Friday, November 16, 2007

Stripping players, but no football on 'Friday Night Lights'

Oh us pesky critics and our "Friday Night Lights" nit-picking! We get all frustrating and up-in-arms about Landry killing an unarmed man, dumping the body and then incinerating evidence with his police officer father. And then we get an episode without any meaningful time wasted on Killer Landry and his Unfortunate Killing Ways and we're about to complain about that, too! Those poor "Friday Night Lights" producers! How are they supposed to deal with the mixed signals?


What I do know is that stumbling through six episodes of Killer Landry drama was a problem, but spending an episode trying to ignore Killer Landry entirely and concentrating on poorly unified other things just felt like an example of ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room.

Last season, when "FNL" was perhaps the finest show on network TV, the producers told anybody who would listen that the show wasn't about football. That was a lie, because the ebb and flow of the football season was tied directly to the emotional journey that all of the characters were going through. What happened on the football field drove what happened in their lives and what happened in their lives drove what happened on the football field. Even in the episodes that didn't feature a second of game action, the dramatic tension came from the community and its expectations for the Dillon Panthers. It was unifying and the football made the non-football stuff better and vice versa.

This season, indeed, "Friday Night Lights" really isn't about football, but watching on Friday (Nov. 16), I'm not quite sure what it is about.

More discussion, with spoilers, after the bump. It's just the usual ranting and raving, albeit episode-specific.

Click through...

This week's episode didn't leave me cringing in the way that "Bad Ideas" and "Are You Ready for Friday Night" did. But it also didn't leave me with the sense of optimism I got from "Let's Get It On" and parts of "How Did I Get Here." I just felt like a lot of balls were thrown in the air and I don't know which I care about. One thing I do know: None of them have anything to do with how the Dillon Panthers football season is progressing.


  • I get it. The Smash has to look out for Smash. How many times, though, did he need to say the exact same thing in this episode? This was an example of the writers throwing Gaius Charles a bone to make up for his marginalization up to this point and I won't quibble with anything that gives me more of Liz Mikel's Mamma Smash. This is the third or fourth or fifth different episode in which Smash has given the exact same speech about how he views both high school and colleges as a means to an end, how he's going to go all the way to the NFL to help his family. He's why he took steroids and why he hogged the balled and why he did several other things. Mamma Smash knows this, so why did she seem so shocked and betrayed this episode that Smash won't consider going to a historically black college with a 2-9 football team? Meanwhile, I've seen highlights from the way Smash has been playing so far this season and I'm not so sure if he'd still be getting this kind of recruiting heat.

  • What's the deal with Santiago? The only on-field attention we've seen Coach Taylor pay to his football team since his return has been to a former delinquent with raw speed and no experience. I understand why Buddy was willing to do anything last year to get Voodoo on the team, but I don't get why Buddy's going to far to help Santiago. Is this all just a subplot that's playing out because Buddy's lonely and he needs somebody to nurture? And what position is Santiago playing these days anyway? I didn't blog on it last week, but it seemed weird to me that after Killer Landry became a school hero last week, as a tight end with no football experience, they'd be so eager to replace him with an equally inexperienced new kid. It's just a lot of work to go to to introduce a new character.

  • Speaking of new characters, aren't we pleased to see that John From Cincinnati is capable of reading dialogue without sounding like an autistic prophet? I'm sure some people had doubts that we'd ever see Austin Nichols again, but here he is playing a character beamed directly from "Beverly Hills, 90210" to "Friday Night Lights." His Noah Barnett, the hip young English teacher and newspaper advisor, is the unholy spawn of Michael St. Gerard's Chris Suiter, failed actor and student predator, and Mark Kiely's Gil Meyers, advisor on the West Beverly Blaze and alleged student predator. We're supposed to be uncomfortable that Julie -- having recently discovered a character trait that attracts her to inappropriate men -- is spending so much time with him, right?

  • And speaking of dynamics that make us uncomfortable, how old is Sexy Nurse Carlotta supposed to be? The show's message when it comes to age-problematic relationships is simple: Icky Stoner The Swede or Pretentious Teacher going after Julie? Baaaaaad. Riggins going after the MILF Next Door or Matt flirting with Sexy Nurse Carlotta? Intriguing. Except that I'm not. Intrigued, I mean. And I won't even begin to get into the racial dynamics of uber-honky Matt turning to sexy Latina Carlotta to give his stripping the necessary spice. But I guess Carlotta's better than Matt's new car obsessed girlfriend, who only makes out with him when Julie's about to walk over. Oh and they brought Brooke Langton back this week? For that?!?!? Get a "Life."

  • After cycling Tyra and Lyla through a roller-coaster that left them seemingly bonded by the first season finale, the producers forgot how to bring the two characters back together. So this week, they were reunited (As Ned on "Pushing Daisies" would have said, "It's a random proximity thing") and suddenly the character didn't have any sort of dynamic anymore. I didn't need Tyra and Lyla to do the kind of catty sparring that they did last season, but there had to be a dramatic payoff to making those two specific characters work together on Pantherama, there had to be a dramatic payoff to having those two characters instigating a football team strip-off. The only payoff was, after several emotionally trying weeks for both characters, to return them to a place of levity. I don't mind that, but it could have been better. The entire Pantherama subplot kept reminding me of the Powder-puff game last season, a true highlight.

    But sure, I liked having sexy, flirty Tyra back. And Adrianne Palicki plays that side of Tyra very well. I also liked the extra time with Tyra's stripper sister and learning that her trademark song is "Devil Went Down to Georgia."

    Do we think Lyla knows that Street has vanished? Nothing that's happened this season feels cumulative.

  • Line of the episode (everybody's gonna pick the same one): "Quote 'Athletic director and Panther football coach Eric Taylor had no comment.' She asked me through the bathroom door. What am I supposed to do? I was busy."

    [I need to issue the usual reminder that there's still no Friday evening show I'd rather watch than "FNL," that it still kicks the qualitative snot out of "Moonlight." Wishing it were better isn't the same as wishing it ill.]

    1. Word.

      That's really all I have to offer, considering that I pretty much agree wholesale. What frustrates me is that these storylines are so easily rewritable in somewhat more realistic fashions.

      Julie could join the student newspaper without, you know, getting into another dangerous relationship. It returns her to her anti-football, anti-cheerleader, pro-literature mode from the Pilot (A natural response to her Matt situation), and puts her into confrontation with both Matt and her father. She can find a personal passion without falling in love, damnit.

      I think what frustrates me is that they're just compounding their problems: the Matt/Carlotta thing has been on the books for weeks, but they just decide to add Julie/Noah into the mix? It, as you say, does nothing to give me faith that Katims and Co. are building towards something interesting.

    2. Something different is happening in the writers' room this season and I wonder what it is. Is it a different set of network notes? Is it that one or two key writers have gone elsewhere? Or are they really just strapped for ideas?

      I dunno. But nearly everything that's been iffy has been avoidable.

      I also note, on a side point, that "Moonlight" appears to have hit season highs last night in the 18-49 demo, season highs by a possibly wide margin. If that's a show that's going to continue to build an audience (which concerns me), the crushing of "FNL" may become sad and soon...


    3. I'd say that we'll at least be able to see what remains of the season thus far, thanks to the large stockpile of episodes compared to other series. Which, at least, can give them a chance to get out of their quagmire. But things are not looking good for the long-term future of the series, that's for sure.

    4. Anonymous4:18 AM

      Should there be a Salary Cap in Football?
      Personally I think there should be! It’s just getting to be stupid money in football at the top of the premiership!
      It’s always the same teams at the top proving that football success is based purely on money which ruins the idea of it being a sport! They’ve done it in rugby, basketball, hockey and American football and it makes the sports more competitive and better to watch!
      I do a little Spread Betting from time to time and most matches don’t hold much surprise who is going to win, its boring! I want to see a team at the bottom pulling off an amazing season beating last seasons winners in a close fought battle!
      Make things fair! It shouldn’t be about money!
      All there is all that money in the premiership and barely any of it stays in the UK so it’s not even helping the economy!
      From my Spread Betting (or more precisely Football Spread Betting) if I ever win big (which is never, I’m unlucky) it’s still nothing compared to the average premiership players weekly wage!