Friday, October 12, 2007

"Do you think that all human beings are capable of evil?": Friday Night Lights

"What is this?!" David said to me last week as he watched the season premiere of Friday Night Lights for the first time.

"What do you mean?"

"It's all happy. Everyone's bouncing around happily. It's wrong."

He was talking about the opening credits, but he soon launched into some other criticisms of the show that, frankly, I hadn't thought of (many of which I simply didn't agree with). (And after that, we talked about how Dillon must have a big sign of Riggins outside of it where a constant tally of how many women in the town he's slept with is updated daily.) I started to see some of these criticisms reflected elsewhere (over at Alex Epstein's place, for instance), and I started to wonder if I WAS being too harsh on the show, if I needed to overcompensate this week and say just how great so much of the show is and so on and so on. Sadly, this second episode was a step down from the premiere and full of stuff that just didn't ring true. None of it is at the level of Tyra and Landry's murder and cover-up (that's the sort of thing that could drag the whole show down if it devours the series), and most of it is easily forgotten in the rear-view mirror, but in the moment, some of it just sucks to sit through.

Let's talk a little about Coach Taylor being off in Austin. My greatest problem with this is that it's false drama. The show isn't going to send its central character off into another town for the entire season (and, honestly, if they don't have him back coaching the Panthers by episode five, I'll be very surprised). To that end, the only thing we're wondering about is why, exactly, he's going to leave TMU and go back to Dillon, and the show has made THAT easy for us too. EVERYthing's falling apart without Coach Taylor, and the new coach is a real hardass whom no one likes. The Taylor family is a mess with Tami trying to deal with a new baby and crippling sadness and her daughter, who's out being a normal 16-year-old girl in every way that implies. What's more, Coach Taylor is pretty unhappy in his job at TMU, finding himself the low man on the totem pole. I could buy one of these sending Taylor back to Dillon, maybe even two. But all three together just create a situation where the audience can fill in the rest of the storyline for the show. That makes the inevitable return of Coach Taylor to Dillon something of an anticlimax. Why not make the new coach someone everyone rather likes (Epstein's suggestion)? Or why not have Eric absolutely love his new job but realize that his family is more important than that? By just changing even one piece of this equation, you get some real drama that won't lead to a foregone conclusion.

I DO like that Coach Taylor is finding himself having to babysit players but still being able to argue for them to continue playing, even after they flaunt the rules. When the head coach tells him that he must have been a great high school coach, it's a compliment, but it's also the kind of slap to his confidence Coach Taylor doesn't need right now.

I'm still seeing complaints about Lyla's conversion to Christianity (with some saying that the conversion is only because of her strained family situation), but I'm still liking it. It seems likely to me that a girl like this might try to find something INCREDIBLY stable to center her life when her family crumbles, she loses her boyfriend and she can't stop looking over at the bad boy she swore she wrote off last year. I could see Lyla deciding to go gung-ho for some sort of creed after that, and, to be honest, I've known a lot of people who turn to religion after something in their lives goes sour. Even more interesting to me is how she's interacting with her father, who is falling apart more and more with every week. Buddy Garrity was my least favorite character on the show last season, but I'm liking him more and more this season as a pitiful drunk who can't reconnect with his children, who deeply resent him (with reason).

Julie's storyline is another one I'm finding mostly believable. Her flirtation with the Swede is the sort of thing a girl who wants to try being bad for a little while would do, and her tearful breakup with Matt was completely realistic (I also love the push-pull you can see on the Swede's face every time he looks at her -- he really wants to kiss her but knows he probably shouldn't). I'm not as sold on Matt's new live-in nurse. If she's just someone for him to talk with while his life is going nuts, fine. But if the show tries to steer a love connection between the two, I'm not sure I'll buy it at all. Still, it was nice to see Grandma Saracen again (and she got an awesome tiara).

Then there's Tami's story. Connie Britton is selling her character's depression incredibly well, and the scenes where she desperately tried to figure out what was wrong with her baby worked too. I was also willing to go with the baby coming along to school (because that sort of thing happens), but I'm less sure about this science teacher character. He seems less of a fully developed character and more of a plot point, a way for the show to drive home how much Tami and Coach Taylor lean on each other and how lost they are without each other.

Then we come to Tyra and Landry. I'm still deeply disturbed by how wrongheaded this storyline is. I'm also deeply disturbed by how Jesse Plemons and Adrienne Palicki are acting the crap out of it. I mean. . .Plemons was pretty amazing in this episode, and I see why the writers wanted to give him more to do. That STILL doesn't mean I believe a SECOND of it. And why are the writers simultaneously doing the "Landry tries out for football" storyline? It just muddles things up and takes the storyline even further into the realms of unbelievability. Furthermore, having Tyra come to Landry at night and make love to him further reeks of the sexism this storyline can't quite rid itself of (I mean. . .this is Landry's reward? what?). I don't know how much further I can give the show the benefit of the doubt on this plot point. Ah well.

Also, Jason Street better not be cured. Because I'm out for sure then.


David Sims said...


Tyra: I love you, Street. Wanna threesome with me and Riggins?

Street: Yes. Yes I do.


Coach Taylor: With my new powers as President of the United States, I hereby pardon you, Landry and Tyra, from your murder charge.

Buddy Garrity: And since I am now a Justice of the Peace, I order all these events be stricken from the record and NEVER SPOKEN OF AGAIN.

Tyra: I love you, Landry!

Carrie said...

I agree with so many of your criticisms and praises, Todd. It is really REALLY disturbing how compelling Landry and Tyra's scenes are. In the moment, you're watching them, riveted. Then the scene ends and you have to pause the Tivo because what you watched was so amazing and yet it still feels so WRONG, you have to pause and reconcile that within yourself. It's such a strange feeling that I've never experienced while watching TV before. Plemmons and Palicki are doing a great job. Too bad the story sucks so bad. As for the sexism inherent in the storyline, I don't even want to go there yet until this story develops a little more, but it is definitely troubling.

I'm loving the Julie storyline. Everything about that is realistic. I've been that high school girl. I'm also loving the Lyla story. You're right, it makes perfect sense she would turn to religion when everything else around her is falling apart.

I'm having a hard time understanding what's going on with Riggins. Is he acting out at practice because Coach Taylor is gone? I did love his and Lyla's scene together while helping Buddy. Buddy Garrity. Who knew he could be so compelling?

The less said about the new maid, the better. That actress was on One Tree Hill, and was terrible there. Now she's on FNL with a horrible fake accent and probably going to get it on with Matt? Yikes.

Street isn't going to get cured. NO WAY. I can't believe the writers have gotten that stupid. Also: if you heard about an experimental procedure in MEXICO, wouldn't that raise some red flags? I mean, experimental procedure in like Sweden, maybe. But Mexico? Yikes.

David Sims said...

BTW, I actually dunno what to do with this show. It's not even the body-dumping storyline, for me. Everything seems a bit off, almost as if they're surprised they got to come back for another season.

Taylor being gone is quite irritating as forced drama. I wish they'd gone about it a different way.

This is still one of the most compelling things on television. I think they could hammer out the kinks, and I think they can recover from the dead-guy dumping. I'm just not sure they will.