Sunday, October 21, 2007

Friday Night Lights, 2.2 & 2.3: in spite of themselves

First of all, before I get into details about anything, I have to say that whoever writes the promo spots for NBC should be fired. If possible, the promo staff should be retroactively fired to before this season's episode promos started airing, so we could start over with promos that do not actively turn you off from the shows you formerly loved.

Click here to read the rest.

At this point, anything I'm watching on NBC is in spite of the promos, not because of them. Of course, the only things I'm regularly watching NBC are FNL and Journeyman (more on that later), but the promos spots for these two shows in particular are horrendous. I can just see the thought-process there: What are the most exquisitely painful plot points we can highlight, and how can we make sure everyone knows that their favorite characters are either in peril or miserable, or -- jackpot! -- both?

Seriously, NBC: knock it off, because you're making it harder and harder for me to want to watch these shows, which is a shame because when I finally overcome my promo-based aversion and fire up the TiVO, I adore them just as much as I ever did, if not more. So please, stop it.

2.2 - Bad Ideas
I loved this episode's title, it was so fitting. So many bad ideas, so little time. It seems every single character is caught in a downward spiral this season, the only difference is their relative velocities as they hurtle towards their collective doom. I'm not kidding about that, either -- everyone is in trouble.

The Taylors, together, are struggling with being separated and the feeling that their family is coming apart at the seams. Neither one is over-reacting to the stresses around them, which are considerable. Tami is completely overwhelmed by newborn, cranky Grace, and teenaged, rebellious Julie. The house is a disaster and Julie is not doing anything at all, it seems, to help out. I think it's hard to realize how alone Tami is in Dillon, in spite of the fact that she has a daughter. Her contacts at school are exactly that, school contacts, and she doesn't have another woman friend she can call up and say, "Hey, you can watch Grace for an hour so I can get some shopping done?", or anything else, for that matter. She should be able to leave Grace with Julie, and in fact she should be actively trying to get Julie to engage with her little sister, but Julie is so wrapped up in her own misery right now she's practically unreachable. Of course, if Julie would pitch in at home and help her mom, she might not feel so isolated, but she doesn't see it that way, and reacts (as teenagers typically do) by withdrawing.

When Glen, the science teacher who's covering for Tami while she's on her maternity leave, stops by with a box of files to review with her, he inadvertently becomes Tami's local support system. I don't think he minds, but he does know that he's out of his depth. He was right to ask what Tami was thinking, out walking with Grace in 105 degree heat -- believe me, when the thermometer reads 105, it's a lot hotter on the sidewalk, in the sun, and both mother and daughter were set up for dehydration. Tami should know better -- Tami does know better, but she's not thinking very clearly at the moment. Tami is not at all interested in Glen as a man, but I think it's very possible that Glen has a crush on Tami, even though he'd never do a thing about it, and I loved that he was finally able to get her to admit that living apart from Eric was her idea, and it was a stupid one. I'm relieved that Tami finally asked for help, and I think that it was OK to ask Glen, but I wish she wouldn't stop there -- she needs to keep reaching out and getting support, and as a counselor, she should know that. Isolation is terrible, and having a new baby is tremendously isolating even if you have other kids!

Back to Julie, her attraction to the Swede finally overtakes her impulse to behave decently towards Saracen, which has been waning for some time now; she finally gets up the nerve to give the "it's not you, it's me," speech, but doing it makes her feel worse, not better. She gets over that pretty quickly, though -- only to be patted on the head by the Swede when she sees him at the pool! Sorry, but the Swede is a creep. He knows Julie is only 16 years old and his flirting with her is completely icky. He has to be in his 20s, and he's way too old for Julie, and yet he pursues her. Personally, at this point I think Lois and Saracen should get together, because they've both been badly used by Julie and could bond over that. Plus, Lois seems like a genuinely good girl, as opposed to the brat that Julie is becoming.

Moving onto Saracen, he made his best attempt to keep Julie, and keep her happy, but she had already moved on. He's struggling with the new coach's attitude, and his grandmother is as dotty as ever. Julie dumping him will ultimately turn out to be a good thing for him, I think, as will the arrival of his grandmother's live-in nurse. It's a shame that she's (so far) a stereotype feisty bitch, but she does seem to know what's she talking about regarding the care his grandmother needs. Again, this will, in the long term, turn out to be a good thing for Matt, as he won't have to worry so much about what's going on at home. High school juniors should worry about SATs, grades, and girls, and not whether or not Grandma is bathing at the neighbor's house again. Still, transitions are hard, and Matt has a lot of new situations to accustom himself to.

The Tyra/Landry storyline got stupider, which I did not think possible, with the introduction of the Lost Watch Issue. Stupid, stupid, stupid, but still, it forced the two characters together in an intimate setting, and gave Landry a believable setting in which to finally profess his love for Tyra. Two important things happened then: first, she believed him, and second, she was surprised, because she had never allowed herself to see it. Landry was not that good at hiding his feelings for Tyra, but she was great at not recognizing them for what they were. Now it's all out there. Tyra's subsequent confession to Landry shows what a great couple they are -- he's not sorry he did it and would do it again, for her; she wishes she had done it, both for the satisfaction and to spare him -- and she was equally believable. I liked that Tyra didn't jump into saying she loves Landry, because she doesn't know how she feels about him -- but she knows she feels enough for him to sleep with him, and the way that all works out was pretty much OK.

Jason Street: team mascot, or quarterback coach? Well, since the new coach has such an emphasis on the running game and Smash in particular, Jason isn't left with much to do. But he has new hope since he can make a fist now, something he wasn't able to do before. He's disappointed when the doctor insists, for the nth time, that he won't walk again. One of Jason's rugby teammates tells him about some experimental stem cell surgery they're doing in Mexico (forcibly reminding us of the episode's title.) Later, Jason runs into Tami as she's leaving Glen's office, and tells her that in his recurring dream, she tells him to get up and walk, and he does. He thanks her; Tami is touched but concerned, but Jason is radiantly hopeful.

Lyla's still a Jesus freak, but her prayers become less confident as she watches Tim Riggins macking with a rally girl on the other side of the cafeteria. Riggins is still messing up in practice and calling the coach's wrath down upon himself. The two are brought together when Buddy, Lyla's dad, overdoes it at the pep rally -- moved from his dealership out to a rival booster's ranch -- and collapses in a drunken heap. Riggins helps Lyla get her dad to his generic apartment, and the two share a (non-physical) moment. These two have chemistry, but Lyla knows that going back to Tim would be very, very bad for her, and resists. Tim, for his part, is still in love with her, and I'm not sure what it would take for him to not be.

Coming back around to Coach Taylor, he's struggling in his position at TMU. He's low man on the totem pole, and as such he's assigned the unpleasant task of ferrying an unrepentant player to a hearing on ethics charges. Taylor gives the obnoxious player an earful on how his selfishness and arrogance are letting the team down, but the player scores one on Taylor, asking him what the hell he's doing in Austin when he has a new baby at home in Dillon. Since the player smartens up and sincerely apologizes, and Taylor steps in and says they'll make sure this guy straightens up, the player ends up with only a 3-game suspension. When the head coach congratulates Taylor on his accomplishment, Eric realizes that this is the way it's going to be: he's the guy that gets to put out these fires, because he can pull it off, but he's not going to have any chance to change the culture there that leads to these problems in the first place, because he has no influence there. Tami says he has to make himself indispensable, but that's the kind of thing that happens over years of experience, and how frustrating it must be for Taylor to be shuttled over to a position of no real responsibility after guiding his high school team's every move on their way to the state championship.

In short: no one's happy, but the stuff that's happening makes sense. The only really egregious thing was the Lost Watch business, but Tyra and Landry are doing OK in spite of it -- Landry, hysterically, asks "his" rally girl if she thinks everyone is capable of evil; before the bubblehead can answer, Tyra whisks him away. I wish that Tami would sit Julie down and admit to her that this bad idea was hers, and that she needs Julie's help -- that would go a long way towards reconciling Julie to what's going on in their home, but alas, that doesn't happen, and things go from bad to worse.

2.3, Are You Ready for Friday Night?
Easily could've been title, "Bad Ideas, continued."

The high points of the episode, for me, surprisingly, were all about Landry and Tyra: Waking in the morning, Landry shushing Tyra before she says something that "will undoubtedly ruin the most perfect night of my life;" Tyra climbing out of Landry's window, seen but unremarked upon by Landry's father. Landry's dad asking him if he's seeing any girls, and not pressing when Landry says he's not. Later, Landry's dad goes to Applebee's for lunch, and Tyra's his waitress. The "So, are you dating my son or what?" is too complicated for Tyra, and she takes a minute to think about why she hangs around with Landry, and in describing him to his father, she realizes that maybe she should love him, even if she doesn't, quite yet. So when she climbs back in the window, later, we know exactly why, and we can enjoy that these two have each other for at least a little while before everything goes all to hell (next week's episode promos reveal that the body was found.)

Unfortunately, some clunky Lost Watch foreshadowing was shoe-horned into these scenes, but since they launched that particular plot line, I guess they can't just leave it dangling.

Coach Taylor really doesn't like his job. He's working with a new young player who's having trouble with a particular play, just not getting it; Taylor is frankly appalled when he is directed to cut the boy loose. It's one thing to cut a high school kid, but at a football school, what are the odds that cutting the kid will mean that he loses his scholarship, and his chance to get an education? Taylor doesn't want to do it, and even asks if he has to do it, which is kind of weaselly; I'd assume he'd know already that was part of his job, but we never actually see him tell the kid he's cut.

Meanwhile, Eric is keeping tabs on what's happening back in Dillon, where Buddy is feeding him a line about how the new coach, McGregor, is brutal, and everything is falling apart. It's true the team spirit is at an all time low, as Smash is the center of attention and enjoying it, not giving anyone else credit for anything. It's so bad that other members of the team prevail upon Saracen to talk to Smash about his attitude, but inarticulate Matt was probably not the best choice to go up against smooth-talking Smash, who says it's all about Saracen being jealous because he's not captain anymore, and other assorted trash talk. Saracen insists that's not it, but Smash blows him off, and all the other players are even more steamed.

Riggins shows up at practice hungover, and ends up passing out when the coach responds with his usual draconian extra-drills approach; he ends up hospitalized for the better part of the day until Buddy Garrity, of all people, signs him out. Lyla stops by to visit, to repay the kindness he showed in helping her with her father after the pep rally incident, and she invites to Riggins to her church.

Jason Street, meanwhile, is trying to get Riggins to shape up but is constantly being denigrated by McGregor. During the season opener, nothing goes as planned, and the team is deadlocked at 0-0 until McGregor gives a play directly to Smash, who runs it in for a touchdown. Throughout the game, Street had tried to make suggestions to break the deadlock, but McGregor blows him off, saying he doesn't have time to listen to advice from the team mascot. On the field, Saracen loses it at the sight of Smash's grandstanding, and attacks him; the whole team ends up out there, trying to pull Matt off Smash. All the women in the stands look on, appalled; Eric watches from the sidelines, thinking: What the hell has this guy done to my team?

Julie wasn't even at the game, it seems; she's hanging out the Swede and his pot-smoking college friends, talking about politics and the environment and all those grown-up topics; Julie tosses off a remark about global warming, and everyone appreciates how smart and funny she is. Julie passes on the joint. Meanwhile, Tami is leaving messages on Julie's cell phone that it's 2AM... eventually we see Julie parked with the Swede, in front of the Taylor's house; they're making out. Tami sees them through the window and storms out, and demands that Julie get in the house. Julie refuses, and asks the Swede to take her away. Showing an ounce of sense for the first time, he refuses, "That would be kidnapping." Still, Tami ends up literally dragging Julie out of the van, saying she's not grown up and rid of Tami yet. Julie says they got rid of her when her dad went to Austin and Tami had Grace, which gets her a slap in the face; she runs into the house, crying. We don't get to see whether Tami and the Swede had words, but I would've really liked to hear them.

After the game, Erik meets with Buddy Garrity at his dealership; Buddy looks like he fell asleep face-first into his paperwork. Buddy starts selling Eric on the idea of coming back to Dillon, citing how McGregor is messing up the team, but then smoothly moving on to how Eric's family is struggling. Eric gets home, Tami confesses that she slapped Julie, and then she completely breaks down. (Emmy reel #2 for Connie Britton.) Eric ends up back at the dealership, shaking Buddy's hand and saying he hopes he won't regret this. Now, this is a sign of how desperate the situation is, because Eric Taylor knows that Buddy Garrity is not a straight-up kind of guy. Buddy's not totally sleazy, but he's not completely trustworthy, either. Why would Eric do this? Another factor to consider: Taylor doesn't realize just how out of the loop Buddy is. Does Eric realize that Buddy has been pushed out of the Panthers' Booster inner circle, and that he doesn't weild as much influence as he once used to? We don't know, but chances are, Eric doesn't realize that; if he did, he might have been more hesitant to enter into this Faustian bargain with the disgraced and displaced car salesman.

Meanwhile, at the Saracen house, the new girl is helping with Grandma but not doing Matt's laundry, an issue I can see both sides of. It's kind of obnoxious to do everyone else's laundry without telling Matt beforehand that she wasn't going to do his, too, especially since it's not that much extra work to throw Matt's clothes in with the others. Doing laundry for one person is a pain in the butt, you end up with three or four really small loads depending on how you sort it. So I'm thinking the nurse is going to be a world-class jerk until after the game, when Matt trudges in, abraded and depressed, and then she's actually nice to him. I liked the vibe there, which was much more big-sister/caretaker than romantic, especially her singing the song her mother used to sing her when she got hurt when she was little. It could go either way, but for now I'd rather not see Matt get romantically involved with anyone. That kids need to rest his bruised psyche.

Riggins takes up Lyla on her church offer, and we get to see a huge mega-church production with all sorts of singing and carrying-on. I don't think it was disrespectful to show this, as I believe it was accurate, but at the same time, I don't like that kind of ostentatious, revival meeting "service." Riggins is unreadable in these scenes, but later he goes to Lyla's bedroom as she's undressing for bed, and tells her he thinks he felt something. I honestly couldn't tell whether or not he meant it or was just trying to get Lyla to sleep with him again; when he kisses her, it would seem that we should go with "ruse", but I'm still not sure. Lyla is, though, and kicks him out: "Did you think I would fall for that?"

Riggins is a mess, at home, drinking, when Street rolls up and tosses a beer bottle at his house, screaming at him to come out. Jason's little speech has just the right amount of inarticulate rage, as he defends his coaching ability while insisting that he and Riggins end their "so-called friendship." Riggins just lets Street rant until Jason gets to the part about going to Mexico for the surgery, and then stops him: "Wait a minute. Mexico?" Next thing you know, both boys are in Street's truck, and it's road trip time. Hilarity ensues: "Do you have a map?" "I have a map," followed by Riggins attempting to give Street a beer. When Street declines, Riggins says, but we're going to Mexico! Street replies: "We're still in Texas, you idiot."

Previews for next week are ominous, with the body's discovery and at least one of the boys getting arrested, and Tami's joyous "Guess who's home?" immediately deflated by Eric's concerned "You mean I don't have a job?"

As I said, the promo guys are killing me. The show, on the other hand, is holding up remarkably well. I know there's hate out there, hate for the Landry/Tyra storyline, and now there's probably hate for the Eric/Buddy handshake, and what that portends. I said in my write-up of the first episode that I wanted Eric to stick it out for a season, because I didn't see how he could do otherwise and ever expect to get a job, but then I didn't foresee Buddy Garrity getting involved in the process. Buddy needs the Panthers even more (sadly) than he needs his family, and a cornered man will do whatever it takes to survive, so I'm not putting anything past Buddy Garrity's capabilities. But it's pretty obvious that things are going to get worse before they get better. The question is, will anyone be left watching by the time things start turning around? Will the show even still be on the air by that time? God, I hope so.


Curtis said...

Haven't seen Episode 2.3 yet, so this is just 2.2.

1. Was it just me, or did I think that Eric was up for the head coaching job at TMU? What is he, linebackers coach? I don't get it. There's no reason for him to walk away from Dillon for a subordinate position. Argh. (Of course, this has everything to do with winding up Season One and not thinking there would be a Season Two, and of course Eric will come back.)

2. Someone ought to tell Julie to snap the hell out of it.

3. Matt needs him some rally girl lovin'.

4. No love for Buddy Garrity? Poor Buddy. Poor, poor, Buddy. Nobody else but Buddy would throw a drunken fit over not getting to host the pep rally. His decline has been the most fun thing to watch so far this year.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, something that sets this show apart from others is that the teleplays are written but not really rehearsed and are very flexible. Actors that did a special Friday Night Lights production panel at AFF called it "liberating" that they didn't have rehearsals, didn't have marks, weren't given lights to stay in or look at. Weird. I have NO IDEA how they make it work.