Thursday, March 22, 2007

"They got some top notch ballet-ers.": Friday Night Lights

So I forgot to remind you all that this show was back tonight because, honestly, I forgot this was back tonight (all the more reason to send me screeners, NBC; all the more reason). Fortunately, TiVo remembered, and I was treated to an exemplary episode that encapsulated just what makes this show so great and a few of the things that keep it from weekly perfection.

For starters, the episode had a strong storyline set among the Taylor family. Coach Taylor found himself with an offer for his dream job, and it meant that he was going to have to move away from Dillon to do so. While his wife was supportive, his daughter was not. The episode strongly implied that the family has moved around a lot (which wouldn't seem to jibe with prior statements on the show that Coach Taylor was Jason Street's coach for many years), and Julie made it clear to her dad (at the father-daughter dance, no less) that this was the first place she had felt at home, and that while she has feelings for Matt, that sentiment was also keeping her from leaving. What I love about the portrayal of the Taylor family is that it's a family based on trust and respect, but it's also a family that occasionally messes up, where the members don't always match up to their ideal selves. We've gotten hints that Tami's childhood is the sort of thing she's trying to avoid for Julie, but both parents occasionally have to step in and play the parent card, though they're clearly loathe to do so. The gradual realization over the season that their daughter is becoming a woman has been well-played, and the sense of sadness Coach Taylor feels that she's growing up, mixed with his pride at raising a fine young woman was palpable. Granted, neither of those emotions is exactly original, but both are certainly HONEST, and that makes the show that much better to watch.

The other main storyline (though, honestly, there are always so many stories floating around an episode of this show that I don't know which are the most important ones at all) featured Jason Street finally beginning to rejoin life in Dillon. Since his injury, he's been forced to cope with his new paralysis. At first, it seemed he would relate to the world through sports and quad-rugby, but after he was told that he needed more training time, it seems he'll relate to the world through the small town he calls home. The show almost seems to be setting him up to be a mentor figure (which wouldn't be all bad at all), especially to Matt, and the moment when Street, Matt, Riggins and Smash all got drunk on the football field, followed by an impromptu scrimmage where Street showed Matt the play that would make him a better quarterback was perfectly observed in how it regards the way small-town kids engage with their universe. Oh, and here's hoping we get more from Alexandra Holden (wondering where you know her from? It's Friends) as tattoo girl. Tattoo girl's got a more adult, sexier chemistry with Jason, the sort he just can't have with Lyla, who's clearly the love of his youth but nothing more (and that's increasingly clear -- the show has even shifted its main relationship focus to Matt and Julie).

Meanwhile, Tyra and Lyla continued to have stories that oddly paralleled each other, as Lyla continued down her spiral of not trusting men (either her fiance or her dad, who both gave her new reasons to find them dishonest) and Tyra continued to climb out of the spiral she dug for herself. Lyla's story was mostly played in the background of this episode, but I liked her scene at the car dealership (and, sidenote, how hilarious was the cheesy Buddy Garrity commercial we caught snippets of on Tyra's mom's TV). Tyra's story was much more prominent and was much more interesting (especially her mom taking her newfound interest in bettering her life to be an indictment of her parenting), but it wrapped up too easily -- suddenly everything's all right for these women again? I get that the show is establishing this as a pattern -- the Collette women patch things up until they have another falling out -- but the resolution was a little too easy here. Might have been better to let the frayed ends continue over the next few weeks.

Finally, there was Riggins and the next-door neighbor. I don't have much else to say about this plot point, except to say that the kid they hired would work fine on any other show, but on this show, he feels too TV-ish. He's precocious and always ready with a laugh line and just too. . .false. His mom, while an interesting enough spin on the single mom, is also just there to give Riggins something to do, and the too-obvious go-to of the two falling into bed was a frustrating choice for a show that rarely makes them.

But that stuff was minimal in the episode, which was uniformly excellent everywhere else. There are only three episodes left this season, and they'll all play out over the next three weeks. If you haven't gotten on board this show yet, you can quite easily. It's not hard to follow, and I think you'll love it.

(Extra bonus link: A story on how the filming of the show changes up all of the normal TV rules by giving more power to the directors and actors.)

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