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Friday Night Lights Fodder

Friday Night Lights: Key Decisions as Playoffs Loom

Watch the episode here.

Welcome back to Friday Night Lights fodder. We'll get right to it this week.

Previously: Everything is bigger in Texas, including the drama surrounding the Dillon Panthers, not so much a high school football team as Beatles-like figures in their small town. And "Friday Night Lights" has something for everyone. There's romance: Julie, the teenage daughter of Panthers Coach Eric Taylor, begins dating starting quarterback Matt, despite her misgivings about football players. There's drugs: Starting running back Brian "Smash" Williams is caught using steroids by his mom; keeping the news a secret, Coach suspends Smash for a must-win game but decides not to report Smash's drug use, placing Coach in violation of state athletic association rules. There's Home Alone, the reality: With no parents in sight, starting fullback Tim Riggins and his older brother Billy cope on the edge of poverty.

And then there's Jason Street, who sometimes is his own separate TV show: The parents of the former starting quarterback--paralyzed while making a tackle--sue Coach, alleging that his failure to teach Jason proper tackling technique led to his paralysis. Jason's not thrilled about suing his former mentor, nor that his girlfriend's father, car salesman/Panther football booster Buddy Garrity, is trying to break up the young couple, concerned that his daughter will be trapped in a caregiver relationship with the now-paraplegic Jason. Not a strategic move on Buddy's part: Jason promptly proposes to girlfriend Lyla. By the steamy kiss, I'd say she accepts.

Recap, "Upping the Ante": Show opens on a family cookout at the Garrity's, as an enthused Jason explains Quad Rugby to Mrs. Garrity. Now that his football career is over, he's hoping to one day play Quad Rugby competitively; Jason explains it's a much more intense sport than, say, wheelchair basketball at the Y. No kidding.

Overhearing the conversation, a disparaging Buddy says the sport's just a hobby and again questions Jason on what his life goals are now that he's paralyzed--what sort of career this high school boy is going to have one day. Gee, I don't know; the Dallas Cowboys may be out, but a wheelchair didn't stop FDR. After an escalating war of words--including Buddy's anger that the Streets are suing his football team--prompts Jason to drop the Bomb: He and Lyla are getting married. Whoops. Party's over. Even Lyla's upset.

Credits. Great theme music by Explosions in the Sky, who also did the score to the film version of Friday Night Lights.

After the commercial break: Playoff fever in Dillon! Messages on car windows, signs advertising "top dollar" for tickets.

Applebee's (show sponsor!) is hosting a live broadcast of Talking Panther Football, and the joint is jammed with fans who are all too happy to talk about the team. One of them is Buddy, sitting near a banner proclaiming the Panthers are going "Straight to State"--an opinion Buddy clearly shares, as he bets a wad of bills on Dillon "going all the way." Offering exposition this week is the radio host, who's not the usual Slamming Sammy Meade but looks like a more gray James Lipton. The Panthers are going to play the McNulty Mavericks in the first round, radio host tells us, but there's a big question: After mysteriously missing the last game, will Smash play this week? Some of the B-list players at the restaurant hear this question and could care less; the Panthers won without their star last week, so why do they need such a me-first player on the team?

Also at Applebee's are starting QB Matt and coach's daughter Julie--but they may be the only two in the entire restaurant not talking football, as they sit and discuss Julie's role on the student newspaper. Their idyll is shattered when radio host calls Matt up to join the broadcast; he offers to stay with Julie, but as "Sar-a-cen" chants echo throughout the restaurant and the town's teenage girls ogle the sophomore, she tells Matt to go ahead. Cut ahead to a darker, emptying Applebee's, as a bummed-out Julie waits outside for Matt. He's apologetic that he got tied up with the radio broadcast, but just as the two start talking, a car full of football players pulls up. Tim Riggins cackles that this is Saracen's night--after all, he did make the key play to get them into the playoffs--and forces him into the car. Matt puts up nominal resistance, but the car peels away. Abandoned by Matt, Julie gets a unexpected ride home with Applebee's waitress Tyra, although they need to pick up Tyra's sister first from work, too...from a strip club.

Dawn in Dillon. Banished from the football team, Smash is folding towels in the players' locker room; Coach walks in and gives him grief about the way he's folding. Coach also wants Smash to be his copy boy, asking him to make up binders of the team's playbook for the week's game ASAP. There is a bit of good news--Smash produces test results from the local clinic, affirming the steroids are out of his system, but tension is still high here: Coach isn't thrilled about waking up early to mete out discipline, nor is he happy about placing his job at risk because he didn't turn Smash in to the state authorities. Meek Smash, who I will call by given name "Brian" until he returns to his smash-worthy football ways, apologizes.

We next find Tim Riggins in traffic court. He's got a ticket and the judge is willing to cut him some slack as a football celebrity, but Tim still needs his dad's signature to avoid losing his license. A problem, because he hasn't seen his dad in two years.

Julie and new BFF Tyra are browsing some clothing store's wares, Julie still amazed that Tyra's sister works in a strip club. Want to know sister's biggest customer? Gross Buddy Garrity! And who just hired, last episode, the mom of said stripper as his car dealership's receptionist, presumably so he could ogle her too throughout the day. Double gross! (And it also begs to reason why fat, disgusting Buddy Garrity is in need of such visual distraction: this is his wife! Raising the whole question of leagues, and marrying out of them.) Further wowing her new, young friend, Tyra five-finger discounts some cosmetics that Julie wants.

Back to the Riggins household. Older sibling Billy's freaked that Tim wants to go track down their dad rather than just forge a signature, warning his high school brother not to get drunk with the dad (a likely scenario, with Riggins), not to trust the dad, and definitely not to give the dad the wad of cash that Billy is at this very second giving Tim for his epic 2-hour car ride to find padre. What actor could play this snake charmer of a father? And what are the odds that Tim gets drunk with dad and, feeling trusting, gives him that whole wad of cash? Yeah, I'm thinking 100%.

After a commercial break, over to the Coach's house. Julie's feuding with Mrs. Coach over a school night Old 97's concert. Julie offers to grovel, but Mrs. Coach gives in. Let me go on record to praise this show's musical sensibilities; Texas bands tends to crop up as background music in various scenes or get woven into the plot. And these are good bands, not some Top 40 flash in the pan. Just another way to bring the viewer down to Texas.

Driving along, Tim's on his vision quest to find padre. He gets a lead: Dad's ex-girlfriend--a sad, motel-living creature named Lydia--"threw him out six months ago." Apparently, she's none-too-happy that padre also stole something from her in the process. Tim finally finds his father, just as he's winning some money in a golf game. So who is Daddy Riggins? Why it's none other than Goodwin! Assuming fictional NBC characters can watch ABC dramas, no wonder Billy doesn't trust padre.

Still, Dad's happy to see son and willing to sign the ticket. Been sober six weeks too, so no boozing with high-school age son, despite his jonesing for a beer (Which seems to augur poorly for my prediction...but have a little less faith in the Riggins men). Dad offers to buy Tim some food, an offer son quickly accepts.

Back in Dillon, Jason and Tyra are sitting in Jason's jeep, parked in the Streets' driveway; there's a sign on the jeep advertising it's for sale by owner, underscoring the family's precarious financial position. How many times must the young couple have sat there, in happy times? Not to mention, Jason's in the driver's seat--a rare position of authority, given how dependent he is on others these days. When sitting in his wheelchair, he gives up several feet to his willowy girlfriend. Lyla broaches the subject of waiting to get married, but Jason counters each of her arguments by wondering if her hesitation stems from his paralysis. Interesting how when Jason was healthy, he didn't want to define himself as just a star QB; now that he's injured, his entire identity revolves around the loss of his legs. Regardless, Lyla wonders if either of them are going to college, or even if Jason respects that she has a life of her own to live. Unfortunately, Lyla was one of the millions who didn't watch Friday Night Lights last week; otherwise, she'd know that Jason was wrestling about that very problem, worrying that he'd become too needy for her. As a result of Lyla's poor viewership habits, problems clearly lie ahead for this couple.

At football practice, Brian nee Smash has been moved to blocking fullback, the less glamorous position usually manned by Tim. It's not going so well for Brian, who's clearly tired and not playing at the steroid-fueled level we've seen in previous episodes. As the assistant coaches heckle Brian, Buddy's on the sidelines, trying to convince Coach to show up at some TV show the next night. It's tradition, Buddy says. Media-shy Coach isn't having it. There's an appearance fee, Buddy says. We can't see behind Coach's sunglasses, but he decided... do the show! How do we know? In the library, an unhappy Julie learns Matt's ditching the Old 97's concert for the TV appearance with Coach, but as the self-proclaimed "coolest girl in the world," she tells him not to worry and enjoy the show. A thankful Matt also needs watch senile Grandma. Which she agrees to do. Major points for Julie.

Off at a bowling alley, Riggins father and son bond over strikes and spares; while dad scurries away to find his customized bowling ball, a friendly waitress informs Tim that estranged dad brags about his football-playing son every chance he gets. Poor Tim, seizing at the slightest bit of paternal interest, decides to invite himself to spend the night at dad's. Padre Riggins is surprised and thrilled.

Hijinks on the set of the (live?) "Eric Taylor Show," as stressed-out Coach can't work the DVD of last week's game film and waves off Matt's attempts to help. The producer quickly moves the show into its interview segment, telling Matt to ask Coach a couple of questions. Coach is OK with this--looking at his watch, waiting for the show to end--when Matt comes up with the first question he can think of: Will Smash play this Friday? Whoops! Producer and Buddy grin, a ticked-off Coach gets in Matt's face, wondering what kind of question that is. Well, it's the question everyone's been asking, says Matt. Coach: Not amused.

Back at Matt's house, babysitter Julie tends to Grandma, making her a sandwich for dinner. I think this woman only eats sandwiches, that's all anyone ever gives her. This seems to argue for some clinical study of whether sandwiches induce dementia. (I think Tracy Jordan would agree). Anyway, like any babysitter of the senile, Julie needs some company: New BFF Tyra. Cut to a scene of the three women listening to some female rocker, doing each other's nails, and drinking a bottle of wine. Julie's not so thrilled by Matt's newfound football fame, as it's hurting their relationship, and Tyra--and Grandma!--give her advice for how to better "play" Matt. Cutting edge stuff, too; the old "Who needs a football player? I've got options on the basketball team" routine. Grandma really seems to be enjoying this, too, and I can't blame her. The woman spends all of her time with a teenage boy; this must be the closest thing to a girl's night out she's had in years.

Off the set of the TV show, Buddy confides in Coach that Jason proposed to Lyla. Coach tells Buddy that they're smart kids and not to pressure them, because it will only make things worse. Buddy's not assuaged; he still wants Coach to talk some sense into Jason. Given that the Streets are currently suing Coach, this seems to be an unlikely scenario, but Coach assents.

Brian comes home late, wearing his Dillon football sweatshirt, dripping of sweat. Out juicing? No--he's been running for hours. Mom: You need to slow down! I'm worried about you, son--it's my job. Brian: I can't slow down! My job is to be the starting RB for the Dillon Panthers. And, as his worn-out body adjusts to its lack of steroids, "there's blood in the water" as other players are pushing to take his position. Mom, concerned. Son, frustrated. And sweaty.

Nighttime, some dirty backyard, as Tim bonds with his dad over beers. There goes padre's six weeks of sobriety...and part one of prediction, realized. As they discuss the plight of paralyzed Jason, once Tim's best friend, the conversation segues into what a bad father Daddy Riggins once was, and how much Billy deserves to hate him. Still, it's clear the two men don't have much to talk about. Tim does reveal he's missed two practices to be with his dad, which is big considering how much of a role he plays in the Dillon offense with Smash indeterminately out. Tim may be jeopardizing his starting spot on the team to spend the night with padre. "It's worth it, though," a worshipping Tim tells his dad. Cruddy dad doesn't have much to say to this--he even looks nervous to hear it. What else to discuss? High school football exhausted, they turn to...professional football, and whether Bill Parcells will return to the Cowboys. Heh. Fathers and sons.

Back from commercial, the Riggins men are out to play a round of golf. Football, bowling, now golf: These two are guys' guy athletes. No horseback riding for this family. A bullying Daddy wants to bet on each hole--there's prediction part two and three--but a wary Tim offers to up the ante: If Tim wins, dad comes to watch Tim's playoff game. If dad wins, Tim won't tell motel-dwelling Lydia where dad lives. For Tim's sake, I hope this wager trumps the $5-per-hole bet dad wanted to make. Tim gets off to a bad start, and dad calls him a weenie.

The football practice, which Tim is missing. Brian's back at his position but running slow and the assistant coaches have noticed their star is "flat." One assistant: "It's like Smash isn't Smash." Exactly, which is why this recapper--and now an angry Coach--are back to calling him Brian. A defeated ex-Smash is sent to run suicides, although I don't think that will pep him up.

After practice, Mrs. Coach tells her husband that he needs to give up the ghost with Brian. Coach has a right to be angry, sure, but "style filters down." Part of the reason Brian's playing poorly is because he's picking up on Coach's tension and anger. Mrs. Coach says it's time for the two to sit down and talk.

At the Riggins Open, some back-and-forth as Tim is leading his dad by a few strokes.

Back in one of Dillon's poorer neighborhoods, a bunch of local kids run around playing touch football while Brian sits on his porch, studying the playbook. Looks like Coach listens to his wife's advice; he drives up and invites himself to a seat next to a surprised Brian. As the kids run around in the background, one little boy stands out--scoring touchdowns, hooting and hollering, dancing all over the other players. Coach: Every neighborhood game has one of those kids. Brian: I was that kid.

After this cathartic exchange, Coach starts to talk but Brian cuts him off. He knows Coach has been a taskmaster because Brian disappointed him; he's come to terms with Coach being upset and will "do what he needs to do on his own." Coach doesn't like to hear that; football's a team game, he tells Brian, and you want to fly solo, go run track. Heh. As they watch the neighborhood kids yell and laugh and run, the two men discuss how easy it is to forget why they love the game. No kidding, considering the high pressure that comes with playing for the Dillon Panthers. Coach admits he's guilty of forgetting why they play. Brian, you'd better take that; it's as close to a concession of support that Coach will give you.

As they sit there, up comes that little, cocky kid. You really Coach Taylor?, the eight-year-old wants to know. Because little guy will be there on the first day of practice, 2014. Running back. Miles Sheppard, remember the name. Man, I really hope Friday Night Lights goes eight seasons, at least for continuity's sake. Miles invites Brian to play--he needs a challenger--and he and Coach make the local kids' neighborhood game one to remember. In Dillon, that's like having Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson join your pickup basketball game at the Y.

Speaking of continuity, we go back to the Riggins Open, where padre is proving himself to be just the schmo that Billy predicted back at the start of the episode. He beats Tim in the game--the man is a golf pro, after all--which means Daddy Riggins doesn't have to go to the football game on Friday night. It's one thing for Tim to come visit him down at this dilapidated golf range, but it's another thing for him to come to Dillon. Tim's upset by this, and it makes matters worse that dad seems to take a lot of pride in vanquishing his son. Tim storms off and drives home in an angry rage.

Poor Tim. What will cheer him up? How about an impromptu party organized by the rally girls--the football team's dedicated cheerleaders. Pulling up in a car outside of the Riggins house, the rally girls seize Riggins and take him to a pool party. Ditto with a sleeping Matt, and eventually Brian. Apparently, the swimsuit-clad rally girls are putting together some calendar for charity, with a picture of one Panther--draped in rally girls--representing each month. Matt is chosen as "Mr. November." Lucky Matt.

After commercial break, Coach gets dressed for a courtroom appearance with the Streets. A pre-trial hearing, I assume. Mrs. Coach offers to go with him, but Coach says he has to do this alone. He'll need her by his side--just not this morning. I thought there was no flying solo, Coach? Oh, wait, getting sued isn't football.

At the courthouse, Coach encounters Jason; despite the lawsuit, Coach is still Coach and wants to know the scoop on Jason's proposal to Lyla. Jason says that while he's confident he wants to get married, Lyla has some doubts; Coach advises Jason that getting married isn't a "cure-all" and tells him that waiting isn't such a bad thing. A pleased Buddy might even throw them a party. Jason tells Coach how angry Buddy was to hear of the engagement; the two laugh over their shared dislike of the man. Meanwhile, the Street parental units arrive and aren't happy to see their son chatting it up with the object of their lawsuit, so the conversation breaks up and the four enter court, separately.

Decisions on gameday. At school, Julie asks Matt what he did last night; he doesn't 'fess up to the impromptu party. A mistake: Since she's seen already seen pictures of Matt draped in rally girls, Julie gives him the send-off. And given the tears, I don't think this is Tyra's "play hard to get" advice at work. Meanwhile, Julie's dad summons Brian to his office. Coach: "You're starting at tailback tonight." Brian can hardly believe his luck. He claps, this viewer claps.

Locker room, pre-game. A re-energized Smash is back to leading the team prayer. He asks God to be with them. "You know how much we've been through this season," Smash prays. You mean the paralyzed QB, his untested replacement, a transfer student scandal, the pending lawsuit, and steroids-using RB? Amen to that. It's almost enough for a successful TV drama. I guess gratutious violence is the only thing missing.

Team bursts onto the field. Billy pulls Tim aside; he needs a last-minute ticket. Crummy dad has shown up to watch son play. What, you didn't think Brett Cullen would only appear in one episode?

Analysis: * We get the first signs that Smash is going through withdrawal from his brief use of steroids; not only is he playing poorly on the field--although, as Mrs. Coach says, that may be because of Coach-induced pressure--but he tells his mom that he feels so tired, he can barely finish his sentences. How long will the show maintain this continuity? If the next episode starts with the playoff game that "Upping the Ante" ended on, there's no reason why Smash should immediately be his previous, game-breaking self (although he was pretty good before the steroids).

* When the pilot episode was reviewed, Friday Night Lights drew some unfair comparisons to mediocre MTV movie "Varsity Blues"--which was very loosely based on the Bissinger novel and also includes an injured star quarterback and culture of high school football-worship--but the "calendar shoot" is the first scene that really evokes that film. Although the party is no stylized, whipped-cream bikini scene; the rally girl photo shoot is humanized by Matt (of course) stumbling and falling in the pool.

* This was episode 14 of a 22-episode order. While several episodes have not featured football, given the incredible number of subplots currently in play, it's safe to assume that the playoff games will have some role in the next eight episodes. And how many games can there be? According to a certain columnist, Texas state playoffs can last up to five games and you know Dillon's going all the way. Well, at least Buddy Garrity hopes so.

* Which of the show's writers has the abandoned dad complex? Let's review the fathers of Friday Night Lights. Not only is Smash's dad dead from a car accident--he was fooling around on his wife--he was a deadbeat before that, from all accounts. Matt's dad is unsupportive; Tyra's dad is MIA; Jason's dad is generally OK, although not the most sensitive to his son's needs. Outside of Coach--who seems to act as a dad to half the team anyway--the best dad we've seen is...Buddy! While his desire to get Lyla away from Jason comes off as wrong-headed, his motivation is understandable: He wants her to have options in life. Not to mention, as she sobbed under the bleachers during a crucial Panthers football game, he pulled himself away in the fourth quarter to comfort her. But let's not give Buddy too much credit--as a stripper-loving, underhanded car salesman, he's not exactly Dad-of-the-Year material.

Posted by DD on February 1, 2007 11:27 PM
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