Sorry, Friday Night Lights, but Wednesday (Nov. 13) night’s episode just wasn’t a very good follow-up to one of the season’s best hours.
[Spoilers to follow. Unless my disappointment was already too much spoiler. In which case, I apologize profusely.]
"It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy" was a strong episode on many levels, but it went from "good" to "spectacular" with the escalation of Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor’s rekindled relationship. When QB2 and Coach’s Daughter went from friends to lovers and shared a series of cute and yearning looks, it rekindled a duo that many (most?) fans missed for an entire ill-conceived season. It was like saying, "Yup, all is right in Dillon, Texas, or at least as right as a little pre-marital teenage sex can make things."
So how did Friday Night Lights carry over that momentum? By delivering a new episode without a single second of Saracen and with Julie appearing only in a single shot at a football game, almost a cruel joke. It’s my assumption that Zach Gilford, rocking a relatively busy movie career, had other places to be, but if the writers knew his big screen production schedule, they’d have been better served delaying the Julie-on-Matt lovin’ til they could deliver some some follow-through in subsequent episodes.
It wasn’t just that the thing I most wanted to see developed and expanded was absent from Tuesday’s episode. It was that too much of the episode was wasted on characters we’d either never seen before or who we [I?] never really wanted to see again. The episode was too much generic filler and not enough Friday Night Lights.
Yeah, I guess I remembered that Buddy Garrity had two kids besides Lyla, kids who bolted to the Pacific Northwest with his ex-wife and the hippie. Did we need to see them again? And once they returned, did they have to be such obnoxious twits? It was a weirdly disconnected arc where Buddy and Lyla drove around with Younger Boy Garrity and Younger Girl Garrity and everybody complained and Younger Girl Garrity discussed her pubic hair and ultimately everything was healed thanks to the soothing powers of Dillon Panthers football. It was a great episode for Brad Leland as Buddy, but with the profuse sweating and uncontrolled shaking did anybody else think that the Garrity family was actually going to be healed at Buddy’s bedside after a major coronary event?
At least the Other Garritys had previously existed, even if their presence accomplished nothing.
How , though, to justify a quarter of the episode being dedicated to Mr. JaMarcus Hall, a Dillon Panther who had never been previously mentioned or spotted. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent three years wondering two key things about the Dillon Panthers: I’ve wondered how they managed to win a State Title if we only ever spent time with four players on the team and I’ve wondered how a small public school close to the border has managed to consistently field a team with so few minority players. So JaMarcus, Riggins’ replacement at fullback, served two purposes. But what a horrible way to introduce a character I somehow suspect we’ll never see again.
The thing that makes me sad is that somebody in the FNL writers room probably thought they were subverting stereotypes by making an African-American family that failed to see the value in football. I honestly, though, thought it was supposed to be a joke when JaMarcus’ dad mocked Dillon for its obsession with football and then subsequently got to be won over after exactly one evening watching the gridiron action. That’s bad drama. And it’s even worse drama if JaMarcus doesn’t see his role increase in subsequent weeks, if it turns out he was only a character created to occupy time in a Saracen-free episode. I’m also inclined to ask if he’s been sneaking onto the football teams in every one of the 10 cities the family has moved to, or if he’s just the latest person — following in Landry and Santiago’s footsteps — to find out that it’s surprisingly easy to get on the field for the Panthers without ever having played football before.
I’m not sure if the JaMarcus storyline — redeemable only for the great stuff with Coach and Mrs. Coach, playing out the latest beats in their never-ending clash between football and admin — bugged me more or less than the way that Jason Street’s exit — we knew it was coming — was orchestrated through two characters we’d never heard of before and will never hear of again. At a football game, Street had a "chance" run-in with a former Panthers star on the verge of going pro, who "just happened" to be hanging out with his possible future agent. Said agent convinced Street that unlike coaching and unlike selling used cars and unlike flipping houses, the perfect outlet for a former jock is becoming an agent. And this, presumably, will be the life Jason Street leaves Dillon to try to live. Maybe next week someone will sit Street down and point out to him just how few sports agents there are out there without a college degree (most have law degrees, though not all). My problem here is that while Smash’s exit a few weeks back was facilitated through the hard work of Coach Taylor, Smash’s friends and Mama Smash, Street will have gotten his inspiration from two non-characters, introduced only as crutches to ease his exit. That’s bad and inorganic writing.
So that’s no Matt and Julie, with five non-characters driving much of the action. There was also hardly any Tyra, who showed up only to hear Landry say that he had a new girlfriend and they can be friends again. Tyra, who only wants what she hasn’t got, did her little wincing "regret" thing, but she doesn’t need to worry. You see, Landry’s new girlfriend? She’d like a girlfriend herself. Maybe I’d have cared more about that mini-arc if the actress playing Devin, Landry’s punky lesbian love, didn’t act with a lack of confidence that yelled "I won this part in a radio contest!" The character of Devin, incidentally, may not have been born when "She Don’t Use Jelly" was released. Since that time, The Flaming Lips have released some of the finest arty alterna-rock going. Why must we perpetuate their novelty hit?
I want to love Friday Night Lights. You have to understand that, dear readers. Nothing makes me happier than an episode like last week’s. And nothing makes me more disheartened than an episode like this.
This week, I mostly had to cling on to the blissful resolution of the house-flipping nonsense and the fact that, remarkably, Derek Phillips has turned Billy Riggins from a cartoon into a real person. My favorite scene in the episode, without a doubt, was the discussion of Riggins’ future.
Street: "Tim’s not exactly college material. I wouldn’t get my hopes too high."
Billy: "Look, Street, I know the kid’s an idiot. You don’t have to tell me about it. But if there’s anything I can do to get him into college, I need to know what it is."
It was both blunt and a little beautiful. Street proceeded to tell Billy to make a highlight video and send it out to schools, when anyone with half-a-sense of the world of contemporary college recruiting would have said one simple word: YouTube.
I also liked the wheelchair brawl between Street and Herc. I think the worst part of Street’s exit will be that we won’t have any excuse for Kevin Rankin to return as Herc.
Other highlights and lowlights from the episode:
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the episode. Hopefully next week will be better. Agree? Disagree?