limb by saying that if you use last night's episode as a benchmark for rating this season, you won't be disappointed.
It's a shame that there are not more people like you out there. FNL finished 4th in its timeslot on Friday night. Which reduces the likelihood of a 4th season. Unless, of course, that the ratings need to be scaled up notionally by the fact that the cost for NBC to make the show is a fraction of what CBS no doubt paid for Flashpoint. In other words, maybe the 2.4/4 rating that FNL got last night should really be doubled assuming that NBC paid only half the production costs?

R.A. Porter said...

@mj, CBS isn't paying that much for Flashpoint. They bought US rights from CTV. If I had to guess, I'd say their financial exposure on that is in the same ballpark as NBC's on FNL with their DirecTV deal.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint--other than Tami's sudden promotion to principal, they should've put her on the school board, or some kind of reform cmtee where the mayor, who likes her and Buddy assume she would be safe and conventional and Mrs Coach, while still working as a counselor. I guess that's a pretty big complaint. Anyway, I'd like to see more Mama Smash--being Mama Smash--before both characters are written out.
Loved the way they almost tease you with a Riggins/Lyla/Tyra 90210 misunderstanding plot and then pull back. Similarly, I'm not bothered by a Saracen/Julie reunion, because their break up was organic and boring and their reunion will probably go the same way. Julie's past her bratty streak and Saracen is more than due for something good. Gramma Saracen rocks. One of my favorite SNL scenes ever was when Julie was Gramma sitting and Lorraine and Tyra split a bottle of Chardonnay.
Buddy ripping into Riggins worked, I think, because Buddy was protecting his little girl, who is the only family he has left, who he is about to lose to college and a much bigger world. I wouldn't have minded if Lila had barged in and backed him off, reminding him that he's also a drunk and womanizer (didn't Lila walk in on Buddy and Tyra's mom last year?). The only time (before this season) when Lila didn't make sick was at that Pom Pomfest when she cheerfully announced "Yes, ma'am, I'm the whore from the website!." I like her with some backbone.

Alan Sepinwall said...

but is the rest of the season going to match (or come close) to the level of last night's episode?

The season's up-and-down, but mostly trending towards the very good to great. Without spoiling anything, the one airing in two weeks is even better than this one, and there are several towards the end that are also pretty great.

Pei said...

The whole JD story is frustrating with its lack of attention to detail:
- Freshmen cannot play varsity football in Texas
- Panthers were up at least 49-0 in this weeks came, but it appears JD did not play, even though last week we were led to believe he is the teams QB2 and played in less of a blowout
- The McCoys moved to Dillon from Dallas to play for Coach. Now that does happen-- but don't you think they would have talked to Coach before the day before the first game about their son and his apparent obvious-to-anyone talent?
- A Booster Club is a private entity and can give money to a school for an explicit purpose-- scoreboard, infrastructure, supplies, salaries, teachers, whatever. And a Principle cannot re-direct the funds.


Anonymous said...

Is anybody tracking the scenes cut for NBC's reduced-time broadcast? Well, deleted scenes are up at Having not seen the DirecTV version, I can't tell you that they're all there, though.

I fear something bad will come of Matt becoming Grandma's guardian. He's just not equipped to handle it. Is he still working?

Surely the high school has some sort of dress code that Tyra broke with her tiny skirt and midriff-bearing, tied-in-the-back shirt. I would have liked to see Tami address that.

Omagus said...

Riggins getting interest from OU, Smash walking on at A&M.... what, do the writers have something against the University of Texas here?

Considering that both Mack Brown and Rick Barnes had cameos in Season 1, I don't think that is the case at all.

I definitely like the direction of Season 3:

- Matt and Julie continue to have one of the most realistic portrayals of teenage love ever depicted on screen.

- It's possible that Landry is becoming the Omar Little of this show. He's the character that you couldn't quite figure out at first but then before you know it he is utterly indispensable. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone besides me.

- Coach giving the news to Smash was just...great.

- Took me a second to place Joanie from Deadwood as well. Funny enough, I actually recognized her has Sawyer's baby mama/Kate's mentor first.

- Not sure how I feel about what's going on with Tyra right now but it's not bad.

If this show does continue (and PLEASE let it continue), I wonder how everyone will feel about having to inevitably replace all the high school age characters.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I absolutely screamed out "Tracy Flick" when Tyra's political rival came on screen. TOO funny.

Anonymous said...

As naive/stupid as Tami's decision might be, I love that she is taking that stand. As big a football player/sports fan as I am, i can't help but think of the huge amount of money poured into sports. And the fact that its happening like this at the high school level is really ridiculous. You would think someone would go "hey, u mean my kid is actually going to get better school supplies now" but no, its all about the team, who by the way, seems to be doing well without that money, starting 2-0, blowing out people by 5+ touchdowns 2 weeks in a row.

I didnt totally mind the "killer" plot from last year, but little things like landry getting a new car does hurt the logic and reality of the show and you can't help but blame it on that storyline.