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Friday Night Lights Fodder

Friday Night Lights: Racist Comments Threaten Season

Watch the episode here.



Previously, for the star-crossed Dillon Panthers high school football team: Injured QB Jason Street wants to get married to girlfriend Lyla Garrity and try out for the U.S. Quad Rugby team, presumably not simultaneously. Star RB Brian "Smash" Williams is caught using steroids, but Coach Eric Taylor puts his career at risk by not reporting Smash to the authorities, after some serious soul-searching by both men. Coach’s daughter Julie makes a new BFF in high school outsider Tyra, who teaches Julie the perks of the five-finger discount. Julie's boyfriend, new starting QB Matt Saracen, is dragged to an impromptu pool party/"charity calendar” shoot; initially, Matt doesn't want to be there and worries what Julie will think, but amazing how a teenage boy's willpower crumbles when draped by bikini-clad cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Julie finds out and makes Matt's concerns moot: They're over.



Recap, "Blinders":
Contrived or cute? I'm still not sure about the latest ep, even after a second viewing.

Remember last week's playoff game cliffhanger? Well, it went well for the Dillon Panthers. So well that the team puts a cherry on the victory and dusts off a trick football play, having Smash throw a 40-yard pass to Matt (The play's a modified halfback option--it looks sort of like this, only much cooler, since there's an additional handoff to RB Tim Riggins, the pass is a lot longer, and dramatic music is pumping in the background. However, if this really was the last play in a football game where your team was winning 24-10, you'd be accused of showboating. But whatever.) All should be well in Coach's kingdom, but things crumble quickly when assistant coach Mac pulls a Joe Biden and tells pushy Blondie Reporter that despite Smash's obvious arm strength, some "junkyard dog" players (read: Black) are better-suited to play athletic positions like running back whereas more mental players (read: White) can play strategic positions like QB. Whoops! There's nothing cute about this, and calls for Mac's head start coming on talk radio.

Meanwhile, Julie's learning bad habits from Tyra, as the two are caught skipping gym. Punishment: Playing in the annual powderpuff game with the Panthers' cheerleaders and the Rally Girls (the dedicated fan club for the football game). And apparently star football players don't need to practice during the playoffs, as Matt and Tim get to be the two powderpuff coaches. They take turns picking players, which would be like so many playground football games, except for the sexual history below the surface. Tim chooses Lyla--who was publicly caught cheating on Jason with him--while Matt first picks Tyra (Tim's ex-girlfriend) and then screws up the courage to take Julie with his third pick. Tim runs his team like Coach Belichick, as he barks out orders and makes the girls do push-ups and drills. They actually look pretty fearsome, despite the ponytails and ribbons. Meanwhile, Matt is too scared of girls to get his team organized, leaving them fumbling and giggling like so much future roadkill. But he's got two secret weapons: Tyra, who really wants to win out of hatred of Lyla, and Julie, who's absorbed plenty of football as Coach's daughter.

Less interesting to this recapper is the racial conflict sparked by Mac (contrived!), and set up as the central figure this episode is Smash. First, we learn his family is looking to move into a new house, assuming they can get the money together. When Smash's mom is denied for a loan, the family wonders if being black played a role. Eh. Kind of an unnecessary subplot if you ask me. The only real takeaway is that Smash (who could care less about Mac's comments) is ever-aware that...race can be an issue! Especially after the show trots out every character to discuss Mac's comments with him, from his upset girlfriend Waverly to a well-meaning but offensive Tim.

Also, Jason decides to finish out his senior year and heads back to school. At first, there's some optimism amid the twangy guitars, as kids gladhand the ex-star quarterback in his return. But later, realizing that he'll just be the handicapped kid in class, Jason resolves to go for his GED and accept an invite to the national quad rugby team's two-week Austin training camp--with hopes of going to Beijing in 2008. And who's not happy about Jason ditching school for a life of sport and travel? Girlfriend Lyla, already doubtful about the prospect of marriage.

Coach and Mrs. Coach are all set to lecture Julie on Tyra's bad influence, until Coach finds out that Matt's made Julie quarterback of the powderpuff team. Talk about wish-fulfillment! An excited Coach treats Julie like the football-playing son he never had and practices with her in the driveway, teaching her the play that will, of course, win the powderpuff game later that week. (Ah, Coach. A maker of quarterbacks, on the level of Jeff Tedford. No wonder the University of Texas wants him on its coaching staff).

Tyra also forgets to play by the rules of powderpuff and body-slams Lyla during the game. I believe psychologists call this "anger displacement," as Tyra's worried her mom (a secretary) is being taken advantage of by Lyla's dad Buddy (secretary's boss).

Back to storyline A, where Smash witnesses a forum about racial tension degenerate into pushing and yelling. He's finally motivated to go and talk to Mac on his own, but the timing's not so good. Mac's been stewing all week and not in any mood to express himself to a "too-big-for-his-britches teenager." Mac says that any player who "whines" about the issue will be stuck to the bench come the next game. Now that's a message that resonates with Smash, but not in the way Mac intended. After listening to some DMX (the chosen music of disaffected youth), and with very clear encouragement from reincarnated Black Panther/girlfriend Waverly, Smash organizes a walkout of the black players during practice.



Analysis:
* Mac's comments on race aren't unprecedented in sports, even among tenured coaches who should be media-savvy to avoid gaffes, but I hated how the show's writers scripted this. What, there wasn't enough drama between the steroid use, paralyzed player's recovery, steamy romances, drive to win playoff games, lesbian mayor, etc? To FNL's credit, much of the debate about Mac's comments played out as it would in the real world--some characters thought it overblown, some took it seriously, and many just seemed confused by the whole thing.

* That game-winning scene in powderpuff is actually pretty cute; just like the real Dillon Panthers' many close games, it takes Julie running down the field, with everyone chasing her and Matt running in front of her, to get the victory. And any scene of 20 girls running down a football field scored to the Go! Team is OK in my book.

* I'm pretty excited to watch Jason's tryout for the national quad rugby squad. (Can anyone tell me why it's called quad rugby? They're not quadriplegics, but paraplegics). Murderball is one of those movies that I know I'd enjoy, so those scenes should play as a free preview.

* After organizing a student forum to discuss racial tension but watching it fall apart, Mrs. Coach is pretty miserable and worries that racism's just inherent in Dillon. Still, Coach pulls out yet another play from the textbook on good marriage and applauds wifey for being brave to tackle tough subjects. We know that Mrs. Coach is involved in the mayor's re-election campaign; maybe she'll make racism an issue in future episodes?


Posted by DD on February 9, 2007 1:18 AM
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At least one definition of quadri vs para- plegic I've heard is that it counts if there's any dimunition of function in a limb. Jason's arms definitely have diminished function - witness his difficulty holding the dissecting instruments in the lab - so I guess he counts as quadriplegic.

-- Posted by: Cecil Rose at February 20, 2007 12:54 PM

Thanks for the explanation...I didn't realize medical science in Rome was so advanced.

The reasoning does square, although two things still bug me: One, most of the other quad rugby athletes seem to have full upper body motion; two, Jason has a lot more function in his hands than earlier in the season--I think his prognosis is he'll get them back, eventually, if he keeps working at it.

What a depressing distinction, though. I just came back from the airport, where we helped a wheelchair-bound man retrieve his suitcase from baggage claim--I wondered then, as I do now, when the tipping point for the disabled comes--when they stop noticing every loss of independence, even ruefully, and mindlessly accept it. Probably never, on some level, if Friday Night Lights is a guide.

-- Posted by: DD at February 22, 2007 8:21 PM

It amazes me how unedjucated people are about spinal chord injuries. The guys are quadriplegics. Paraplegics are not allowed to play quad rugby. Most people have the misconception that quadriplegics are paralyzed from the kneck down. This is rarely the case. The majority of quads can move their arms they just have a problem moving their fingers. Of'course it varies...some dont have triceps, but their biceps work...it all depends on their level of injury.

I travel on business all the time. I get my own bags from baggage claim. I live by myself, I drive, I do my own grocery shoppng, I am 100% independent, yet I am paralyzed from the chest down. The funny thing is, I rarely think damn I'm disabled this sucks...I think of myself as a normal person that can't walk...and their are thousands of people out there just like me.

-- Posted by: heafuss at February 24, 2007 8:20 PM

heafuss, thanks for filling us in. I'll admit my ignorance--I've never gotten to know anyone with a spinal cord injury, nor have I ever self-educated on the condition. I certainly didn't mean to offend.

One of the reasons I find this show so powerful is the (seemingly realistic) depiction of Street coming to terms with his injury. As someone who actually knows what it's like, though, do you find the storyline accurate? (Necessary Hollywood drama aside).

-- Posted by: DD at February 25, 2007 8:31 AM

Interesting Comments on quads. My son was injured 3 years and is now a quad. It is a whole new world and one that you don't want to enter. I also did not know about injury levels, complete and incomplete injuries. Don't feel bad about not knowing the difference between quad and para, what is important is that quad rugby gives injured individuals a goal and a reason to live. In Friday night Lights many of the quad rugby players play for the Texas Stampede. They are true quads and great guys. Thanks for the positive spin on quads. My son plays for the team in Houston, The Texans and just tried out for the USA developmental team.

-- Posted by: randall Gilmer at July 14, 2007 12:02 PM

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