Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Friday Night Lights: bread, meat, and cheese

Episode 1.8, Crossing the Line

Friday Night Lights is a terrific example of new-era dramas, because stuff happens, a lot of stuff, in every episode. So, in "Crossing the Line," we have Jason confronting Riggins and dumping Lyla, Riggins hooking up with Tyra and having a knock-down, drag-out, up-end-the-big-TV fight with his brother, Smash sweet-talking customers and his mama, and continuing the 'roid fest with the help of a female bodybuilder with as much muscle as Riggins... and Saracen somehow in the middle of a lot of this, wanting a date with Julie. And Julie thinking about it, and her parents having those typical parental moments trying basically to talk her out of it, so that when Julie says yes they radiate a sense of both failure and resignation: I knew this day would come.

That's the bread and meat of this show, the real reactions, the impeccable sets and costuming, the looks and pauses that say so much more than a line of dialog would. And all that's good, but sometimes I wonder.

I wonder about the cheese -- I mean, does Smash have to literally be shifty-eyed? Wouldn't he be smarter than that? No, I guess not, hence the steroids. But sometimes this show makes me cringe, like when the congregration at Smash's small, obviously not-well-off church passes the collection basket to pay for Smash's "SAT prep course," which is another code name for steroids. And then I have to cringe again when the kid actually uses the money to buy the drugs. What, four weeks of steroids are going to be enough to make a change? Or is it just that four weeks of steroids will see him through most of the football season? I can't figure out Smash's logic, probably because there isn't any.

I continue to adore Jason's story and his development, heavenly choirs sang when he dumped Lyla, but I wonder how long that will last. I wonder what will happen to Lyla now that Jason has rejected her, since she has spent her entire adolescent existence planning on becoming Mrs. Jason Street, wife of the football star. Clearly, the latter half of that identity has been off the table since Jason's accident, and now it's looking like the former isn't gonna happen either. This is exactly the kind of pressure that a girl like Lyla should thrive on, though. If the writers have her crumble, I will be most ticked. I won't be surprised if she crawls back to Tim for "comfort." I hope he kicks her ass to the door.

The Taylors had much reduced roles in this episode, but that was OK. I adored the Coach's speech to his daughter during their ping-pong not-game, so brutal and so honest and so "Ohmygod, Dad, shut up!" The chemistry between the Taylors and their daughter is fantastic, which was spectacularly contrasted with the barely functional relationship between the two Riggins brothers when they all sat down to dinner. The Riggins were like aliens wandering an extraterresterial landscape in the Taylor home.

Which brings me to Saracen, who'll mumble and stumble over every word when he's talking to a girl but can lay it on the line for Smash: If you lose this job, I lose my job, too, because I put you in for this. I thought we were friends. Saracen may not be the most articulate guy, but he's clearly not stupid, either. I wanted to shake him and say, "Don't listen to Smash, he treats girls like trash! You know better than that!" But I have a sense that he already knows that, and if he even thinks about telling Julie "what she wants," Julie will either a) laugh at him or b) walk away, or possibly c) a), then b). Julie can hold her own.

Can't wait for the big date! I suppose it's ridiculous that the Julie-Saracen thing is what has me most engaged, for now. I'm looking forward to seeing where Jason goes now, and what happens to Lyla, Tim, and Tyra. But the Smash storyline seems the most rote -- I foresee 'roid rages, fallout, consequences of bad decisions. Maybe the writers will throw us a curve and Smash will get away with it. I doubt it, though, way too policially incorrect to show illegal drugs actually benefitting someone, even though everyone who uses that type of drugs does so specifically to improve their performance. Come to think of it, that's about the only thing they could do that would redeem this story. We know steroids work, and we know hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes use them and get away with it every day. Maybe Smash will be one of them, but he'll still have some consequences to deal with.

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