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Friday Night Lights Fodder

Friday Night Lights: What Would Riggins Do?

Previously, in Dillon, Texas: The Panthers football team and friends underwent a season of reinvention--mostly, against their wills. The star quarterback was paralyzed and turned to wheelchair rugby. His pretty cheerleader girlfriend was soon his pretty ex-cheerleader, ex-girlfriend. Heck, even drunken fullback Tim Riggins turned into a student for a day.

But although Jason Street lost his legs and Lyla Garrity lost her perfect life, most of our heroes wouldn't trade the year for anything.

The backup quarterback got the job and the girl. The Coach got his chance at stardom; Coach's wife got pregnant. And the Dillon Panthers--unlike the book, unlike the movie--got their championship.

(And previously, on prime-time TV: Friday Night Lights was the 95th-ranked show, averaging just 6.1 million viewers and tied with canceled duds "Armed & Famous," "The Winner," and "Standoff." You know what? Let's ignore that pesky detail for now.)

But after winning a championship and sending viewers off on a high note, what can the show do for an encore?

Season two, episode one: Last Days of Summer
Watch the episode here.

We open on a football spiraling through the air as a player leaps--off the diving board?--oh, you've tricked us, show. The Panthers aren't on the field but at the pool, as the players are chillaxin the last days of summer away. It's been eight months since winning the state title, and swimsuit-clad star running back Brian "Smash" Williams and FB Riggins are definitely enjoying the ongoing fruits of their labor. A floating, draped-in-ladies Riggins especially; quarterback Matt Saracen sarcastically names him "captain of the S.S. Ta-tas."

Oh, and Mrs. Coach? Very pregnant. So pregnant that new baby Taylor unexpectedly arrives before the first commercial break, with Coach Taylor dashing into the hospital--via airplane from Austin--in the nick of time.

Yes, while all of our characters are back, they're not all where we left them, metaphorically and otherwise. The most obvious change is on the football field. As radio show host Slammin' Sammy expositions, imported new coach Bill McGregor--the "Tennessee Tyrant"--will try to fill the shoes of the "great Eric Taylor."

(Hey--McGregor's not a football coach; he's hippie Mike from "Lost"! Look, Dan Hawkins aside, hippie coaches and football don't mix. Prediction: This will not end well.)

Meanwhile, Coach Taylor has become the quarterbacks coach at TMU, a mythical Division I football program. In so many ways, a promotion--a chance for better money, more visibility. A huge break for any coach climbing the career ladder. But as we see in this episode, Taylor's not the top man on a small totem pole anymore, just one coach on the large TMU staff, with ramifications that will affect his marriage. Not to mention, his mentions in this blog; until Taylor's running a team again, Coach will be coach with a lowercase-c from here on out.

The fantastic four
In season two, the show's center clearly remains the quartet of coach and wife Tami; quarterback Matt and coach's daughter Julie. But all is not right in the state of Texas.

While the Taylors' marriage seems strong at first, there's underlying tension that gets fully exposed by episode's end. Sure, coach and the missus were going to "make it work," she told him in the season one finale. He'd take the TMU dream job and commute between Austin and Dillon. She'd stay at Dillon High to be a guidance counselor and let daughter Julie finish her last two years of high school without moving.

But as is so often the case in TV drama land, promises made with the best intentions...well, they have a way of going sour in time for the next episode. Even though Taylor's around for the new baby, Julie snipes at her dad for never visiting, and the house has turned into a sty since he's been gone. When Taylor gets a call from TMU and is told to return just a few days after the baby's birth, Tami can't handle it and breaks down in tears. As last year's moral compass, Tami was a pillar of strength for everyone--Julie, Tyra, Lyla, her husband--during the first season. These tears are new and it's scary.

Meanwhile, the junior set's problems are much more obvious.

Matt's still devoted to Julie, but his girlfriend--working at the pool--can't keep her eyes off fellow lifeguard "The Swede." (Think a mop-topped Josh Hartnett-type. Clearly not Swedish, nor the town's title-winning quarterback, might I add.) But Julie can't help herself, blowing off a party with Matt to sneak into a bar and hear the Swede's awful indie band. Although, while I hate to admit it, probably an improvement on Crucifictorious. This storyline seems to be building to a "Who will Julie choose?" moment--with strong foreshadowing of a Scandinavian scandal--but she doesn't get the chance: The Swede's girlfriend shows up and the college-aged couple head out together, with "Anton" stopping to give his high-school friend the most awkward high-five since Yao Ming was drafted.

But why's Julie breaking curfew and chasing this guy in the first place? And with the tacit approval of her mother, to boot? Because, as she tells angry coach (who picks her up from the bar at 12:30), her relationship with Matt is too perfect...too boring. "I see [Matt] turning into you and me turning into my mom...I'm 16. There has to be more than this," she tearfully confesses.

(Julie's ambivalance about Matt? Prediction: This will not end well.)

Not-so-Christian behavior
Of course, the rest of our supporting characters have their own issues to work through. You can see Smash on the cover of Texas Football magazine; you can't see how big his ego has seemingly gotten entering his senior year of high school. Riggins, who spent most of the summer drunk, runs afoul of new Coach McGregor, who's channeling Tom Coughlin and nearly kicks his fullback off the team. Look, these guys may be the stars of the Panters, but between Smash (Pride) and Riggins (representing most of the other deadly sins)...well, who's going to save these two?

Maybe newly born-again Lyla, who has more faith than ever after her 1) parents' marriage disintegrated, 2) her reputation at school collapsed, and 3) her own engagement fell apart. Or maybe her dad, Buddy Garrity. Sure, he's basically living out of his car dealership after cheating on soon-to-be-ex-wife Pam. Yes, he clearly can't offer moral guidance. And true, Coach McGregor's kicked him (fan #1!) out of practice...but as he tells coach, there's nothing he loves more than Panthers football, so maybe he'll buy Smash and Riggins some counseling sessions.

Or maybe stone-faced Coach McGregor will scare them straight. coach Taylor was no shrinking violet, but McGregor makes him look like Pam Garrity's wussy vegetarian boyfriend. In this episode alone, we learn McGregor's taken away Matt's captaining role, and we watch him force Riggins to run up-and-down the stadium steps until the guy pukes. When paralyzed quarterback-turned-assistant coach Jason Street tries to put in a word for his longtime friend Riggins, McGregor tells Street to decide if he wants to be "the town mascot" or part of the Dillon Panthers coaching staff.

(Coach McGregor's tough-love style? Prediction: You should know by now.)

Meanwhile, in plot device land
What is it with this show? Last year, 95% of the characters were wrapped up in the many, intersecting plot threads of the Dillon Panthers...and then there was Jason Street, off doing his own thing with wheelchair rugby. And yes, that was awesome and expanded this fictional universe and better realized Jason's character--but it really was a totally separate TV show. To the writers' credit, the plotline was always interesting and Jason's journey eventually looped back around in a meaningful way.

Now, in season two, another storyline comes from even further out of left-field. It's built around the unlikely friendship between Tyra Collette--the leggy, bad-girl blond who was Riggins' girlfriend once upon a time--and Matt's dorky buddy Landry Clarke. Near the end of last season, the two had plans to meet for a study date; unfortunately, while Landry's car broke down on his way to their meeting, Tyra was attacked by some sleazeball and nearly raped before Landry arrived to pull the guy off her. Honestly, it felt a little dramatic on this TV show about a high school football team, but not so Hollywood movie-esque that it stuck out.

In the eight months since, the two appear to have gotten closer. Landry's her official suntan-lotion-applier at the pool (and possibly to impress her, he's trying out for the football team).

Well, here's the big twist everyone's talking about after episode one: The sexual assault guy returns to stalk Tyra, eventually attacking her in a parking lot, only to be critically injured when Landry hits him with a pipe in the head.

So what do honor student Landry and street smart Tyra do? Call Landry's police officer dad? (No). Rush the guy to the hospital (No, he dies in the car).

They take the dead guy and--dum, dum, dum!--throw him into the river. Probably the same river where Lyla got baptized, to boot.

So rather than call the cops and explain a simple case of self-defense, the two now have several major crimes hanging over their heads. Almost inexplicable given what we know about both characters and the way the normally down-to-earth show tells its stories.

Concerned that Friday Night Lights just made a huge mistake? You're not alone.

But like with Lyla, it comes down to faith: Do you think the show can pull this off? If you've stuck with FNL since the start, watching the writers either destroy or cleverly twist cliche after cliche, than you've got to like their odds and give them a chance on this. And more screen time for Landry and Tyra is a good thing, in my book.

(The writers did hedge their bets, by following this weirdness with the most powerful and moving scene in the episode--the team getting their state championship rings, in a moment that brought all minor and major characters together. The symbolic passing of the torch between Taylor and McGregor; the awkward moments between Matt on the field and Julie in the stands; and so on.)

Still: Landry claims to follow WWRD--"What would Riggins do?" And Riggins is a drunk. A womanizer. A bad student. But running from the cops and throwing a body in the river? Well, Riggins would not have done that.

(Throwing a body in the river? Prediction:...Um, this one is pretty obvious.)

Need to catch up on Friday Night Lights but Netflix-ing the DVDs or watching online isn't your style? Check out this amazingly comprehensive overview--"Friday Night Lights: 101"--from blogger Adam Best, a.k.a. Arrowhead Addict.

Posted by DD on October 6, 2007 9:19 PM
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