Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Friday Night Lights, "Toilet Bowl": Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies

A review of the latest episode of "Friday Night Lights" (which, again, you can catch each Wednesday at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's 101 Network) coming up just as soon as I make the clutch my best friend...
"We're not scrappers anymore. We're Lions. And this is our time. This is your time." -Coach
We're in the second half of this season now, which means it's time for the Lions to finally get in the win column (in part because they've improved, in part because they're playing an even worse team than they are). But it's also time for the characters to start thinking more seriously about their futures, and for the show to start moving them into position for the fifth and presumably final season.

So even as Eric is coaching the boys up to play Campbell Park, we see lots of characters being interviewed for future opportunities: Julie (at Boston College) and Tim (at Sears) most obviously, but also Buddy trying to cut a deal with the Spanish-language radio station and Luke faking his way past the doctor so he can keep playing and hoping for a scholarship. Even the awkward dinner with Vince, his mother Regina and Jess has the feeling of an audition, with Regina desperate to win the role of sober, attentive mother, and struggling right off the bat because she missed (presumably while high) Vince and Jess's break-up.

(Vince doesn't have a comparable audition scene himself this week, but we see in his conversation with Angry Necklace Guy that he's just barely hanging onto being an attentive, rule-following football player in the same way his mom is just barely hanging onto her sobriety. One bad development, and either one could backslide into a life of crime/addiction.)

In the end, some of the interviews go well, while others don't. Julie impresses the admissions officer, Buddy signs a deal with the station and begins a second career as the team's radio color man, and Luke is able to get a new painkiller scrip to allow him to play a key role in the team's first win of the season. But Tim doesn't get the job at Sears, even after all of Becky's (very funny) pageant coaching, and has to stupidly(*) go in with Billy on the chop shop scheme so he can afford his dream ranch. Vince is still wary of his mom. And after Vince's awkward quasi-date with Jess seems to have gone better than the one she has the next night with Landry, it's the pasty punter Jess tracks down to celebrate with after the big victory.

(*) I still feel way too burned by season two - both the murder and then the pointless Ferret Guy storyline - to ever feel totally comfortable with the show getting into the world of crime. But at least the Riggins boys have established a pattern of criminal idiocy in the past, so I believe they would do this, even though I wish they - and the show - wouldn't go there.

Of the stories unfurling here, the one I think I'm most interested in is Luke's. One of the things that usually sets "Friday Night Lights" apart from the average teen drama is its reluctance to moralize about underage drinking (save for those periods when Riggins does nothing but drink) and willingness to accept it as a fact of life. I don't expect Luke's painkiller dependence to end well (not to mention the abuse he's putting his body through just by not letting the injury properly heal), but I'm expecting the story to play out with more nuance than the typical Drugs Are Bad, Mmmmkay? approach you usually see on high school shows.

Julie and Tami's Boston trip didn't have quite the resonance of Street and Riggin's New York adventure last season (both of them shot on location), but the earlier one had the advantage of being our final glimpse of Street, where Julie still has the rest of this season. (And given the character's connection to our two leads, I'm sure we'll be seeing some of Aimee Teegarden next season.) But I thought it did a nice job of again showing Tami Taylor, perfectly imperfect mom, in that Julie was probably right at the start (Tami enjoyed that professor's attention way too much) before coming up, as usual, with the necessary words for her daughter at the end.

And getting back to the Landry/Jess/Vince triangle, I'd like to see Jess move more into the forefront in this back half of the season. I want more of an idea of how things with her and Vince fell apart, and what she sees in Landry besides his sense of humor (and obvious willingness to kill for his woman). Again, the show is juggling a lot of characters, both new and old, both staying and going, and it's hard to service them all every week. But I'm assuming Jason Katims and company were smart enough to make all four newbies underclassmen, which means they'll be carrying a post-Julie-and-Landry show next season, and I feel like I have a much stronger handle on Luke and Becky at this point than I do Vince and Jess.

"Friday Night Lights" doesn't need to audition for me to get it to watch the rest of this season or all of next. It already nailed the job, way back in the pilot episode (around the time Street's helmet was cut open in the ER). I just want it to be working as well as it can going into the home stretch.

Some other thoughts on "Toilet Bowl":

• As I've mentioned in the past, Taylor Kitsch went from cast weak link to indispensable around the time the writers started to take a less-is-more approach to his dialogue. Every now and then, though, we get an episode like this where he's asked to talk a lot - particularly in the scene where he confronts Billy about turning the Rig into a chop shop - and I'm reminded that talking is the one part of his game that still needs work.

• While it was nice to see Buddy being active in his role as a Lions booster, didn't he more or less agree to be a booster four episodes ago? Why is he talking to Eric like he's just finally decided to get with the program?

• With Matt Saracen gone, Landry needs other platonic friends, and thank goodness the show hasn't forgotten about his band. Devin and Jimmy's bored, frustrated reaction to Landry's latest romantic crisis was hilarious, particularly when Jimmy played a rimshot in the middle of the discussion.

• As mentioned often in the past, the show is much better at being a realistic depiction of football culture than it is being a realistic depiction of football itself, but rarely has the show seemed as bad on that front as it has with Landry as placekicker, because Jesse Plemons' kicking form looks awful. When we saw the ball go through the uprights during the game, in the same shot as when Landry kicked it, I started wondering if they had to create a CGI ball to get that effect.

• Two notable songs this week: Delta Spirit's "Trashcan" over the Taylor women's arrival in Boston, and "Killed Myself When I Was Young" by A.A. Bondy over the final sequence.

• A reader last time out pointed out that, in the credits, Angry Necklace Guy's name is Calvin Brown (and he's played by Ernest James), but until a character refers to him by that name on-screen, I'm sticking with Angry Necklace Guy. And now that he seems excited by the Lions' (one-game) winning streak, do I need to re-revisit my prediction that he'd end up back on the team before the season's over? Or will he continue to exist just to tempt Vince and the Riggins boys over to the dark side?

• Was anybody else expecting Tim to reach out to crazy Stan to help get the Sears gig? And has Sears replaced Applebee's as the show's main source of product integration money?

• I was worried at first when Tim didn't pull back from Becky's kiss, but he did eventually, and even she reacted like she just remembered why she wasn't supposed to do things like that.

• Gracie continues to be comic gold. The scene where she stands in a daze, pants-less, just watching the rest of her family be crazy, was another great usage of that little girl (and/or her twin).

What did everybody else think?



I just started watching Toilet Bowl so I hope it's not a mistake in the script but that "college" Julie visits is my alma mater, Boston University, not Boston College. Wrong end of Comm. Ave!


Looks like they filmed at both but called it BC. Sigh.

Otto Man said...

Great episode.

But I keep waiting for Steve Harris to have a real presence. He had, what, a single line this episode?

Rebecca Jill said...

Hate, hate that they had Tim give that great speech to Billy about how he shouldn't be doing what he's doing, and then got him back involved in the idiocy again like we're kind of back in Season 2. It makes me ill and the fact that the writers seemed to be out of imagination on that front.

Plus, back in Season 1, it was Billy that told Tim he was at the forefront of getting a PhD in Stupid, and now it's Billy in the lead roping Tim back in. It's gotten quite crazy, and can't see where they're actually going with that.

I've had a problem with Landry playing football, since they had him join the team in Season 2, since he was so against it in Season 1, so it's been hard to deal with that aspect of the show, but the fact I'm still watching means that the show, in general, is just that good.

Wished Tim had pulled away sooner, but oh so glad that whole kissing mess didn't go further than it did. I'd like to see more Becky and Luke interaction in the future.

That's all I have for now.

Mark said...

East Dillion sure does have one hell of a defense. It is just to bad we never get to see it.

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

Guess i should wait for your official review, but from your twitter comment re: MODERN FAMILY,

Yes, you should wait. Please do not comment on a show I haven't done a blog post on, and don't clutter up talk of one show with your comments about another.

Chris Littmann said...

Landry had a triple dose of funny tonight: the rimshot with the band, his talk of nice button up shirts, including one with the table of elements, plus him talking to the toy in the car after Jess's very weak return on the kiss.

I actually really liked the Boston trip, was lukewarm at first, but Tami's speech at the end saved it for me.

Still couldn't be any more uncomfortable with Riggins-Becky.

The New No. 2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

No talking about stuff in previews for upcoming episodes, guys. It's in the commenting rules.

Alan Sepinwall said...

his talk of nice button up shirts

Putting on a nice button-up shirt was the "just as soon as" runner-up, Chris.

Maxwell said...

A question: If Riggins is working with the team - which they showed him doing again this epidsode - shouldn't he be at the games, not chopping cars with Billy?

And a comment: I'm not so sure you're being fair to Landry's kicking form. It is awful for a soccer style kicker, which most are today. But for a straight-on kicker, it looks fine to me (though I am admittedly no expert on such things). And I find it believable that, under the circumstances, Eric Taylor would settle for a good enough straight on kicker - who he knows and figures is not likely to be a problem for him - rather than search out another option.

(Oh, and I'm sure the good people at DirecTV - of which I am not one - thank you for moving the time/channel plug up to appear before the jump.)

Mark said...

Why is the Riggins/Becky relationship so unforbidden? He has only been outof high school for 6 months or so. Timeline wise he should only be 19 years old. Becky is at least 16years old (she did drive him last night)At most he is no more than four years older than her.

FtonDavid said...

I liked "Killed Myself When I Was Young", thanks for the song name/artist.

Wolly and the Teev said...

Just a correction to the college deal. They show her at BU, BC, Harvard, and Tufts, but the school where she aces the interview and Tami's "dream" school is in fact Tufts. Nowhere else has that view of the Boston skyline.

Eldo Owens said...

Grace IS comic gold but with Coach Taylor at the game and Jules and Tami in Boston, who was taking care of her?

About Angry Necklace Guy, I'm pretty sure I heard Vince call him "C". Does that count?

Trevor said...

Agree with Maxwell re: Tim should/would be attending games. He'd attend the game (on the sideline) and THEN he'd go to work with his brother through the night.

Also, I'm glad Riggins appreciates the beauty of that land and can see a house with a deck, etc. there, but, isn't the "Tim may go quickly down a road of crime" storyline tired?

I believe Tim has grown enough to go on more interviews and work hard to find something to make money...

Andrew Gordon said...

"pasty punter."

Excellent description of Landry.

PY said...

This episode did feel weaker than the previous few. I think it was because it was more of a "lay the groundwork" episode, as Alan says in calling it all about "auditions." But it lacked some dramatic punch as a result. Guess you can't expect the story to reach a high point every episode -- you need development to get there, like this episode.

I'm still baffled by the writers' decision to make Landry the kicker/punter. He flashed enough talent to get playing time on the Dillon Freaking Panthers. He should be a key contributor on the Sorry Ole' Lions. It doesn't make much sense. The only explanation seems to be that he was made kicker to get the kicking lesson from Jess, which seems extremely flimsy in hindsight.

Mark Gilman said...

I'm such a huge fan of this show on so many levels, but this one didn't do it for me because of so many farfetched and nonsensical angles. For one - I brought up the absolute lack of kicking skill Landry demonstrates on this blog weeks ago when he was practicing on the sideline. No one with that form would get a ball to fly 10 yards, never mind "a long field goal" as was described by the play by play guy (who is the same guy that does the Panthers call?). Also, if Buddy wanted to "give another side" in buying time on that radio station because of his disgust with the way the game was being discussed, why was the first thing out of Buddy's play by play guy on his bought and purchased station, a description of the game as the "toilet bowl?". I also agree that Buddy coming in now to help out Eric made no sense as we already had a very supposedly dramatic moment about that earlier in the season. The trip to Boston was mind numbing for me. A whiny girl being lead around a great city by a Mom who was more enthralled with the trappings of the area than her daughter.The whole segment brought the show to a screeching halt. I'm growing weary of teary Amy Teegardin and her character, though if she wants us to groan at her teenage angst, she's doing a good job. Riggins working at the chop shop totally blows away any hope for him and I'll never believe another story angle where it appears he's turning his life around. I have to say, I love the Becky character, but please stop kissing Tim. I almost wish she was older because I think she could definitely help change his ways, but she's still too young and her kissing him (again) seemed like FNL trying to titillate rather than bring any depth to their relationship. Hoping for better things ahead, but I fear that are so many open and soon to be crashing story lines that the second half of the season is going to seem extremely rushed.

belinda said...

"And that might be a good thing, because, Thursday is more of like a sexual night anyways..." speech really, really cracked me up. I think by the end of this season, I'll miss Landry most of all.

I think it's perfectly plausible that the Taylor women took advantage of the trip to Boston and visited both BC and BU. The camera spanned over a clock that said "Boston University" in pretty big letters, so I don't think they were trying to pretend BU was BC, but maybe just to show the whole college vibe of Boston.

I enjoyed it, but I thought this particular side story was kind of irrelevant - since I'm not sure if it showed anything we don't already know about Julie, Tami, or Julie and Tami.

Not sure how they'd do it, since there are so many characters, but I hope we get to see more of the 'new' kids and understand their motivations and hopes and dreams better. I'm still too unfamiliar with them to really really care about them. Like, I feel for Luke, but I don't know him well enough either. I just hope this feeling goes away before the end of the season.

I miss Buddy. It's kind of nice to see him in the swing of things again.

David Lee said...

re: boston scenes, there are also some shots of the MIT campus at the beginning, and they can be seen walking along the stretch of memorial drive by MIT.

Anonymous said...

Well yes, Landry and the band just about made up for some of the other things about the episode that I didn't like. And I loved dinner with recovering mom. It was sweet and sad. She kept trying to talk about the good (presumably before or at least inbetween addictions) times. But sometimes you just can't go back. Everybody was patient with her, but the rest of them didn't really want to go down memory lane with her.

And a nice bit of understated storytelling was when necklace boy visited Vince and Vince told to to "get something to eat." That simple sentence said to me that Vince was the "man of the house," who was filling the fridge and could play host as he saw fit.
-Jim A

Blake said...

On this Friday Night Lights Podcast ( we had an interview with Angry Necklace Guy, aka Calvin Brown. Ernest James is a cool guy. Give a listen and let me know what you think.

Unknown said...

I think my favorite scene was Tim's speech to Billy in Riggins Rigs. Tim believed in the dream of Riggins Rigs. Remember how he told Lyla about his dream of Riggins Rigs and he was so disappointed to find out that Billy had given up on the dream. The emotion was so real.
I also hate that the writers made Tim regress and go back to his old ways. Where is the maturity we saw in Season 3? Was that all because of Lyla? If, so bring her back!

GabbyD said...

i'm not sure he's regressed.

i think the idea of the episode, going by julie and tim's story, is that we should have our own dreams, even tho its hard.

it seems tim now has a dream, a dream that involves ONLY himself. something he lacked in the first 2 seasons. tim want to own that land. moreover, it seems the lesson is, have your personal dream and do anything to achieve it; although for sure that turn to crime part should have plot consequences in the future.

Unknown said...

I think it is great that Tim has a dream of his own.But,unfortunately I think he will realize that there are no short cuts to dreams. Hopefully, when the chop situation comes crashing down college will still be an option for him.

ColHapablap said...

@Mark Gilman

Agreed about the Boston subplot. I think this was the first episode I realized I don't actually like the Julie character. She's really just a whiny teenage-girl-cliche who makes everyone else look better for putting up with her. And that interview scene was just unbearably earnest. I feel like this show gets its charm from healthy doses of humor and testosterone, and removing Tami and Julie from both of those things made it much less tolerable.

Unknown said...

Wow, I am surprised it took you this long to realize that about Julie. It was season 2 for me.

Rebecca Jill said...

I definitely recommend listening to Blake's Friday Night Lights podcast.
There's a great interview with Ernest James, who portrays Calvin Brown.
He's totally different from Calvin Brown and totally loves being on the show, and I love how he talks about his scene with Kyle Chandler.

AC said...

The sweetest part of this episode was the few shots of my alma mater, BU. How fun! I'm guessing the Taylors did the BU/BC/Harvard sweep, and maybe some other smaller area colleges.

The one part of Tami and Julie's conversation that made me grit my teeth was Tami's "I had my dream. I went to a good school, got my degree, met your dad..." line, because I really wish we knew Eric and Tami's history. The above-referenced comment leads me to believe that they met in college, but where? Rice? A UT? SMU? I would love to know how Eric decided to become a coach, and all of that jazz. I know it's not incredibly crucial to the story, but the little hints just make me so curious!

I continue to be amused with the "Luke Lives on a Farm" storyline, just because it's so different from any of the other kids we've seen, but I'm sure it's the situation for a lot of kids in west TX.

erin said...

I really loved the shot of Tim looking at the was so beautiful, I could see why he wanted it.

With Becky and the chop shop being two very bad decisions, I'm better with Becky (if they go that way) because even though i think it's a bad call, i can see why Tim would see her as a life raft. But the chop shop seems dumb all the way around, even to Riggins. I still think he's one of the greatest characters.

I agree about finding Julie really annoying in this subplot, and i wanted it to end sooner.

I like the Vince/Jess chemistry, as i like both those actors. I think ANG is there just to be a rotten apple, but even then i like his interaction with Vince. You can just feel how tenuous that whole situation is.

Still find what's-her-name in Landry's band to have the oddest acting choices.

I was warmed by Coach and the guys at the BBQ place...with the baby! I'm glad the boosters are both being supportive and still a part of the story.

Unknown said...

@VK "The above-referenced comment leads me to believe that they met in college, but where?"

Just an FYI - The episode where Julie got the tatoo indicated they met in HS. Whhile on the side of the road when Tami stopped on the way to getting the tatoo removed, Tami admitted "mama had been a little bit of a wild child" in that she had almost dropped out of HS. She said Eric had been the one who got her to stay in school.

But we know TV writers can change history if they wish...