Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Friday Night Lights, "In the Skin of a Lion": Open eyes, full slate, can't sleep

Spoilers for tonight's "Friday Night Lights" coming up just as soon as I take a plate of responsibility...
"See, you're the only one that didn't get the joke." -Levi Burnwell
Having established the new world of East Dillon and its most notable residents over the first two episodes, a busier-than-usual "Friday Night Lights" gets to showing us how lost so many of our characters are in this new place and/or their new roles.

Eric is continuing on his fool's errand to make the Lions respectable, and even risking some marital strife by paying for new uniforms out of pocket. Riggins moves tentatively into the world of unofficial assistant coaching and tries like hell to avoid being tempted by his underage new neighbor. Buddy finally loses patience with what Joe McCoy has turned the Panther boosters into (and with Buddy's own loss of relevance to the group). Landry, Luke and Vince are all asked to take on responsibilities they're maybe not ready for (punting, defense and team leadership, respectively). Matt's slowly starting to understand his new mentor, at the same time the mentor is advising him to get away from Julie. And having become the town pariah for the redistricting plan, and then for the Luke decision, Tami gets another sign that her daughter is also moving away from her when Julie admits she doesn't really care about church.

It's rare that we get an episode like this that gives virtually every character something to do. The downside is that the writers have to employ more shorthand than they probably should. The other boosters have to turn completely evil just so Buddy can be driven to renounce his Panther love, for instance, while Landry somehow becomes both punter and placekicker in the same episode, even though only the former job is mentioned or practiced(*).

(*) I know many high school teams have the same guy handle all kicking duties - or, in some cases, don't bother kicking at all - but they are different skills, and if Landry was going to do both, it should've been mentioned. In general, the show's never been great about the small detail work re: the actual playing of football. Football culture? Yes. Football strategery? Less so.

But if not everything works, a whole lot of it does, particularly Eric's continued quest to turn the Lions into a team, even while everyone in town either laughs at or ignores him. He has to pull cash out of his own pocket to boost his kids' self-esteem during the fundraising drive, then dig much deeper to write a $3,000 check to his buddy at Under Armor when all the boosters turn a cold shoulder to him and his ghetto school.

That decision leads to a terrific fight between Coach and Mrs. Coach. I hate when TV shows have couples argue for contrived reasons just because the writer wants tension, but when the Taylors get into it, it's almost always over something real, and if they're petty or stupid about it at first (Eric claiming the check was for dry cleaning), eventually they talk about it like grown-ups and we get a real resolution. I watch how these two are written, and played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, and I constantly want to chain writers of other TV shows in front of an "FNL" marathon to say, "See this? This is how you can write a happy, mature couple and still keep it interesting."

And while Eric manages to make peace with Tami, and apparently with East Dillon's principal (whose cheers at the end of the game imply he'll find a way to help pay for the uniforms), the team itself is still a mess - hence Coach's inability to sleep at episode's end.

Vince isn't responding at all to Eric's tough love approach, and Eric's request for Luke to be more of a team leader seems like it's going to drive Vince (whom Eric already set up as the leader last week) further away. With only 19 players on the team, most of them will have to play both offense and defense, and given that the only two guys with any discernible talent are both running backs, Eric's either going to have to run a full-time wildcat offense, or else try to turn one of them into a quarterback. (And I hope that it's Vince who makes the switch; seems trite to again make the overly polite white guy the QB and the cocky black guy the RB.)

But finishing a game, and scoring a touchdown - even if it comes on a busted play, and one play after the team should have already scored if not for a petulant Vince pulling up on a block - is a start. We started this season with the team in such a huge hole that even baby steps like that feel huge.

Some other thoughts:

• There was a deleted scene from the season three finale where Buddy - who was already sick of Joe at the time - offered to team up with Eric at East Dillon, but I think this timing works better. With Buddy at his side from the start, things wouldn't have been quite so dire for the Lions. This allows, again, for a slower and more natural learning curve.

• Whatever Landry's special teams responsibilities may be, his practicing gave him another opportunity to spend time with Jess. The revelation that Jess's father played football himself provides a more natural excuse for why she might be hanging out with young Lance and/or the rest of the team. Because of the nature of the show, our two new female characters are still lingering behind the two new guys in terms of being integrated into this world, but hopefully, we'll get there. (At the start of the series, it was easier, because Lyla, Tyra and Julie all had pre-existing relationships with someone on the Panthers.)

• So, anyone want to rank the reasons why Tim might be so afraid of falling into bed with Becky? So far, possibilities include: 1)She's underage (though he's only 19 at most, and she's not that much younger than Julie); 2)That she's his landlady's daughter (and that he already slept with the landlady); 3)Loyalty to Lyla (who hasn't been mentioned so far; as with Tyra and Landry, I'm just assuming they broke up over the summer rather than trying the long distance thing). Whatever the reason, Taylor Kitsch is doing some good comic work playing it, particularly his attempt to get out of the room before Becky started trying on pageant dresses. And if Tim is successful in foisting Becky off on Luke ("wish I was renting a room from her mom!"), then we have another excuse to bring all the characters together.

• To bring back a question from last week, how is it that Luke and Tim haven't met before? Again, unless they're going for the silliness of telling us Luke is a freshman, he's enough of a stud that he should've been Tim's backup last season. Or, at the very least, the star of the JV team, and someone Tim would have been aware of. But if Luke's been magically inserted into Dillon (just like most of the East Dillon characters), at least they're doing a good job of showing what's motivating him. He seems as driven to use football to get out of town as Smash was.

• I really liked the Tami/Julie subplot. This show is rare in that it's completely comfortable at dealing with faith as a fact of its characters' lives, which then leads to a low-key story like this where one character has to deal with the realization that another doesn't exactly share that faith. I can think of lots of shows that might have tried it, but had Julie suffer some kind of personal crisis - even the encounter with Richard Sherman - that had her running back to church. Instead, she and Tami reached a nice compromise: Julie will go for her mom, and Tami won't act like it's anything but.

• Speaking of Richard Sherman, still not loving that story. I keep waiting for the "Karate Kid" moment when Saracen discovers that doing all of Richard's gruntwork has magically turned him into a great artist. But it would be interesting, I suppose, to see that Matt stayed in Dillon and somehow still wound up drifting away from Julie.

• "FNL" is usually so spot-on with its dialogue that a line like "You a long way from home, boy" (like JD's "This is my Dillon now!" from the season premiere) sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only does it sound cheesey and like something out of a bad high school movie, but (as Fienberg pointed out to me), it's not even accurate, as we've established that this school is much closer to where Luke lives than his old one was.

What did everybody else think?


MM said...

I constantly want to chain writers of other TV shows in front of an "FNL" marathon to say, "See this? This is how you can write a happy, mature couple and still keep it interesting."
I agree 100%. Anytime I hear a couple can't be 'together' because it is dull television, I scream, "The Taylors."
Eric & Tami are fascinating, completely in love and married, all at the same time.
Thanks Alan.

Chris Littmann said...

Maybe it's just because it's what I expect, but I wasn't overly moved by this week. Thought the plot about Julie's faith was kind of a throwaway -- although you're right about FNL dealing with religion more comfortably than a lot of shows. I just thought there was a lot of necessary move-along going on this week. As you said, there was a little for each character ... but as a result it wasn't a particularly grand showcase for anyone. Looking forward to next week's episode because I was there when they filmed the fourth episode. Saw two or three scenes, so it'll be fun to see them for real!

mj said...

Yes, the tears welling in the eyes of both Eric and Tami in Eric's office said so much about their genuine love for each other. I wanted that scene to continue but loved that it didn't.
I wonder how much of the beauty of the Taylor marriage is due to the writers and how much is due to the improvised lines and acting abilities of the most overlooked duo in Emmy nomination history.
I thought the line "you a long way from home" was about Luke the white guy being in a predominantly non-white team like East Dillon. It struck me as feeding the racial tension story which is slowly building.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I get that the line wasn't literal. It was still cheeseball.

Anonymous said...

I could live with the cheeseball line, because it was a high school taunt and high schoolers ain't that creative. Real high school kids parrot what they see on TV anyway....that's my meta explanation and I'm sticking with it.
Glad Coach got thoose Lions some new Work Clothes....


nfieldr said...

Is it just me or is there an incredible resemblance between Becky and Tyra?

Anonymous said...

the under armour product placement was well done

love the show....only someone like saracen would put up with that artist dude for so long

i was surprised jd's dad would even bring up future qb's; i guess he plans to stay in town when his kid goes to college? seems out of character. i realize they can't have a cast of thousands, but some parent should be speaking up to defend the principal etc

Adele said...

As a principal, I would say that parental defence would be very limited, if at all. As a female principal, being called a "bitch" is on the tamer end of the spectrum.

Luke is warming his way into my heart. He's a mishmash of Street and Saracen but I like the kid.

Darren said...

I constantly want to chain writers of other TV shows in front of an "FNL" marathon to say, "See this? This is how you can write a happy, mature couple and still keep it interesting."

Amen. I was a devoted fan of Gilmore Girls, but I still wish that midway through the show's run -- about the time Rory left for college -- the creators would have chosen a husband for Lorelai and then done the hard work of writing a real relationship for her. I didn't think I'd ever see a marriage like Eric and Tami's (or, like my own) on television.

Sister T said...

Loved to see the joy and excitement on the kids' faces when they saw their new uniforms. It brought back buried memories for me from when I got my very first varsity jersey and also the general joy and excitement when I got a new, shiny uniform. Thanks again, show, for making me feel like a kid again.

Kathie said...

Sister T, I agree with was like Christmas with all the new uniforms and helmets lined up for the team. Coach standing behind them, just beaming-great scene.

I think the biggest reason that Tim is not hooking up with Becky (besides the fact she is annoying and pushy)is that he already slept with her MOTHER......that would be too wierd & gross to have him sleeping with mother & daughter.

Love Coach & Tami, a great realistic TV couple!

Anonymous said...

Joe McCoy is all about JD and himself. In order to solidify his position as the head of the boosters and ensuring JD is the man for the Panthers until College where I'm sure he wants to follow him.

Looking at a 13 year old QB would have been Buddy's domain up until Joe arrived and now he is the lead booster. Buddy sits at one end at the head and Joe the other but "get on with the agenda Joe" is a clear sign Buddy is margainalised. Joe knows Buddy is loyal to Taylor and flushing him out is integral to flushing the final spanner in the McCoy takeover-getting Tami out.

Kate Reilly said...

I really hope Jess ends up punting (or kicking) for the Lions. It could open up a great girl-on-the-football-team storyline with tension between her and her father, Coach and the rest of the team, and the Panthers boosters and the girl-starting Lions. From the way she was coaching Landry, I bet she's good.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think Jess joining the team as a punter and/or placekicker would be a fine idea, in the tradition of Kathy Ireland in "Necessary Roughness."

Just so long as nothing in the season follows in the tradition of Sinbad in "Necessary Roughness."

EJF said...

Good episode, albeit somewhat boring in parts. I continue to have a real issue with the way East Dillon and O.G. Dillon are portrayed, though.
It's hard for me to buy that East Dillon is in some completely poverty stricken part of town and has a handful of non-black students attending while regular Dillon High is basically now like friggin' West Beverly. In addition, everyone from the original Dillon is now made out to be some evildoer "bad guy", while everyone associated with East Dillon is cast in an underdog "good guy" light.
It just seems incredibly contrived and lazy, and quite frankly, the show is so much better than this.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

No talking about the promos, guys. It's one of the commenting rules.

elizabeth said...

Can I please throw out a plea to the general universe to please, please not have Tim sleep with the Becky girl, who I find most annoying? The thought just icks me out, mostly because I feel like Tim should be at least 20. The first season did set it up so that he was as old as Street.

GabbyD said...

i wonder what the narrative arc would be for the lions? its impossible for them to win state, so, what might constitute a 'dramatic' victory for the team?

further, dont they need to win to raise money? if they dont win, and but have moral victories instead, will the football program push thru? i guess, the answer is yes coz i'm sure there are teams out there that dont win, but i'm having trouble imagining the arc of the team in that case.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I would guess that the arc of this team will involve the Lions beating the Panthers in a big game near the end of this season, possibly knocking the Panthers out of the playoffs, and then the Lions turning into a honest-to-gosh good team in the fifth (and presumably final) season, thanks to growth from guys like Vince and Luke.

Matt said...

How is it that Luke and Tim haven't met before?

Luke is obviously good, good enough that he was "living" in Dillon's school zone, as had been done for many years. Ergo, Luke was a recruit.

He also was not at Dillon the season before. He may have been recruited by McCoy, or he may have been recruited the year before by someone on the Dillon staff. Or perhaps he simply wanted to play for Dillon (or his dad wanted him to. Seen that before?)

The plot hole isn't so big when you consider that Dillon has been in the state championship game of TEXAS 2 of 3 years. This ain't the football team that future TV critics play for (that's East Dillon. I bet Landry's your favorite).

Alan Sepinwall said...

or his dad wanted him to

This episode made it clear his dad couldn't care less about football, and only wants Luke to help on the farm.

We know from JD McCoy that freshman are eligible to play on the Panthers. So unless the show wants us to buy Luke as a freshman (which is silly and counterproductive), he'd have been on the team already, given how amazing everyone says he is.

It's not a huge plot hole, but, like most of the creation of East Dillon High and its students, it doesn't perfectly fit in with the world already established.

EJF said...

I'd like to see East Dillon play a close game against Dillon but lose to close out the season, with Dillon going on to win a state title (which they can mention in the beginning of season 5). Then, in season 5, they can lose another close one to them in their regular season (to create the whole we are so close to beating these guys but can't get over the hump thing). Then they meet Dillon again in the playoffs and finally beat them.

That makes more sense to me than having East Dillon beat them this season.

Eldo Owens said...

To: nfieldr

I agree that Becky looks a lot, A LOT, like Tyra. On another type of show, they could pull off a plot where it turned out she was Tyra's half-sister.

I just realized that the actress who plays Jess is the same actress from Eve's Bayou and the same actress who played one of the Olsen twins friends in Full House.

Makes me feel old ... and a little bit of a perv for thinking that she's hot.

Sister T said...

I smiled when Tammy, talking about west Texas and earthquakes, uttered dialog that included the words "Permian" and "Odessea" in the same sentence. It reminded me not only of the fictional Panthers' namesake, but also of the rivalry between the Permian High School Panthers and the cross town Odessa High School Bronchos that roughly parallels the show's current story line.

Also, is that the first time the word "Permian" has been uttered on the show?

Brendan said...

The show seems to be doing a decent, but not perfect job of juggling two separate and conflicting timeframes.

First, it's done a good job of setting up the season for a long series of trials and gradual advancement. As you point out, the writers have dug Coach Taylor into a massive hole in East Dillon to be climbed out of little by little.

But second, the introduction of the new settings and characters needs to be done relatively quickly for them to have any meaningful place in the show, but it leads to a lot of... well... strained moments to say the least. I don't like the broad strokes that Vince's basketball friends need to be painted in to make racial tension in East Dillon work, and the convenient knowledge (Jess and football) or lack of knowledge (Luke's unexplained past as a Panther) have read fairly transparently as plot devices first, character backgrounds second.

Last note: In just three episodes this season, it seems like Kyle Chandler has had more shining moments than ever in his portrayal of Eric Taylor. Coach and Vince going at it on the sideline was great, and his work with Connie Britton never disappoints, but was anybody else made as uncomfortable during the scene with the Under Armour guy as I was?

Anonymous said...

Why Tim won't fall into bed with Becky?

To borrow from another thread... He knows she's cuckoo bananas.

Unknown said...

I was frustrated with the football details during the game in this episode. A team up 27 points throwing with under a minute left? The clock running after a change of possession? Otherwise, a pretty good episode with a great performance again by Kyle Chandler.

Anonymous said...

"I was frustrated with the football details during the game in this episode. A team up 27 points throwing with under a minute left?"

maybe their coach is a jerk and trying to run up the score. I remember my high school team doing an onside kick in the fourth quarter despite a huge lead .

WhatTheFDidIDo said...

Yea maybe their coach is Bill Belichick's brother.

Jordan said...

I find myself hoping that Saracen ends up being written out of the show. Kind of like Street and Smash were last year. At this point he just doesn't fit in anymore. It's like he's off in his own show. Unlike Riggins who still fits in just great.

Dude, I find myself REALLY hating Angry Gold Chain Guy every time he is on screen. Just has the eyes of a punk. I really hope he doesn't end up on the team. Although I fear he will.

outoforder30 said...

I loved the on-field alteraction between Coach Taylor and Vince. It seemed very real, Kyle Chandler has always been a great actor. Random question, has Kyle Chandler ever been considered as a Emmy nominee for Best Actor in a Drama? Or is that category too competitive with the likes of Hugh Laurie, Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm?

belinda said...

No, but he should. As with Connie Britton, not to mention the slew of young actors who were all quite tremendous in their own rights.

- I found Stan roaring into the megaphone absolutely hilarious.

- Perhaps it is Lila, but I think Tim is not sleeping with Becky has more to do with him not falling back (well, at least not exactly) to his old life, while still being in Dillon. But, kudos to Tim not only being a ladies' man but also a fantastic wingman.

- Buddy's announcement does seem a bit contrived - was there any doubt even in the first episode that this would happen? I'm still waiting for them to write a bit more depth for McCoy as the 'bad' guy , like with Buddy - who was the 'bad' guy in the early seasons too, but has another side to him that isn't strictly twiddling-his-moustache evil.

- Heartbreaking to see Coach's eyes wide open at the end of the ep - definitely feeling a whole lot of shitstorm coming up within the Lions. Which makes moments like them getting a touchdown worth all the more, I suppose.

Matt said...

I'm really enjoying John Diehl's work - he had me when he showed up at the door in his underwear. The guy's part cautionary tale, part art genius. I like how, in a subtle way, he's come to champion Matt and his artistic abilities.

Reading various boards, a lot of people are won over by Luke Cafferty. He's maybe the nicest of the Dillon teens to roll down the pipe in the show's history - respectful, hard-working, willing to take a verbal thrashing by Coach. I like him too, but I hope we get to see a sharper side to his personality.

Merrylegs said...

Jordan--Saracen is being written out of the show. It's been fairly well-publicized that he is going out on a 6 or 7 episode arc, kind of like Street and Smash. On a side note, wouldn't Smash's sisters being attending East Dillon? Here's hoping for an appearance from Mrs. Smash! I do miss her.

Dan said...

My prediction--

Matt leaves and Julie starts dating Vince.

Larry Horse said...

Here's why I can buy the fact that Tim and Luke have never met: It was established last night that Luke doesn't even live in Dillon (Tami names the town at one point...can't remember what it was, though), which makes it possible that redistricting took him out of another district and into East Dillon's. Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Being that the plan is to end it after the 5th season, once they get the new characters firmly established I hope they start bringing those who've been written off in for guest appearances here and there. Doing it right away would be a bad idea since we'd stop caring about the new kids, but eventually they should (not too many people are just starting to watch it now, so it's not like they'd need to waste time on backstory). Beyond that point, I'm glad they were able to keep the show going, with how season 3 ended and the aging characters I didn't know if continuing the show was a good idea at all, but it's pretty clear at this point that it was a brilliant move.

Landry said...

"My prediction--

Matt leaves and Julie starts dating Vince."

Based om what? Julie liked Matt because he was artistic and sensitive. She liked the swede because she thought he was artistic and sensitive. Vince does not fit the bill

Anonymous said...

The actress who plays Jesse was also in one of my favorite NYPD Blue scenes ever, that involved Sipowitz and a racial slur. I wish I could find it on youtube. Alan, surely you know what I'm talking about. What episode was that?

Chris Lawrence said...

She was in the episode where Kwasi (Sipowicz's "community leader" nemesis) was killed trying to help out his ex-brother-in-law who had gotten in a bad situation with some drug dealers I think.

Alan's review of that episode is here.

Crítico en Serie said...

Don't you think Riggins may be distant to the new girl because she looks the same as Tyra and it makes him uncomfortable?

Because I don't think that their resemblance is just a coincidence. And the hair is the same as Tyra's in 3rd season.

Howard Chaykin said...

I'm with Alan on the John Diehl arc. As much as I'm a fan of his work as an actor, the character seems like one more variation on the eccentric artist cliche of television.

That said, this show always manages to surprise me, so I remain open to a change of mind.

As someone who knows nothing about football, and too much about musical comedy(despite the fact that GLEE makes my eyes bleed, and not in a good way), I'm never hip to any stretches in the presentation of the game.

I had a fanboy moment with Kyle Chandler at LAX about a year ago. The guy looks like a superhero--and couldn't have been more gracious.

Great to see Taylor Kitsch playing such exquisite discomfort--and, back to that fanboy stuff again, I can't wait to see JOHN CARTER OF MARS.

Talk about digressive...

Anonymous said...

I don't think the "youre a long way from home" was strange. I could easily see that being said in a similar situation in real life. It was muttered under the breath in passing, very believable. And he is a long way from home. He didnt grow up with these kids and in a school like that it seems like unless you have some history with the people, anyone lighter than a deep shade of tan really is a long way from home. I mean look at him, the way he acts too - he must stick out like a sore thumb.

What I found really stuck out was buddy's speech. especially his, "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" sendoff. laying it on a little thick for me. kind of equivalent to a slow clap moment or something. just a little schmaltzy. amazing how season 1 literally had no schmaltz whatsoever.

Matt said...

Howard Chaykin a fan of Friday Night Lights? Awesome!:D please get John Siuntres watching the show, he never talks about it.