Club on Friday night

Friday Night Lights:

“Character is who you are when no one’s watching.”

It isn’t often that Coach Taylor’s actions are ever called into question on this show. Sure, he can be a little bull-headed at times and often needs his wife to bring him back in line whenever his conscience drifts—as it can in the name of winning football games—but he can generally be counted on to do the right thing. So I was happy to see the show acknowledge that he’s not above the dirty dealings that brought him back to the Dillon coaching job so quickly this week. It would seem that the only thing worse than being in Buddy Garrity’s doghouse is being in his good graces, because Dillon’s biggest booster presents a lot of “opportunities” that can lead one into pretty unsavory territory. Coach Taylor has been in questionable situations with Buddy before—last season’s motel-room courting of a hotshot quarterback from Louisiana springs to mind—but he can’t just plug his nose this time around.

Clearly, McGregor definitely wasn’t a good fit for Dillon football for any number of reasons: his predictable all-run-all-the-time offense; his mishandling of players and personnel; his torturous overlong practice sessions; et al. But I appreciated how the show let him exit with the moral high ground. I’m not sure if or how his vague threats to Coach will pan out, but he’s right to get angry with Coach for his invisible (but critical) role in riding McGregor out on a rail. We can see why Coach had to return to Dillon, of course, given that his family had fallen into disarray right along with his football team, but he’s going to have to live with some ugly truths about the sleazy business it took to set things back to normal. I’m hoping the show will follow through on his compromised return to power and I’m guessing Saracen—who pointedly refused to sound off alongside his teammates—will be the guy to bring some ambivalence to Coach’s return to power.

Another good-not-great episode for me tonight overall. I keep having to remind myself that Friday Night Lights—at least as I understood it from Buzz Bissinger’s book, Peter Berg’s movie, and much of Season One—is about life in a football-obsessed small town, because its eye hasn’t been on the ball lately. Having Coach Taylor back goes some distance in setting things right in the FNL universe, but we’re not all the way there yet, and I’m finding myself getting a little impatient.

For one, there’s Riggins and Street heading off to Mexico with $10, 000 in cash for Street to get his experimental surgery over at Clinica Espinal. The odds of shark goo injections bringing Street the new life he craves seem pretty long—thank goodness, since that’s a miracle I’d have trouble swallowing—but much like Riggins, I found myself wondering, “How did we get here?” It seems the further the show gets away from Dillon’s innerworkings, the more distanced I feel about it. That said, I think the Mexico footage is nicely handled both from a technical perspective (it has that richly particular ambience the show specializes in capturing) and from the actors, especially Taylor Kitsch, who embarrassed me by doing some of his best work ever on the show only one week after I’d badmouthed him in these virtual pages. The sober look on his face during Street’s karaoke session was particularly bracing coming from a character who generally can’t see past his nose.

Then there’s the VBM, which continues to intrigue me, even as it also feels removed from the show as I used to understand it. That line about character I quoted above also applies nicely to Landry, who definitely feels somebody watching, even if only he and Tyra know what really happened. He’s paranoid about getting caught, but on a deeper level, he’s more worried about the fact that his soul is at stake here and he may have to pay for his sins with a confession and hard time. After spotting Tyra at the police station ID-ing the victim, Landry’s father is starting to put the pieces together, though he’s unlikely to take steps to incarcerate his own son. I’ve come to appreciate Landry’s relationship to his dad, who isn’t much like the town’s abusive football-crazed louts that want to live their championship seasons through their sons. Still, I’m more interested in how the killing and the cover-up have brought Landry and Tyra closer together, yet introduced some real confusion, too: When Tyra says, “We’re in this together, ” does that mean there’s no together without “this”? What happens to them when “this” gets resolved or cools off in some way? What will their blood pact mean for their relationship then?

Meanwhile, Julie may finally be getting past her snotty teenager phase and not a moment too soon. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gritted his teeth after she threw a tantrum over her mom not taking her out for driving lessons. The show has really tested our sympathies with her this season, and while I can appreciate that, I’ve often wondered if this snotty brat is the same Julie I generally adored last season. Having Dad back in town and having been disillusioned by “The Swede” once more (a good rule of thumb: never date a guy who hangs around with dudes named Jonesy and Spike), Julie may well be on the path to sanity. I’m not sure if the writers or Aimee Teagarden are to blame, but Julie doesn’t do rebellion well. Or maybe I’m just missing Saracen, too.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

• Not sure what to make of Lyla’s attempts to reform a juvenile delinquent, but her and her father’s (not entirely selfless) act of charity will probably come back to bite them in the ass pretty hard.

• The Dillon Daily Times? Really? I grew up partly in Perrysburg, Ohio, a Toledo suburb of comparable size and the best we could manage was a weekly paper that exists mostly for wedding announcements, obituaries, and uplifting coverage of local sporting and school events. When has a small-town newspaper ever been a daily? There aren’t enough scoops in a year to fill out a week’s worth of issues.

• What’s with those J.C. Penney updates at the halfway point of every show this season? Are people really that confused about what’s going on? This isn’t Finnegans Wake, for chrissakes.

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