Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Night Lights, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall": Honor thy father

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode 11 coming up just as soon as I register for a leaf blower...

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.
"If you don't want to know, don't ask." -Buddy Garrity
The first two-thirds of this season had to serve two masters: moving forward the stories of our core characters while also giving Smash and Street proper send-offs. Over this most recent batch of episodes, Jason Katims and company have had a new double-mission: to send off the remaining high school characters while also laying the groundwork for a fourth season, even if the chances of one aren't that likely.

So while Matt and Shelby try to find a better solution for taking care of Grandma, and while Lyla and Tyra try to figure out how to get into college, the McCoy family situation explodes and the school board introduces the controversial idea of re-opening the long defunct East Dillon High in order to get more state assistance.

As always, I'm coming at the subject of high school football (Texas or otherwise) from a position of extreme ignorance, but would the redistricting plan automatically lead to the creation of a second football team? My wife went through a similar redistricting in her Long Island town, and the two schools there had joint athletic teams. But whether or not the writers are fudging the reality of this scenario, it's creating some interesting tension between Eric and Buddy (whom I'm always glad to see in full-on Machiavellian king of the boosters mode), and between Eric and Tami. Even if there isn't a fourth season for all this to pay off, I feel like some good stuff is going to go down between now and the finale.

The episode did a great job of laying the groundwork for Joe McCoy's explosion, as he let various perceived mistakes and violations by J.D. just build and build in his mind until he couldn't think straight anymore. As Katie tried to point out to him, J.D. doesn't call the plays, but by the time the game was in full swing, Joe was so far gone that he took every pass, completed or otherwise, as a personal affront, so that he was primed to blow when J.D. talked back for what I'm guessing is the first time in his life. Again, this is a story with potential to work in both the short-term and the hypothetical long-term, though I suppose I could also see a scenario where the McCoys leave Dillon at the end of the season.

The Tyra story was probably the episode's weak point, if only because, like last week, it just felt like a replay of Tyra moments from earlier in the series. In particular, her mom's big speech about Tyra being different from Mindy was really reminiscent of the speech she gave Tyra at the father-daughter dance in season one -- and then, as now, I didn't totally buy it. It's not that Angela's a bad person, but they spend so much time showing how narrow her worldview is, and how she tries to justify her own life choices by nudging her daughters down the same path, that it always seems a little pat when she turns around and gives a tearful monologue about how what she really wants is for Tyra to live a completely different life. People can be complicated, but I see no connection between the woman at the end of this episode and the one who all but told Tyra to skip school to go chasing after cowboy Cash.

Unlike Tyra, Lyla doesn't have to worry about getting into a college; she just can't pay for it. As the reality has sunk in, she's turning herself into an honorary Riggins to cope -- after all, isn't much of Tim's character defined by his ability to shrug off all the terrible things that happen to him as simply his lot in life? -- and you can see how much that's bothering Tim. What drew him to Lyla was that she was the exact opposite of him: optimistic and driven and outgoing. He doesn't want to date the female Tim Riggins, even if she looks like Lyla. My only issue with this subplot is that Minka Kelly is still the cast's weakest link. She's been fairly solid when asked to play sarcastic or disapproving, but whenever one of her stories takes a serious emotional turn, she's never quite up to it.

Definitely up to it? Zach Gilford and Kim Dickens and Louanne Stephens, as Lorraine takes a tumble and Matt lashes out at Shelby because he doesn't want to face the reality of the situation. Grandma's outburst about her slippers felt terrifyingly real; when the dementia reaches that point, what the hell can you do? Dickens in particular has had to carry a very tricky role; because Shelby knows how badly she hurt her son, she's now making a superhuman effort to be whatever he and Lorraine need her to be, whether that's a chauffeur or a caretaker or, in that great scene at the hospital, a verbal punching bag. I think a lot of actresses would make Shelby seem a little too perfect for a woman who ran out on her son, but Dickens always lets you see the wheels spinning, the way Shelby's letting Matt tear into her because she knows she's got 17 years of karmic debt to pay off.

Now, we only have two episodes left, and I'm curious to see how they're going to be structured. Do we get the state championship in episode 12 and then a 13th episode that tries to telescope the rest of the school year and shows us how all the seniors wind up? Or will it follow the pattern of the final two season one episodes, where we had an episode with no game, followed by the championship, with any resolutions sprinkled in and around the football action? Whether or not a fourth season happens, the graduating characters deserve their own send-offs, and even if they don't get as much screen time as either Street or Smash, I hope they each get their moments.

Some other thoughts on "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall":

* Joe McCoy is so nuts that I almost -- almost -- feel sorry for him. Wade Aikman, on the other hand? Total jerk. I don't know what practice he was watching, but the one I saw had JD in complete command of the Panthers offense, and the only time he let Madison distract him was during the water break. When does Mac get back?

* Riggins plays special teams? Is that common for the star offensive player on a high school team? Then again, Justin Tuck did block a field goal a couple of games ago, and he's the Giants best defender, and we've already established that I know little to nothing on this subject. I will say, though, that maniacal as Joe was, I don't know what Eric was thinking trying to throw the ball that much in those conditions. To bring in another Giants analogy, that was like whenever offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride insists on having Eli throw the ball a few dozen times when the Meadowlands winds are swirling at tornado levels.

* I loved Riggins asking Buddy if he was going to have to walk back to his car, and Buddy realizing he had randomly driven them to the middle of nowhere.

* Princess Diana died when Tyra would have been six or seven years old (unless you assume that she and Tim and Lyla have all been held back a few grades); would she really be making a "Lady Di" reference to Mindy?

* Even though a lot of the Tyra/Landry material has been repetitive, I really like the easy banter the two characters have together, which only makes a moment like the one where Landry gives her a pep talk about all her hard work feel even sweeter.

* Have we established the financial situation of Lyla's mom and stepdad? I doubt the health food store is raking in the cash, but surely they could help out a little with college, no? Or does her mother feel so betrayed by Lyla staying with Buddy that she wouldn't help? Either way, that needs to be addressed.

* God, I love stripper names, real or stage. Fashionette?

What did everybody else think?


R.A. Porter said...

I beat up on this episode in my review and I don't know if it's just that I'm in a cranky mood because I'm getting sick, or if my complaints were justified. But this is now two reviews - yours and Chris Littman's over at SN - that went very differently from mine and I think I may need to rewatch this weekend.

As much as FNL has been rehashing and echoing beats from season one (and relegating season two to Peter Best status) they had still felt somewhat fresh to me. Last night, I thought I'd already seen every major story point. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I've seen...

- QB1 and his father have a public fight, after which Coach talks to his QB in the Taylor back yard.
- Matt deny the reality of Lorraine's condition and fight with a parent over it.
- Coach call too many passing plays in the rain.
- Lyla whine.

Beyond the repeats, it felt like the writers spent too much time moving everyone in position for the endgame rather than giving them space to breathe. It's when they're given that room the show shines; I didn't get nearly enough of that last night.

K J Gillenwater said...

I am one that is always annoyed when characters in tv shows or movies complain about not having the money to go to school. Those with true financial hardship, like Tim Riggins or Matt or Tyra would have no problems getting grant money or scholarships or work study money from school.

Lyla may have a more complicated road...not sure what the financial picture really is from a school perspective. If Buddy owns the dealership, I am guessing he looks mighty wealthy on paper. But, hey, you'd think Lyla would be smart enough to at least contact Vanderbilt's financial aid office to see what they could do for her.

Now, back to the show. Loved the Matt/Grandma development. That woman does need some 24-hour care....she stepped out of a moving car. She's not right in the head anymore. I was wondering, though, if she wasn't at the game with Matt's mom, who was watching her?

I like Landry, but I'm still angry that he allows Tyra back into his life so easily. One gig at a bar, and he's okay with all she's done to him over the years? I'm really hoping for just a nice solid friendship to develop with, perhaps, Landry finding a girl better for him and Tyra being okay with it. But, sadly, I don't think that will happen.

Hey, Alan, wanted to ask if you'll be watching the other DirecTV show by the same dude that is doing FNL. Was it called "Wonderland"? I can't remember. But I've seen the previews the last two weeks, and it looks very intriguing...and it also is a mini-series, so I know it will have a beginning, middle, and end.

Loved the JD/Joe confrontation. That's been building for weeks. And I loved Janine Turner's performance inside the restaurant. Very real with the smudged makeup and ugly/pretty look. Curious how that will play out. Divorce? Jail time for Joe?

Anonymous said...

Alan: I started to have the same sense that you did, but for the past few weeks: they've been laying the groundwork so a fourth season is possible, but in my mind I'm trying to just enjoy these last few like it's probably over. Because of that, I'm really hoping Episode 12 is State and Episode 13 is a proper send-off.

To your point, I thought not only was the stuff with the dementia gripping and horrifying, but the blow-up from Joe McCoy in the car was legitimately startling. From the first scream in the car to open-hand smacking J.D. in the parking lot, my heart was racing.

As R.A. said, I really loved this episode. I even want as far as to say it might have been my favorite of the season.

I feel like I'm already going through the stages of FNL grief, and now I'm just going to enjoy these last two and be thankful we ever got this season to begin with. (But ... but ... if DirecTV is unearthing Wonderland, maybe they have it in their heart for a fourth FNL season? Please please!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alan for pointing out the special teams play. Ol' Riggins just likes a chance to hit somebody!
Granma Seracen continues to hit it out of the park.
Buddy and Riggins during the talk, like you said last week, which is the adult? Those two have a lot more in common then either would admit to themselves.
My son's school district split and they built an idwentical high school on the east side of the line, two athletic programs, instant rivals. No real problem for us as the district was rapidly growing, actually gave more opportunities, but in a one horse/team town like Dillon, I'd expect massive gerrymandering, so who gets the low income housing, where Smash lived, lots of potential Panthers there!
I was surprised the booster sweren't thinking about moving somekids into the district, they did it for Voodoo!


Unknown said...

This particular show has stayed with me maybe more than any FNL I've ever seen. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's my favorite but the two blow-ups (Applebees parking lot, hospital) were just so well done and so "real" they really struck me. In an otherwise relatively quiet ep they were a shock. (I also want to comment on Riggins dragging Lyla to church - wonderful. Too bad there wasn't a stronger actress to finish it off)

Anyway Alan - I come from an area that has had a lot of redistricting over the last few years. Typically what happens in our area is: Seniors have the choice of staying with the old school so it doesn't decimate the teams. The new school has a choice whether or not to start a particular sport - the cheaper teams (basketball) typically start up the first year while the more expensive sports (football etc.) take a couple years. We've never had a situation where the two schools combine to form one team. I don't think the athletic board would allow it but it might just be a state thing.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to watch this show in January!

Anonymous said...

I'm from Texas so I can give you some insight on the high school football scenarios in this episode. In general, FNL does a great job of hitting the right notes for Texas high school football (even if it seems insane to people outside of the state).

In the case of redistricting, a football team would almost definitely be started although it would not necessarily be in the same class as the original school (i.e. 3A at East Dillon vs. 5A at Dillon). This might be determined by the size of the school though which means cutting Dillon in half could potentially drop it to a different class but not necessarily since I can't remember the cutoff.

This exact scenario came up in my hometown when we were attempting to add a 6th high school to the district. The new school should have taken 1/3 of the students from the two biggest high schools but because the biggest high school was on the richer side of town, the redistricting lines were drawn such that the rich school did not lose any students (and by extension - athletes) while the other school lost 50% of its enrollment. Gotta love our willingness to cause political turmoil over high school sports.

Anyway, I'm always impressed with FNL's ability to get how important high school football is in Texas. And the football boosters do have a surprising amount of power especially in the smaller towns.

Great episode. I won't try to recap because Alan always does a much better job than I could ever do.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Coach via his, "what's Romeo doing over there" comment actually instruct Assistant Coach Aikman to retrieve QB from the clutches of Madison? In other words, why was Aikman such a jerk?

R.A. Porter said...

@mj, Aikman was a jerk for calling up Joe and dishing about JD. Especially since JD *had* had a great practice.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Bryan there; I felt those two scenes were the most powerful of the night, especially the scene with Matt, Grandma Saracen and her slippers. I've always been impressed with Zach Gilford's ability to really dig deep with these types of scenes, and to really act the hell out of the character Matt Saracen, and once again, he does not disappoint. Someone should just give him a couple of Emmys already. And of course, Grandma Saracen always gives a heartbreaking performance.

It was really nice to see the boiling over of the whole McCoy storyline - though nothing surprising in terms of what happened, it was still frightening and emotional and I give kudos to all the actors involved in that storyline.

And Riggens, super boyfriend? While I can understand the transformation, I'm still left wondering when this all happened. But it's nice to see Riggens being the sane one to give good advice, and Buddy acknowledging(!) it. It was a really nice moment. And who am I kidding, Riggens always manages to leave a big ol' smile on my face.

I also liked that the Coach was hesistant to side with Buddy despite the possibility of him losing (partially) his football team, and yet couldn't tell Tami that he knew why the dividing line got all puzzly. It's very Coach.:D
(which also showed a great contrast to the McCoy scene right after.)

Weak Tyra and Landry storyline, but I liked how they are with each other now. There's a nice ease to it without dwelling on whether or not they'd be a couple. As for Tyra's mother, I find her too wishy washy for her emotional speech to carry much weight.

Phew. Two more episodes? I think I'm going to start crying.

Unknown said...

A bit of speculation that I've been tossing around in my head:

If Dillon were to have two high schools, is it possible that Mac could return as head coach of the other school's football team, and season 4 could play out as Eric v. Mac throw-down?

After all, we already know that Mac really WANTS to be in Eric's shoes. And with Wade having just made a star turn as the Panthers' assistant coach, it seems less likely that Mac will have his old spot waiting for him when he recovers.

Anonymous said...

Forget a Mac vs. Eric throwdown. What about Wade?

Unknown said...

That would be great too. In fact, it makes a lot more sense.

Either way, Mac needs to come back.

erin said...

Hmm...I was completely uninvolved in the first half of the episode, and then it just sucked me in during the second half and hit all the right notes.

In the beginning, I felt like they were focusing on annoying characters (or at least spending too much time on them)--the annoying girlfriend (if high school girls are that breathy and plastic looking, ugh), Mindy--who also has that baby-voiced annoying thing going on, etc. But then I figured out where the stories were heading, and it sucked me in.

Ditto on the Joe McCoy storyline--holy cow. NOT expecting the physical violence. But you can totally see that Dad is losing all control, and his son is starting to gain independence (with the help of his mom)...that's just going to drive Dad up the wall. I'm curious about Mom...I like Janine Turner's portrayal of her, but I wonder what they're marriage is like. Fake? Real? Passive-aggressive? Has she known her husband had this in him? There's an interesting story there.

My Riggins love knows know bounds. I get his dedication to Lyla...he's loved her since the beginning of the show. I don't expect him to change, but I buy that he's putting her needs above her. And I get that she's wallowing. Of course there are scholarships and loans available, but I can't imagine the betrayal I would feel of my father blowing all of my college money. When Tim declared his love, I just...aww.

Tyra--nothing interesting there, didn't buy the mom speech, but her chemistry with Landry is still great. Are all her stories told for the last two episodes? I think so. Was this supposed to be a rehabilitation of their friendship from season 1? If so, mission accomplished.

Saracen--great stuff there, and so real! I feel for him.

If this is the end, I'll be sad, but they've done this show good. They haven't gone off the rails like they did with the stupid murder, or other horrible subplots, a la Grey's. This has a been a well-developed season, true-to-its story, and great to watch. Tami and Eric continue to be the best couple to watch and to hang a show around.

AC said...

Ugh, Kevin Gilbride! But back to the show- this was the first episode in a few that I really enjoyed, although Alan, I agree with you on all of the points about Angela Colette. Where does she get off giving this speech all of a sudden?

I love Shelby, and I love your assessment of the way Kim Dickens is playing her (great chemistry with Gilford), but seriously- who was watching Lorraine during the game? I'll fanwank and say that she stayed with a neighbor for a few hours...

Unknown said...

No one else has mentioned this, but where was Julie this episode? I think this is the first time in the entire series (at least that I can remember) that she wasn't present. I think it might be the first football game that Tami had to watch by her self. And for that matter, where has the baby been? Was there a deleted scene where Coach and Mrs. Coach decided to drop their kids off in Nebraska?

Unknown said...

I wanted to comment on the redistricting plot line. I came from a fast growing community. We had three high schools already and had to add one more my sophomore year. This caused a bit of a shake up for the sports teams, but not that much. Many of the starting athletes (non-athletes as well) just used relatives' addresses to remain at there current school or were allowed to pay a fee to go to an out of district school. I'm sure it would be a much bigger deal in a smaller community such as Dillon, TX, but it seems to me it wouldn't shake up the roster too much in the short-term but rather would have longer term implications.

Unknown said...

It didn't surprise me a bit to see Tim Riggins on special teams. The thing that I always felt was a bit unrealistic about this show was how we've never seen a player play both sides of the ball. For high school football this is usually the rule rather than the exception. You may have 60 players on your team, but at that level there are only so many really good athletes. At that age and that competition level it's not a big deal for even your star quarterback to play defensive back or a star running back to also play linebacker or something. Maybe this is why the Panthers always seem to have such terrible defenses, Coach Taylor plays his best on offense and has what's left on defense.

the Discovery Hour said...

I didn't read the whole post because of the spoiler issues. I'm a FNL noob but I love it. I just wrote a bit about it and how its one of the only quality shows on TV people don't watch over at my blog. Check it out. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

@Andy - I don't think Julie stood with Tami in 3x01 game (I put it down to the argument about class choices), although she was present at the post-game event at Garrity Motors.

I also wondered about Julie as well. I decided to believe she was looking after Grandma Saracen on game night because I don't believe for one second Matt and Shelby would leave her alone.

I wish they would acknowledge Gracie Belle more too. I don't need to see her on screen all the time (I know they can only use one of the triplets now), just her existance recognized. I guess we're just to presume Julie had taken her to daycare in the Coach/Tami coffee scene and that she's asleep when the Taylors return home from games. They obviously have a pretty good babysitter.

I know they've got to sacrifice certain stories, but this season have lacking Taylor family scenes in general. We've had two storylines (three, if you count the row in 3x01) but between 3x02 and the tattoo, we didn't have them interacting at all.

Unknown said...

I think if there is a fourth season they should spend the first half on the remainder of the school year after the football season has finished. Some might not agree because there would be no game scenes, but I don't think the two remaining episodes of this season are going to be enough to give a satisfying conclusion for the characters we've invested so much interest in. Riggins, Matt, Lyla, Tara, and Landry are all seniors as far as I can tell and the show needs to give them a proper send off or at least a transition period to how we will follow them once they have graduated.

My only concern about having part of a season set outside of the football world would be the possibility the writers might drive the show off a bridge like they did in season 2.

That Obscure Object said...

I still love and defend season two, with notable exceptions Santiago and magical nurse, so I am not afraid of the writers going off the rails ala season two per se, but continuing story lines I could care less about like season three.
Madison is Waverlash redux, and JD, though likable is bland as milk and as interesting to watch on screen.
I am seriously bothered that Coach lied to Tami in this episode, and to what end? He's protecting the boosters, whom he doesn't agree with anyway.
I'm glad Matt is connecting with his mom but I wish he would stop fighting her help. Or rather, I wish he wouldn't blame her for Grandma falling out of the car but still rejecting her help b/c he doesn't trust her.
Maybe Teegarden was filming her 90210 episode...

Anonymous said...

Another solid episode. I agree there was some repetitiveness, but with performances this strong, it's hard to complain too much.

Riggins playing on special teams would not surprise me at all. My boyfriend played all three -= offensive, defense, and special teams -- in high school.

Oh, and Alan, I assume you've seen this...

Omagus said...

Matt: In the case of redistricting, a football team would almost definitely be started although it would not necessarily be in the same class as the original school (i.e. 3A at East Dillon vs. 5A at Dillon). This might be determined by the size of the school though which means cutting Dillon in half could potentially drop it to a different class but not necessarily since I can't remember the cutoff.

This is really a minor quibble but I do wish that the writers would have paid more attention to this. It was stated that if they split up the school district, Dillon High and East Dillon High would each have about 2,000 students. So that means that Dillon High currently has approximately 4,000 students? That's a pretty freaking big school for a town that is the size of what Dillon has been portrayed to be.

Even if the school was split into two districts, both schools would still be class 5A, since that is the classification of any Texas high school that has a population of 1,600 or more.

Rachel said...

I thought they said each school would have 1,000 students?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm optimistic that Ausiello is right about the two season renewal, but I don't want to say anything more about it until we get to the end of the season, because events in the finale point the way to what the show might look like if it continues.

So people like me who watched the DirecTV run, step lightly on this subject.

Chris (Dallas) said...

I hope I'm not being too clever for my own good, but am I the only one thinking that once East Dillon opens up that Aikman will be named Coach which will lead to a bitter, bitter Joe McCoy moving JD to East Dillon, to spite Coach Taylor and his "interference" with the McCoy family?

Apologies to Alan, if I'm correct and this post has to be deleted...

Lauren said...

It's interesting that I was one of the only people that really enjoyed the talk at the end with Tyra and her mom. I know her mom has been completely wishy-washy and the exact person Tyra fears she is going to become if she doesn't go to college, but perhaps because of that, it makes their talk all the more important. Even though Tyra is very clearly trying to escape her mom & sister, she has never been rude to them or made them feel like they were lesser for it. And so maybe, even though her mom can't exactly understand her need to get out of Dillon, she can still appreciate Tyra and be proud of her--I mean she sees that her running off with the cowboy didn't work out. Maybe she really is growing and beginning to see things as Tyra does. Angela can justify her life choices (clearly a coping mechanism) while still secretely being proud of her daughter. I think this scene is a particularly nice contrast when you think of the direction Buddy & Lyla are going. "Oh, how they've fallen" vs. "Look how far they've come".

Anonymous said...

There is no way Dillion is a 5A school. 3A at best, going by the size of the players and the Panthers' competition. Where are the teams from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in the playoffs?

R.A. Porter said...

@Anonymous 11:44pm - Permian High School has an enrollment of 2000 students, plays 5A, and - at least as far as Buzz Bissinger told it - doesn't have a lot of big athletes.

They haven't won a state championship in a while, but have won a lot of them.

Oh, and apparently Gary Gaines is returning as head coach this year.

Zac F. said...

The scenes between Tyra and her mom and Lyla and Tim in the church show the difference in acting ability between Minka Kelly and Adrianne Palicki. When Minka's scene was on, all I could focus on was the fact that she wasn't believeable at all crying and sobbing whereas I bought Adrianne's emotions completely.

Watching the scenes with Matt and his grandma hit me even harder now than if I would have seen them last year on DirectTV since my own grandmother was just moved into an assisted living center yesterday and she's suffering from Alzheimer's. Zach Gilford and Louane Stephens are absolutely magnificent in their scenes together.

I know it would have been out of character, but I wish Coach would have decked Joe McCoy. As great as J.D. was, he can only focus on the negative. Joe needs a reality check and needs it fast; otherwise he might lose his wife and son.

The redistricting storyline reminded me of reading stories in Texas newspapers about how whenever one party was in power in the state legislature, they would try to re-draw the lines so that in the next election they could get more seats.

Chaddogg said...

While I agree that Tyra's mom's speech was out of place (should have come from some other character who knew Tyra, not the mother that pushed her towards Cash the Cowboy), I also had a problem with Coach's speech at the end to J.D., or lack thereof. Where was Coach's traditional wisdom? Him calling back to his experience with his own overbearing dad? Or him getting high-and-mighty and saying "It's not your fault" a la Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting?

Other than that, though, another solid FNL episode. I love Riggins....of course he just thought he could take Lyla to church and fix everything, even if all that was going on was a choir rehearsal....