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Friday Night Lights Fodder

Friday Night Lights: Win & They're in the Playoffs

Watch the episode here.

Welcome to the new feed for "Friday Night Lights," certainly one of the Best Shows You're Not Watching and a midseason pickup for the Fodder Network. With the exception of today's previously section, I'm going to write these posts as though you're up-to-date on the show--a dangerous assumption, given the ratings--but if there's interest, I'll consider writing recaps for eps. 1-12. And here's my pitch for the many non-viewers out there: Friday Night Lights is about football like "Battlestar Galactica" is about spaceships or "Lost" is about a plane crash. If you like the sport, great, but it's just a plot device for a show that's ultimately driven by wonderful writing and well-developed characters.

Previously, the first dozen episodes:

Eric Taylor becomes coach of the Dillon Panthers, the top-ranked high school football team in Texas, with the small town's hopes pinned on a state championship. And it's a storybook season all right--if the storybook is Fractured Fairy Tales.

The team's first game is marked by a paralyzing injury to star quarterback Jason Street and a miraculous throw by his untested backup, sophomore Matt Saracen, to save the victory. While Jason learns to live as a paraplegic, his girlfriend--cheerleader Lyla Garrity--is caught cheating with Jason's best friend, running back Tim Riggins. The affair's discovery has disastrous consequences for all three, but Jason ultimately takes Lyla back, and Tim vows his love for Tyra Collette, his ex-..."late-night companion," for lack of a more family-friendly term.

Now starting QB, an overwhelmed Matt is unable to duplicate his game-winning magic, and the struggling Panthers draw the concern of the Dillon townfolk. Team booster Buddy Garrity, Lyla's dad, brings in a midseason ringer from Louisiana under a Hurricane Katrina relocation clause (and some under-the-table payments). However, this replacement QB--the deliciously named Voodoo Tatum--clashes with Coach and the team; he leaves town and goes public with Buddy's recruiting violations, forcing the Panthers to forfeit a badly needed win. Luckily, Matt emerges as a capable player and, gaining confidence despite a shaky home life, awkwardly woos Coach's daughter Julie.

Through the tumult, star running back Brian 'Smash' Williams single-handedly keeps the Panthers' playoff hopes alive, but when a recruiting guru tells him to get bigger and faster to win a college scholarship, a desperate Smash turns to steroids. The cheating works: Fueled by Smash's ever-improving performance, the team gets to the brink of the playoffs but will only qualify if rival Arnett Mead loses to underdog Buckley. The town roots for and gets a Buckley victory, positioning the Panthers to need only one more win to make the playoffs and remain alive for the state championship.

Recap for "Little Girl I want to Marry You":

Coach, Mrs. Coach, and Julie pile in the Coach-mobile on the way to school. Coach wants to listen to the sports talk radio station, but Mrs. Coach correctly notes it's not healthy for him. He, and everyone else, will get a fair dose of Honesty in this episode anyway. Instead, the Coaches listen to Dillon's own Loveline, as some pop psychologist tells a lovelorn caller that "you're in control of your destiny"...which becomes Coach-speak, verbatim, in the next scene's speech to the team. Heh.

Smash's mom is cleaning house and stumbles on his stash of steroids. Angrily arriving at practice and pulling her son into Coach's office, Smash confesses that he's been juicing. While Mrs. Williams points the finger at Coach for motivating his players to use drugs, Taylor swears up-and-down that he didn't know. Really, Coach? Given recent suspicious activity that you witnessed, Smash was putting -something- in his body. (See analysis below.)

Garrity household, KFC for dinner. Buddy, who runs a car dealership, discusses a sale he made to a friend from Dallas that day; the man's college-age son is writing a psychology paper on relationships between cheerleaders and football players. Very casually, Buddy tells Lyla that since she's an expert on the subject, he's made a "lunch date" for her to meet College Boy at a fancy restaurant. Ah, Buddy. You've had a few moments of goodness lately, but remain an immoral jerk. While there's an obvious reason behind your matchmaking--which is later confirmed--I'm thinking it's not much beyond you to pimp your daughter to sell a car.

Taylor house, as Coach and Mrs. Coach dress for dinner at the Mayor's. Coach grumps that he doesn't want to go and who can blame him--while the Mayor's a little, gray-haired lady, she's not shy when telling him how the Panthers should run their offense. Coach also frets about the situation with Smash; he's legally and honor-bound to report the drug use, but that will end Smash's high school career. And that, readers, is the death knell for any of these kids. Football's the only ticket to college for these kids, and that's just the lucky ones. For the rest, this high school football team will be the pinnacle of their lives. This isn't scripted drama; the non-fiction book that inspired this show paints the same picture.

Over to a chain restaurant (Applebee's?), where Tyra's sitting with her mom and sister, discussing life's two major difficulties: paying bills and dating men. Not mutually exclusive in the Collettes' case, as we learn. Mom checks out Tim, who's also at the restaurant, and tells her daughter to give the "very cute" boy another chance. Thanks, Mom! As response, Tyra notes that Mom has great taste in men, what with the physically abusive boyfriend that she finally dumped last episode. This is an area of concern for the Collette coquettes, though, as Abusive Boyfriend paid the bills that unemployed mom could not. Tyra discusses a job opening: Receptionist for Buddy Garrity's car dealership.

Lyla and Jason sit at another table over milkshakes, Jason giving her grief over the Daddy-scheduled lunch date. Four series regulars, all having dinner at the same place; what, you're thinking, no other restaurants in town? Actually, no, it's a small town. Don't be snarky, reader. Nor should Jason, as he needs to lay off Lyla; she just ate with her family in the previous scene, and she's chowing down again with you, dude. Doubling up on meals is proof of her devotion, considering skinny Lyla probably inspired some new modeling weight law of her own. Lyla darts over to see some friends, and Tyra takes advantage to visit Jason and ask why he took his cheating girlfriend back. He loves her, Jason says. Hmm. Lyla returns and tries to scare off her nemesis, but Tyra isn't having it. She wants to discuss Buddy's job opening; a catty Lyla says she doesn't know anything about it and, further, Tyra's probably not qualified for the job. It's not for me, Tyra responds, but for Mom--who we see chowing down in a non-classy Mom way.

Across town, the Lady Mayor's invited another woman to dinner with the Coaches. As the Coaches realize that the two women are -surprise- lesbians, Lady Mayor says she's running for re-election and -surprise #2- wants Mrs. Coach on her campaign. Mrs. Coach responds to surprise #2 with the flattered interest that actress Connie Britton does so well; Coach just looks uncomfortable. Cheer up Coach! Political intrigue, secret revelations: Your show's just become the Texan West Wing, only with bigger hair and less pedeconferencing. Maybe there's a Nielsen point or two in that.

Over at the Williams house, Smash arrives late and confronts his furious mom over his steroid use. As he stomps down the stairs, Smash tells her she's ruined his life--if Coach reports the drug use, no college will touch him. With a painted portrait of Smash in his football uniform hanging behind her, an upset mom tells Smash she's trying to save him and kicks the boy out of the house.

Next morning. After spending the night in his car, Smash apologizes to Coach, who isn't having it. Coach also doesn't know what he's doing with Smash yet, so elects to keep him out of the last regular season game--a must-win to make the playoffs--telling the team that Smash is dealing with "personal concerns." The team is upset and surprised, but Coach says they'll respect Smash's privacy and not press for details.

Over at the Saracen's, Matt watches game tape of South Pines, the Panthers' opponents that Friday night. This being Texas, a QB's preparation is a family affair, as girlfriend Julie, Dad (a soldier recently returned from Iraq), and mentally ill Grandma look on. Grandma, being cute--and sane, for once--presses Coach's daughter Julie for inside info on Smash's "personal situation." Julie knows nothing. Meanwhile, a studious Matt gets excited about spotting a hole in the South Pines defense, thinking he can exploit it come game time. A worried Dad and Grandma tell him to let Coach figure out the plays. Gee, thanks Saracen family. I can't imagine why Matt lacks confidence. Anyway, Matt presses on and tells Dad to watch him pick apart South Pines on Friday night. That's when we get another big confession this episode: Dad's unit called and he's returning to Iraq Friday morning. Good riddance, I say. Still being cute, albeit with a note of concern, Grandma says Dad could watch the game--it might be televised in Iraq, just like the Super Bowl and other big events. I think the writers want this to come across as Grandma's standard delusional talk, but hey, she's got a point; I've watched Texas high school playoffs on YouTube! But although the Saracen men are Web-savvy enough to communicate by videoconferencing, they don't seem too optimistic about the game being internationally televised or, say, videotaping the game and uploading it to YouTube. Clearly, that's difficult.

Over to the episode's least interesting subplot, Tyra's trying to motivate her do-nothing mother to apply for a job as receptionist at the Garrity car dealership. Mom's innovative job-seeking tactics appear to consist of lying on the couch, possibly drinking, and whining that she wants Abusive Boyfriend back. Unsurprisingly, the job offers aren't piling up. We get it, writers: While Tyra's a self-motivated chick, her Mom can't stand on her own.

At Coach's office, the assembled media horde wants to know the Smash story, but Coach isn't budging. Not to them, not to Buddy who barges in with questions of his own. Matt shows up and Coach is happy for the distraction--at first--but then a bit peeved when Matt starts pitching potential plays for Friday and tells him to knock it off.

Thursday. Riding shotgun as fellow paraplegic Herc drives a customized truck, Jason spies on Lyla and College Boy's lunch date; while Jason's convinced it's romantic in nature, in truth the two are just sitting there having conversation. Herc's not entirely disinterested, determined to break up Jason and Lyla ever since she cheated on them, and embarrasses Jason by getting Lyla's attention as the two drive away.

After practice, Tyra pulls heartstrings and gets Tim to use his football player status and ask booster Buddy to give Mom another chance. It occurred to me in this scene that Tim's status has been upgraded this week in Dillon. Normally, he's just the fullback; non-football fans, this means that Smash is smashing through bad guys, in part, because Tim is running in front of him like a freight train, clearing the way. Not a job that gets you a lot of glory, although you do get to hit people. However, no Smash means Tim gets to be the featured player. Which is good, because I like Tim as a football player, not so much in these scenes as high school heartthrob. Case in point: This scene. Doing Tyra this favor doesn't mean sex, she tells Tim. No thank-you sex, no make-up sex, break-up sex, nothing. It's not always about that, he says. Great delivery there, Tim. I do believe that it's not about the sex for you, given how incredibly apathetic you seem to be with Tyra. It's almost as if the script's contrivances had you declare your love for her last episode.

Buddy Garrity's office. While Tim flatters Buddy, he tries to ask for an interview for Tyra's Mom. Buddy can't believe Tim's audacity, given the public nature of his affair with Buddy's daughter, but he's seemingly impressed and thanks Tim for his candor. Or maybe Buddy's only feigning being impressed, because he wants the story with Smash. Tim knows nothing.

Garrity house, and as Buddy pulls up after work, wheelchair-bound Jason's waiting for him outside, ready for a confrontation. Did Buddy set Lyla up on a date, Jason asks, because Street went from golden boy quarterback to cripple? After some wavering, Buddy gives Jason the straight answer he's looking for: Yes. He doesn't want Lyla to face life married to a handicapped person, even if she's committed to Jason, and wants her to see the other possibilities out there. As he always does, whether it was as healthy QB or recovering patient, Scott Porter acts the heck out of this sad scene.

Friday. Dad's departing for Iraq. Parting advice to Matt? I think he tells him to "keep the feet moving." Dad, that is bad QB advice. Is there any part of this father thing you do well?

Coach and his staff are prepping for the game when Mrs. Coach stops by for a chat. Her decision: She's going to help Lady Mayor with the campaign. Some back-and-forth here, as Coach doesn't like politicians and...more honesty...isn't a fan of alternative lifestyles. A shocker from a football coach. Anyway, Coach thinks Lady Mayor only wants to hire Lady Coach to use the connection to the football team to help boost her appeal. Well, that's not fair Coach; maybe Lady Mayor liked Mrs. Coach's approach to the Gatling problem a few episodes back. Mrs. Coach acknowledges his concern and breezes right by it, sticking with her decision. You know, it's almost unfair to reference her as Mrs. Coach, given how independent-minded she is.

Boring subplot land. Tyra and Mom try to make Buddy's for an interview. Truck blows a flat, Mom is totally incompetent when it comes to changing the tire, shows zero inclination in actually getting a job. Snooze.

Slightly more interesting subplot land. Over beers, Jason and Herc discuss the Lyla situation. With Buddy Garrity's honesty fresh in his mind, Jason thinks it might be time to let Lyla go. Herc, surprisingly, isn't thrilled by this development. He tells Jason that there will always be Buddy Garrity-types running him down, but he's got to learn to block them out.

Cut to the game, where it's scoreless with about 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter, as Riggins gets dropped on a third-and-short for a seven-yard loss. Timeout, Panthers looking at a 4th and 8. (Non-football-fan translation: Our heroes need to make a big play to either keep the ball or score). Coach calls over Matt, tells him that he considered Matt's proposed play--and it's a dangerous idea. Apparently, NFL safeties Roy Williams and Ed Reed are playing for South Pines; the two defenders are incredibly fast and are waiting for Matt to test them and their 21 interceptions on the year, so they can swoop in and pick off the pass. (NFF translation: It's a Trojan horse--the reason the throw looks so inviting is that the other team wants Matt to try the play so they can intercept it). Despite an assistant coach's objections, Matt convinces Coach to go with the play. Wow, it's a really stupid play. Still, you know the Panthers will pull it off--the music suddenly gets more testosterone-fueled--and Matt just barely finds Tim for the touchdown.

Great cut to the post-party celebrating the playoff-bound Panthers. As a band plays and the whole town seemingly celebrates, an elated Matt approaches Coach with thanks for believing in him and calling his play. Coach isn't having any of it, though, and quickly defuses Matt's high and tells him to get ready for the playoffs. Why is Coach so grumpy? Maybe it's because he knows how quickly the team's fortunes can change, or he's still weighing the Smash situation. Or maybe it's because he sees Mrs. Coach talking to an animated Lady Mayor, who's visibly thrilled to have Mrs. Coach on her campaign team.

Tyra approaches a reveling Buddy Garrity, apologizing on behalf of Mom for missing the job interview. Buddy--either drunk or besotted by the pretty Tyra--could care less and is completely receptive to meeting with Mom right there, during the party. So without discussing qualifications or responsibilities, Mom gets the job--and it's a testament to Buddy's sleaziness that I don't know if it's Tyra or Mom that he's got a thing for.

Empty diner. Over burgers, Coach gives Smash his verdict: he can come back, but he's going to be taking private drug tests until forever, and this whole affair stays completely confidential. Smash agrees as Coach reiterates the huge chance he's taking on Smash's behalf. Well, there is the related benefit of getting your star back in time for the playoffs, but I digress.

Garrity House, dramatic driveway shot. In a similar composition to the scene with Buddy, Lyla returns home to find Jason waiting for her in the shadows. He starts explaining that he's worried he'd be a burden to her, that he just spent all night with Herc preparing himself for this conversation. Is he breaking up with her, Lyla asks again and again. Far from it: He's loved her since he first laid eyes on her. Will she marry him?


* Major props to the makeup department. Playing Smash, actor Gauis Charles sported enviably smoth skin when the series began; once he began using steroids, his face increasingly broke out with little bumps. Nothing that hammers you over the head, but enough to make viewers notice, especially in certain lighting.

* Which is part of the reason Coach should have picked up on the drug use. So your star RB is breaking out with acne, you've seen him suffer spontaneous nose bleeds, but his strength and speed have dramatically improved midseason? Gee, what could be the cause? Let's give Coach some slack, though. It's not like steroid use has been a major issue in sports the past few years or even a topic that, say, the President may have discussed in a State of the Union address.

* Applebee's is actually a sponsor of Friday Night Lights, but the writers do a much better job of working the restaurant into the plot than their "Heroes" counterparts do with the Nissan Versa placements. The Collette women discuss Tyra's part-time job at Applebee's this episode; a number of characters have eaten there in various episodes, which makes sense given how small the town is. Compare that to Heroes, where one character literally chanted "Nissan Versa, Nissan Versa." I'd love to see if Nissan can actually chalk any sales up to such awful, in-your-face advertising.

* Where was the 'roid rage? I kept expecting Smash to snap, but he only got more polite as the week wore on and he wanted back on the team. He didn't display withdrawal symptoms either, but as a non-juicer I don't know how severe they'd be following just one month of drug use.

* What a decision by Coach to sit Smash for the biggest game of the year, knowing that a loss would not only keep the Panthers out of the playoffs, but likely get him fired. A humor columnist for a certain website--hint: it rhymes with ESPN--picked Smash as his football player of the year. And deservedly so; getting the ball to Smash basically got the Panthers every win of their troubled season.

* Of course, Coach's eventual decision isn't exactly moral or legal, and he notes he's sticking his neck out to keep Smash on the team. As a Smash/Gauis Charles fan, I'm glad his story will continue; as a Dillon Panther supporter, I'm thrilled their best player will return, hopefully for the playoffs. But Coach, what are you thinking? In the past months, you've already been fried by the state athletic association for an illegal transfer and sued by your paralyzed quarterback's family. What's next, an Isiah Washington-esque slur over the mayor's alternative lifestyle? Trust me, you don't need this Smash trouble. I can't see how it won't come out, or Buddy won't discover it and use it to blackmail the coach into his bidding.

* Matt Saracen's narrative arc remains my favorite to watch, in part because it's been the most uplifting. Echoing the season's first game, he's thrust into making a dramatic play to get the team a win. But at the beginning of the season, he was so out of his depth, he nervously closed his eyes when making the big throw. Here, his eyes are wide open--he stares up at Coach and earns the trust to make the play. And you believe the change, too, because of how patiently Coach has built Matt up on-the-field while Julie has supported him off of it. The happiest development of a rough few months in Dillon.

* Despite the outcome, Matt's big play was a terrible decision in terms of football strategy. The Panthers were in their own territory in a scoreless elimination game, with over five minutes left; if they didn't convert the pass, South Pines would have an easy chance to score following the turnover on downs; if the safeties had picked it off, they could have easily run it back for a TD. The game was a defensive stand-off, so why run the risk of giving the other team points? Hollywood.

Posted by DD on January 25, 2007 7:07 PM
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