Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Friday Night Lights: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and strange

Episode 1.9, Full Hearts

In Asian cuisines, the success of many dishes hinges on how well they balance each of the five tastes. Friday Night Lights is the television equivalent of a perfectly prepared and presented szechuan banquet.

They're toning down a lot of the early quirks that made the show somewhat off-putting: the close-ups aren't as extreme, prolonged, or frequent, and the documentary-style jerky camera stuff is reserved for travel shots, practice, or games. Yes, they've taken the edge off a bit, but if it brings more eyes to the show, and those eyes stay to watch, that would be a good thing. I'm not complaining.

I'm especially not complaining because this episode surprised me more than once, without betraying a single character or anything even approaching a wrong note*. The fact that so many stories were advanced or resolved in this single episode is a jaw-dropping accomplishment. (I contrast this program to the two "blockbuster" movies we've rented recently, which resemble nothing more than bloated fish carcasses by comparison.)

I liked that Tim and Lyla's affair came to light, and that everyone around them punished them for it. Adults (especially those without children of their own) forget how harshly judgemental teenagers are. Even if our culture glorifies adultery (Desperate Housewives, etc), these kids know that Lyla and Tim hurt Jason terribly, and deserved to catch some flak for it. Maybe not as much crap as the pair actually had to endure, but at least some comeuppance.

I was surprised, too, that Smash's big sister figured out that he's doing steroids. What a relief that someone with a brain is looking out for him, and will hopefully prevent him from self-destructing. Yes, the "daddy had feet of clay" storyline was a bit hackneyed, but I was willing to forgive it because I love the Williams as a family, and because the writers have established the characters just enough for me to buy that flight-from-the-hood story.

There's just too much to talk about. How strange is it that Buddy Garrity teamed up successfully with Tami (albeit at the mayor's suggestion -- complete with hilarious wardrobe recommendations), and how fantastic that Buddy actually took Tami's advice and didn't try to fix Lyla's problem when she finally admitted it? Please, show, don't make me like Buddy Garrity -- but I'm OK with despising him a little less.

Jason and Lyla, Jason and Coach, Jason and Tyra -- who is on pace to take over Julie's number two spot on my favorite female characters list -- Jason and his O-line; every scene a struggle of one kind or another. The guy is not a saint and he's not a jerk, either. I do hope that he can forgive Tim soon, but I'm hoping he freezes Lyla out permanently. Or at least for a good long time.

Coach Taylor didn't have a single sustained scene, which highlights yet again the essential ensemble nature of this program. It's not a Kyle Chandler vehicle, although he is very much the lynchpin of the proceedings. And even though he didn't have any extended dialog, the words the writers do give him say plenty: You don't have to be alone with this, son, for example, or the fantastic sarcastic You want a beer?

Which brings me to, at last, the lovely beginnings between Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor, and the awkward perfection of their first disasterous date, and the even more glorious, yet still somehow awkward, first kiss: (sigh). I love these two kids. Saracen caring for his grandmother really is the "real Matt Saracen," and how weirdly lucky it was for Julie to get to see that. Saracen sucks at bluster and can't pull off the "QB1" schtick no matter how much he tries -- for once Landry's advice (ditch it, play up the vulnerability) was spot on.

Coming right round again, though, I have to say I think that Landry was my favorite in this episode; how can anyone resist a guy who exhorts you not to blame the couture?

Thank you, writers and producers, for making this show about more than a football team and their coach. The surrounding characters round out all the flavors.

(*) Lyla putting a supposedly hot-from-the-oven pan of muffins directly on the laminate counter -- which in real life would scorch -- was the kind of gaffe I'm quite willing to forgive.


Curtis said...

Do you think the Garritys would really have a laminate counter? I am just not seeing that. It would have to be at least Corian, or maybe granite. I don't think Buddy's that cheap.

Joan said...

Definitely laminate; you can see the black seam joining the top and front face; it's a very sharp corner. Corian or other manufactured materials have a more rounded edge.

I don't think it's a question of Buddy being cheap as Dillon not being the sort of town where Corian countertops are required to keep up appearances.