“Texas Whatever,” Friday Night Lights 5.12 Review

February 4th, 2011


I was living in a devil town
Didn’t know it was a devil town
Oh Lord, it really brings me down
About the devil town
And all my friends were vampires
Didn’t know they were vampires
Turns out I was a vampire myself
In the devil town
I was living in a devil town
Didn’t know it was a devil town
Oh Lord, it really brings me down
About the devil town

Friday Night Lights fans are very familiar with this song. We hear it for the first time in Season One as the State Champion Dillon Panthers drive down the center of town for a celebratory parade. Each player and the loved ones who have supported him are featured in nicely pieced moments along the parade route. In “Texas Whatever,” the song plays as the Dillon School Board votes 5-2 to eliminate the East Dillon football program. Talk about living off the blood of another, the Panthers are indeed vampires in this devil town.

“Texas Whatever” is a difficult episode if simply for the fact that it is the next to last episode for the entire Friday Night Lights series. Penultimate. There’s only one left. At the end of the episode, I said out loud, “That’s it?” I was agog that more hadn’t been resolved. But of course, what did I expect. Well, truthfully, I am hoping that Jason Katims, Peter Berg, and the entire FNL crew have figured out that pesky time-space continuum, so that they can allow Friday Night Lights to continue on, forever, without the confines of television schedules and the like. I’m a dreamer.

“Texas Whatever” begins with Tami’s return from Philadelphia to a sleeping Eric and oldest daughter Julie, who’s home for winter break. We quickly break from the idyllic Taylor homefront to a short but powerful scene where Tim Riggins, still reeling from the trauma of jail time, awakes in a nightmarish state. Out of breath and high on adrenaline, he throws his mattress and bedding outside. One can only imagine that confined spaces and anger created a suffocating evening for Tim. Luckily, Riggins finds peace sooner, rather than later, at the hands of former flame Tyra Collette. Lord, have we missed Tyra. We never knew how much until she saunters back into Tim’s life at the bar. Recognizing Tyra’s voice brings the slightest smile to Tim’s face. When she tells a customer to “Move!,” we smile broadly. We’ve missed you Miss Collette.

Tyra and Tim have always had an understanding . Despite broken hearts and immaturity, they have always know something about one another that noone else has. Their hard scrabble lives bonded the two in a way that Lyla Garrity and Landry Clarke could never acheive with Tim and Tyra, respectively. Therefore it is Tyra that has the best chance at chipping away at the anger Tim swims in. Tyra hasn’t come to Dillon to save, rescue, or cure Tim. Given her lack of trips back home (only one since her nephew was born the year before), we can only infer that this is simply a holiday trip. No matter the cause, she quickly knows that her friend Tim needs her, and perhaps she needs him too.

In a nice scene between friend Tyra and Julie Taylor, Tyra confesses that everything is “harder when you really love someone.” She looks off into the distance and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was thinking of Landry. But soon, we all find out that she’s been thinking about Tim. Earlier in the day, Tim confesses to Tyra that he took the fall for Billy. Her mental dialogue is clear as she looks at Tim. Equal parts pity, adoration, and shock, she cannot imagine doing something like that for someone, anyone. So when Tyra returns to the bar, it is to confirm to Tim that love made him take the fall for Billy. A love that was a result of Billy’s love for his younger brother. When their parents abandoned the boys, Billy sacrificed his life for Tim. Love is what the Riggins brothers are really about, despite every sign to the contrary. Love. As she walks to her truck, Tim follows, desperately asking her not to go. The silent bond these two share is apparent in this moment. As Tyra listens to Tim’s plea, there’s no dread, no hesitation, no cloying, only honesty. It just so happens that Tim’s mattress and pillows make their way back inside the airstream that night… The following morning Tyra has Tim take her to his land, where she appropriately questions his intent to sell the land and move to work the Alaskan pipeline. “Alaska, Tim?” she asks in that Tyra way and Tim smiles at her, the crazy prospect of moving, and at himself. That smile reminds us of how much we’ve missed Tim, too.

We’ve also missed Matt Saracen and his grandmother. Although we got to spend time with Matt and Julie and few episodes back, it’s Matt and Lorraine Saracen that are the real couple we worry about. As Matt surprises his grandmother with a Christmas tree, we realize that she’s not doing well. In fact, she appear to be much worse than when we last saw her. She asks Matt about his deceased father and seems completely unaware that it’s Christmas. In Matt’s way, he smiles through the pain and provides the answers that will help his grandmother enjoy this all too brief moment of lucidity.

As much as this episode provides much needed reunions with our favorite characters, it is also wrought with hardship. As Friday Night Lights has proven over the years, sweetness is always tempered by the bitter. There are two crucial decisions to be made in our Dillon-verse. The first relates to the football programs of the Dillon Independent School District. Due to budget concerns, described as the worst ever, one team will be cut. With the Lions on their way to the State Championship game we know they’ll be the one to be eliminated. Rationale and logic are not the strong suit of Dillon school administrators. The way Tami was summarily hazed and harassed last season is just a reminder of the screwed up decisions they normally make in Dillon. As the strains of Tony Lucca’s “Devil Town” begin to play, the haggard and frustrated and new Superintendent announces the decision to keep the Panthers rather than the Lions. “Those sons-of-bitches…” Eric Taylor isn’t the only one to feel that way.

In a lovely moment hearkening back to the Panthers we once loved, Vince, Luke, Dallas, Hastings, and Buddy Jr. all convene on the Lions home field. These knights of East Dillon’s King Taylor reflect on how important that field and one another have been to these young men. Dallas Tinker plunks down on the 50 yard line emblazoned with a red “L” and proceeds to cut part of the turf. “I’m going plant this grass in my front yard and keep it forever,” he explains. Vince quickly asks him to cut him a portion as well. Something, anything from this place is better than nothing. Despite Coach Taylor telling Vince that he will “shine” as QB1 of the Dillon Panthers, the reference to Camelot is not lost on us. East Dillon is the land of legend for these young men.

The enormity of the loss of football at EDHS pales in comparison to the foundation-rocking events in the Taylor household. One of the interesting notes about “Texas Whatever” is that the episode was directed by Kyle Chandler. Bravo to Chandler for allowing his alter ego to receive the full-brunt of disappointment and disgust Tami throws his way. Tami has be offered a job as the Dean of Admissions at a small college in Philadelphia and wants the family to move to Pennsylvania so that she can accept the position. We get that Eric is preparing for the most important game of the year, but as Tami consistently reminds him, she has put everything on the back burner for nearly 20 years so that Eric could pursue every one of his dreams. Early on in the Tami-Eric tug-of-war Eric asks her if she’s rooting against ‘us.’ Eric, disappointingly informs Tami that the ‘us’ he’s referring to is East Dillon. As Tami painfully points out, “Oh I thought the ‘us’ was you and me, ‘us.’” Unfortunately, the piece of information we’ve always know about Eric comes into perfect relief– he wants things done his way, even if that means causing those he loves some measure of pain. I’ve been rewatching a lot of the old episodes recently and rewatching the season two opener reminded me of just how cruel Eric has been at times. Telling Tami that he ‘has’ to go back to TMU despite promises that he would be there with her and their newborn daughter, was painful to watch. Connie Britton’s anguish and stifled sobs makes the anger we see in her now, so completely understandable.

After the announcement that the Lions will be disbanded, Eric learns that the powers that be (the Panther Football Boosters) want Eric back as coach of the Panthers. When he drunkenly tells Tami the news, she offers a chilling assessment of the inequities in their marriage: “I’m gonna say to you what you haven’t had the grace to say to me. Congratulations, Eric.” Tami grabs her boots, her purse, and her pride and leaves Eric to steep in alcohol and arrogance. In a final insult to their marriage, at the end of the episode Buddy and the Panther Booster cronies come to pay a late-night call on the Taylors. Instead of telling them to come back in the morning, Eric invites them in, in a blatant power play over Tami. Hell hath no fury Eric Taylor, lest you forget. Tami, quietly looks at him and says “Eighteen years,” hearkening back to her reminder to Eric that she’s been a football coach’s wife and all that entails for eighteen years. Then in a way only Tami Taylor could, she walks past Eric asking Buddy et al, “Can I get you anything? Iced Tea? Water?” in the most chillingly cordial voice possible.

Like the football games we’ve watched over these last five seasons, Friday Night Lights has 60 minutes to grab a piece of magic. I’ll be watching with Applebee’s and an Alamo Freeze blizzard with jimmies for old time’s sake, and cursing myself for falling in love with that damn devil town.

Grade: A

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor: Kyle Chandler
Tami Taylor: Connie Britton
Tim Riggins: Taylor Kitsch
Tyra Collette: Adrianne Palicki
Vince Howard: Michael B. Jordan
Jess Merriweather: Jurnee Smollett

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“The March,” Friday Night Lights 5.11 Review

January 30th, 2011

“The March” is a perfect example of why I love Friday Night Lights.  “The March” beautifully, painfully, even humorously, tells the story of the Dillon residents that we’ve come to know over five seasons.  Let there be no doubt– we care about these people and what happens in their lives.

“The March” is appropriately titled to match the East Dillon football team’s march to the State Championship.  In a nice use of quickened storytelling, the playoff season expires in this one episode.  From the Lions’ first game against West Cambria to their semifinal win over Arnett Meade, the Lions are headed to State.  Watching the Lions embrace their journey with verve– well, shoot I wanted to run in place at Coach’s house and then the Riggins house to give a Samoan tribal yell too.  It felt right.  It felt right to see Vince leading his team and enjoying their company rather than the brief-hubris addiction he fell under with his father’s Division I recruiting dreams.  And while I’m mentioning Vince, I have to say that at the end of the episode when he was looking for his mother… We, as viewers, were searching too Vince.  Bravo to writer Rolin Jones for addressing Regina’s sobriety.  Seeing her struggle and make the right choice to attend a meeting rather than the semifinal game gave a weight to Regina that we haven’t seen much of this season.  We wanted to find her too, Vince, and were relieved to find her well and waiting.  Seeing the two of them embrace was the perfect ending to a lively return to Dillon for the Lions.  Energetically exiting their bus to the sounds of “Champion Angel” by The Low Anthem was a perfect celebratory moment for these hard-scrabble kids.  And the site of their celebration had to be the appropriately hard-scrabble Carroll Park.  The power plant and the park have never looked so good!

One of my favorite moments from tonight’s episode involved Coach Taylor and Jess Merriweather.  Despite Coach Crowley’s dismissal of Jess’s football coaching aspirations, Eric’s offer to Jess to allow her to shadow him, was equal parts funny and sweet.  Daggone, if we don’t love Eric Taylor.  He bumbles and fumbles and gets so easily flustered, but he loves all of his East Dillon children.  And Jess, he realizes, loves football as much as he does.  I just smile at the thought of Jess becoming a Taylor assistant coach in a few years.  If he can weather Stan Traub and Billy Riggins, Jess Merriweather will be a revelation on the sidelines.  In fact, of all the father-figure roles Eric Taylor has filled, it is his relationship with Jess that has been most surprising and endearing this season.  In the episode “Gut Check,” as Jess cries over her breakup with Vince, Coach reminds her that he has two daughters and to take as much time as she needs.  It’s not effusive, but it’s classic Eric Taylor.

If last week’s episode was Buddy Garrity’s, then this week’s episode was certainly Tim Riggins’s.  At one point I said, “God damn” out loud as I watched Taylor Kitsch hit even deeper, more salient levels of emotion with the our favorite fallen football star.  I don’t write ‘favorite’ in any sarcastic way, but to note that viewers are invested in what happens to Tim.  We still harbor tension towards Billy for allowing Tim to take the fall.  Tonight, as Billy is on his knees in the parking lot of the Landing Strip alone and crying, there’s no empathy or even sympathy.  If anything, there’s apathy for his cavalier attitude moments earlier about having no complaints about the life he, his pregnant wife, his brother, and boarder are living.  When Mindy cried out to Tim, “You’re different,” there was a bit of a sneer at her low blow. The Riggins family clusterf*ck isn’t funny any more.  We’ve reached our limit. And thank goodness Tim has had enough of it too.  Taylor Kitsch is one damn fine actor.  A few months back I got a bit irritated with a student that went on and on about how ‘hot’ Kitsch is.  The actor in me came out and I immediately commented about his craft.  It goes without saying that Friday Night Lights has been blessed with fine, fine actors.  Has there been a better cadre in television?  I don’t think so. Kitsch continues to impress with the ways in which he adds depth to his n’er do well doppelganger.  Among Kitsch’s finer FNL moments was tonight’s fight at the Landing Strip over Becky.  Hearing him yell, “She’s 17!  She’s 17!  A high school junior!” was gut-wrenching.  So desperate to save Becky, we couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if someone, anyone would’ve fought like that for Tim three years earlier.  Perhaps, Tim realized that only he was going to be able to save himself.  Even his greatest supporters along the way, have left him to fend for himself.  And so he leaves the Riggins house with Becky watching that beat-up Chevy truck drive away.  He returns to the old airstream trailer where he began to live on his own over a year before.  Anger spilling out of his pores, he turns on the radio to catch the garbled news of the Lions victory.  Forget God Bless Texas.  God Bless Tim Riggins.

“The March” ends with Coach Taylor mimicking Vince’s search for his mother.  Only Eric is searching for his wife.  Tami has missed the semifinal game because of an interview at Philadelphia’s Braemore College.  All of the travails with students like Epyck, budget concerns with the Board of Education, unsupportive colleagues and the like, have led up to this moment– Dillon is now a place that the Taylors can see themselves leaving.  At the very least, it’s a place that Tami seems ready to leave.  We shall see what the final two (two!!) episodes have in store for the Taylors.  No matter the decision, it’s not going to be an easy one.  The writing is on the proverbial wall, a change is going to come to Dillon.

Damn, I love this show.

Grade:  A+

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor:  Kyle Chandler
Tim Riggins:  Taylor Kitsch
Tami Taylor:  Connie Britton
Vince Howard:  Michael B. Jordan
Regina Howard:  Angela Rawna
Becky Sproles:  Madison Burge

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Don’t Go,” Friday Night Lights 5.10 Review

January 30th, 2011

There have been times during this final season of Friday Night Lights where I’ve wondered what the writers have been thinking.  Julie Taylor having an affair with her married university T.A.?  Tami’s ‘homework club’ mission?  I didn’t truly realize how much of a drain these story lines were on the show as a whole until the story lines went away.  Julie and Epyck are nowhere to be found in “Don’t Go.”  “Don’t Go” is a wonderful episode, in part, because of it.

As Buddy Garrity describes it, East Dillon has a battle on it’s hands over the fate of Eric Taylor.  As Principal Levi Burnwell responds, “You got all that from a crate of oranges?”  He did.  Buddy’s talented that way.   Eric is formally offered a three year contract with Shane State as their head coach.  He would have control of every aspect of the new Division I program in Florida.  At home he, Tami, and Gracie would enjoy a pool and palm trees.  What’s not to love?  What would ever keep Coach in Dillon?  These are among the questions that Buddy Garrity certainly has asked himself.  In an episode that features Brad Leland at his Buddy best, Dillon’s #1 booster will do everything in his power to persuade Taylor to stay.  From turning the fall sports banquet into a Taylor love-fest to even influencing four-year old Gracie Taylor, Buddy has no shame.  He even takes to strong-arming Eric, guilting him with his regret that Buddy Jr. will never play for Taylor.  He even uses  Tim Riggins’s upcoming parole hearing to lecture Eric and Billy Riggins about how important loyalty is.  Buddy Garrity is a piece of work.

One of Buddy’s best traits is his ability to surprise after all this time.  One such moment occurs during the aforementioned parole hearing for former All-American fullback Tim Riggins.  Tim and Buddy have had their rough times, namely over Tim’s relationship with Buddy’s daughter Lyla.  After hitching her/their star to Jason Street’s future football career, Tim Riggins’s bad boy ways weren’t appreciated by Mr. Garrity.  At every turn, Tim proved to Buddy that he cared deeply for Lyla and would do nothing to hurt her.  Slowly but surely, Buddy Garrity became a fan of Tim Riggins.  At the hearing brother Billy Riggins offer a jumbled, nervous plea that Tim receive parole, Coach Taylor delivers a  heartfelt persuasive claim that Tim Riggins is an honorable young man.  Through some mistake Buddy is left off of the character witness list.  He insists, in that Buddy Garrity way, that he be heard.  After all the parole board knows that he’s a respected businessman in the area, selling one board member “a Chevy Tahoe a few year back.”  Tim Riggins is helpless.  In all of his Chekhovian-psychological-gestured-goodness, Riggins just keeps his head down.  Buddy’s speech begins by admitting that he’s seen Tim Riggins do a dozen things wrong, but that he is a member of the family after dating Lyla.  And if Buddy knows anything it’s that Tim isn’t a criminal and doesn’t deserve to be in the criminal justice system.  Guaranteeing the board that Tim will have a full-time job with Buddy upon release, he implores the board to let Tim “come home.”  With that Tim smiles and we remember that Buddy is a west Texas magician.

Despite the ‘triumph’ of Buddy’s speech, Tim’s release from prison is wrought with skittish angst.  We learn that during his incarceration Tim has written Coach Taylor.  Almost childlike, Tim asks Eric if he got the letters Tim mailed him.  Eric painfully admits that he did, and that he is sorry for not visiting more.  Tim counters with his own regret for letting down the only father-figure he’s had.  Later, as Tim watches Billy, in Lions garb, leave for the football game he’ll be coaching, one can’t help but think that it should’ve been Tim leaving for the game.  Alas, a lot has changed since last Thanksgiving.  Even Tim’s relationship with Becky seems on ice.  As she enters the Riggins house, Tim appears to have the slightest hopeful look on his face.  It quickly fades to emptiness as Becky reacts with shock, instead of the girlish enthusiasm one would’ve imagined.

As we wonder about how Tim will fit into the new Riggins household, we return to wondering about Coach Taylor and his Lions.  In a bedroom confession, Eric tells Tami that he wants to take his players to State because they deserve it.  Given Vince’s heartfelt submission to Eric, we have to agree that these Lions players deserve a shot at a Championship title.  From 2-8 the season before to a State title game?  Of course.

After all, Lions are never out of the fight.

Grade:  B+

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor:  Kyle Chandler
Buddy Garrity:  Brad Leland
Tim Riggins:  Taylor Kitsch
Billy Riggins:  Derek Phillips
Tami Taylor:  Connie Britton
Vince Howard:  Michael B. Jordan

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Gut Check,” Friday Night Lights 5.09 Review

January 28th, 2011

The fractures and tears of the last episode immediately reemerge in “Gut Check” as we see the impact of all the East Dillon tensions.  Cleaning up along the sidelines we hear Slammin’ Sammy announce that the dream of a Lion undefeated season is over.  In an attempt to heal the fractures, caused mainly by Vince, Coach Taylor benches his QB1 in favor of Luke Cafferty.  Quickly on the heals of his demotion, Vince gets into a heated argument with girlfriend Jess that end with her breaking up with him.  After missing a meeting where he was supposed to help Luke learn the Lion offense, Vince is benched.  As he attempts to challenge Coach Taylor’s decision, Eric threatens Vince with a second week on the bench.  Against all odds, Vince appears to use some small bit of logic and cools down before finding himself on the bench for the remainder of the season.  Although Coach Taylor tries to heal the team’s divisions, it is Vince that must do the real work to heal the team.

Vince’s father Ornette is the driving force behind his own inflated ego  In an attempt to regain some kind of control in his own life, Vince intercedes and stops Ornette at the Friday night game when his father shows signs of confronting Coach Taylor on the field after Luke leads the team to victory.  It’s a small step, but an important one for Vince’s well-being in life, not just on the football field.

Another fracture that undergoes a healing process of sorts is that between Julie Taylor and Matt Saracen.  Julie has arrived in Chicago, attempting to further evade the debacle she’s made of her first semester in college.  At the beginning of her visit, Matt and Julie appear to be functioning as old friends, rather than former boyfriend and girlfriend.  Pointing out this tension Matt finally kisses Julie, rekindling their romance.  Despite their ability to quickly fall back in sync with one another, Julie’s confession about her affair causes Matt hesitation.  As he tells Julie, he doesn’t want to be her safety net, we fear that perhaps healing Julie’s fractures will take longer.  As Julie finally leaves for Texas, Matt chases her car until she stops.  As he holds her, he confirms to her that they’ll “figure it out.”  Leave it to Matt Saracen to fix any situation.  As the alleyway’s steam and smoke swirl around Matt, we’re reminded that ‘Seven’ may be the most solid and resolute Dillon resident we’ve met in our five year stay.  Wise beyond his years, Matt Saracen is why the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ exists.

As Tami’s newest student project Epyck results in Tami being assaulted in her office, the attempts to heal fractures within the Taylor household appear to rest in Eric’s ongoing talks with Shane State in Florida.  Will he or won’t he?  The last time Eric Taylor took a college job (Season Two’s TMU) it didn’t work out so well.  Has the situation gotten so bad at East Dillon, have the teenagers gotten so exhausting that Eric and Tami move on?  The following episode entitled “Don’t Go” seems to signal some sort of change on the Taylor’s horizon.  Or will a gut check get them to stay?

We shall see.  And soon.

Grade:  B-

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor:  Kyle Chandler
Tami Taylor:  Connie Britton
Julie Taylor:  Aimee Teegarden
Matt Saracen:  Zach Gilford
Vince Howard:  Michael B. Jordan
Jess Merriweather:  Jurnee Smollett

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Fracture,” Friday Night Lights 5.08 Review

January 27th, 2011

First and foremost, it pains me to write 5.08.  Knowing that this is Friday Night Lights final season, writing 5.08 signifies that there are only 5 episodes left.  Oh hell.  I digress.

Kyle Chandler’s Coach Eric Taylor makes a painful grimace as his boys are about to enter a meager pep rally in the East Dillon High School cafeteria.  Pain, anguish, frustration, and good old pissed-off-edness wash over him.  For a brief moment one wonders if he’s about to have a stroke over all of it and then he turns and yells and Vince and Luke to “Shut up!”  This order on Taylor’s behalf is just one of several fractures, splinters, and tears in the relationships of FNL’s Dillonites.

The biggest fracture in the world of East Dillon is Vince’s burgeoning ego and Reggie Bush/Cam Newton family involvement thanks to his father.  In the classic cliché that there is no “I” in “team,” Vince is a big fan of praising himself and thinking about how fantastic his future will be.  An ‘unofficial’ visit to Oklahoma Tech has his awash in poolside beauties and informal promises from the head coach that the job is for whomever of their top two recruits says yes first.  The Howard family shenanigans reach a head when a photo of Vince in Oklahoma reaches a recruiting website.  Hubris explodes as he fractures every solid relationship he has built at East Dillon. The most egregious example of Vince’s ugly greed comes when Coach Taylor first questions him about his time away from school.  When Vince blames it on his mother’s drug addiction… well, it’s simply disgusting.  Growing to love Vince over these last two seasons has been a slow process and in one awful lie, those positive feelings start to fade.

What do you say about Billy and Mindy Riggins?  They have provided well-needed laughs over the last few seasons, but in this episode we have to be honest with ourselves– they’re hot messes.  As much as I, personally wanted to believe that Mindy could shake some sense into Billy, raising her son in the dressing room of a strip club proves she’s the mess we thought she was; she’s the mess her sister Tyra was so desperate not to become.  Watching Becky fall in deeper and deeper under the spell of the Landing Strip ladies is a bit sad.  You can’t help but remember her desperate fights last season to be better than her circumstances and yet she seems to be pulled back into a battle between circumstance and desire. Frankly, watching Becky depend on the stripper triumvirate for her latest scholarship pageant borders on pathetic.  Rightfully so, the judge who hands Becky her runner-up roses tells her, “I think you should take a hard look at the company you keep.”

Just when we thought the ‘relationship’ (read ‘bad storyline’) between Julie Taylor and her teaching assistant was over, Derek shows up at the Taylor household to cause more damage.  In a beautiful use of props, there is a satisfying pay-off as Eric breaks Derek’s taillight with the handlebar of Gracie’s bicycle.  As Julie begins her journey back to school, we can only hope that finally she’ll quit being her own worst enemy.  And then she calls Derek and finds out that he came to Dillon to try and get her back.  We see Julie turn the car around and moan a bit inside, only to find that she turned around to travel 2,000 to arrive at the Matt Saracen’s doorstep.  Julie Taylor, you’ve not been so hot in the relationship department this season.  Don’t screw this up, too.

And now back to Coach Taylor’s break before the pep rally.  Built up frustrations with his eldest daughter, his star quarterback’s felon-father, and in-fighting between Coaches Crowley and Riggins, Vince and the rest of the team create a maelstrom of tension that spur Coach’s “Shut up!”  The assembly looks more like a ruse than a pep rally.   Here we have another Friday Night Lights staple– the affective score by Explosions in the Sky.  As the electric guitars swirl, we sense the tensions that threaten every member of the East Dillon Lions on and off the field.

Who will heal these fractures?  And how?  I can’t wait to see.

Grade:  A

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor:  Kyle Chandler
Tami Taylor:  Connie Britton
Julie Taylor:  Aimee Teegarden
Ornette Howard:  Cress Williams
Vince Howard:  Michael B. Jordan
Becky Sproles:  Madison Burge

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

*****
On a personal note, I must admit that it has been hard writing about these final episodes. I know that these reviews are weeks past their original air date. I’m simply a gal aghast that this show is ending. Maybe not writing about the episodes is my way of delaying the inevitable truth about the end…

“Perfect Record,” Friday Night Lights 5.07 Review

January 5th, 2011

“Perfect Record” was a throwback episode of Friday Night Lights-throwback in the sense that past Dillon Panthers crept into the narrative, reminding of what once was. And it is this reminder of what used to be Dillon football that has Coach Taylor with a not-so ‘perfect’ win-loss record.

Our first homecoming of sorts is from Jason Street. Six and Coach Taylor meet for lunch where Jason reveals he is now married and trying to expand his family. Watching Jason and Eric banter back and forth makes us yearn for the days of old, where life seemed incredibly sweet despite the upheavals off-the-field. Somehow, even on the green turf of Hermann field, life was good in the Dillon. Eric does his best to convince Jason that despite interest from colleges, Eric isn’t interested in leaving East Dillon. The foreshadowing is a bit too strong here– we get, loud and clear, that Taylor’s idyllic life is about to change.

Ornette Howard seems to be the front-runner to disturbing Taylor’s West Texas pastoral portrait. Ornette’s ‘gifts’ of TMU merchandise for Vince and Jess seems eerily similar to the recent tales of Auburn University’s Cam Newton’s father asking Mississippi State for $180,000 for his son to play at their college. Ornette Howard is a clearly drawn figure of bad influence. Despite our faith in Vince Howard to make the right decisions, the emergence of the hate site LionHater.com signals a break in Vince’s resolve to stay above the fray. As he confides in Coach Taylor that it doesn’t matter how perfect his season is, recruiters will only focus on is the perfectly-illegal crimes that are documented on the web site. Ornette seizes on this break in Vince’s confidence and the rest of the episode is an increasingly speedy descent into arrogance on the Howards’ part.

The second Dillon Panther of the past to emerge is Matt Saracen. How could anyone watch Vince Howard throw footballs into a car tire hanging in front of old mattresses and not think of the contraption Matt Saracen threw footballs into for three years? For both Matt and Vince, surely, all of those throws will pay off one day… one day.

Finally, the last Panther to appear is Landry Clarke, or at least his football jersey number appears. During the game between East and West Dillon, Luke Cafferty lands a sinister hit on #85 of the West Dillon Panthers. Remembering Landry, it seemed especially harsh for the player to be hit so brutally. Luke’s hit seems to be just the beginning of a game that shows how unperfect, how out-of-control Coach Taylor’s life is. The facade has fallen apart. If there is any doubt, whatsoever, about how far the Lions have fallen, Coach Crowley reminds us, and most importantly Coach Taylor, that something is very, very wrong in East Dillon. Towards the end of the game, as the Lions’ unsportsmanlike behavior continues, Coach Crowley asks, “Are you not going to do anything about this, Eric?” After Vince defies Coach Taylor’s instructions and throws a 60-yard bomb his father has been talking about, the Lions beat their cross-town rivals by 30 points. Coach Crowley leaves the field chastising Taylor saying, “It’s not who we are, Eric.” As a punctuation point to Crowley’s assessment, we watch Tinker– lovable, sweet Dallas Tinker– taunt the West Dillon Panthers, telling them to get off the field. As the adrenaline and fever-pitch of the evening starts to subside, Eric asks his assistant coach if he’s coming to Buddy’s for the post-game celebration. Avoiding eye contact, Coach Crowley sadly states, “Don’t feel like celebrating tonight.” This moment is wrought with significance. We shall see if Eric Taylor turns things around in the next episode, but for now, there is no other character that could so aptly describe the fall from grace that Eric Taylor is in the midst of. Coach Crowley, after all, is the person who left behind success and security at West Dillon to join Taylor and his band of misfits at East Dillon. When Crowley entered the locker room a year ago he told Taylor, “We’ve got no shot at winning,” but he made the move anyway. Crowley’s never shown the hubris and ego that Mac McGill exhibited towards a head coach that was much younger than himself. Coach Crowley was the one to calm Coaches Spivey, Riggins, and Traub when Eric left practice early, or showed up to the game late. Coach Crowley has been the most loyal of sentries to Eric Taylor and now that he’s questioning the Kingmaker Eric Taylor, we know that change is going to come.

On the upside, early on in the episode, Buddy Garrity and the Lion boosters deliver one of the funniest moments in recent memory- including the fantastic “Kingdom” episode. Buddy and the boosters (a future band name?) enter the practice field with all the necessities to keep watch on the field, avoiding a repeat of the rivalry week vandalism incurred last fall. Coach Taylor asks one booster in particular, “Colonel, what you plan on doing with that shotgun” “The safety’s on. The bullets are still in my pocket,” he explains. Exasperated, Eric replies “Take that gun away from him. Take that gun away from him.”

Grade:   A

Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor: Kyle Chandler
Coach Crowley: Timothy F. Crowley
Tami Taylor: Connie Britton
Julie Taylor: Aimee Teegarden
Ornette Howard: Cress Williams
Vince Howard: Michael B. Jordan

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Swerve,” Friday Night Lights 5.06 Review

December 15th, 2010

I don’t know why I am ever surprised when Friday Night Lights follows one fantastic episode with another one of equal caliber. For instance, the final four episodes of Season 4 are so deftly wrought that they leave you gasping for air under the weight of it all. And then there is the genius ending to Season 3 that leads into the brilliant season opener for Season 4…. I think you may understand, by now, that I’m a fan of this show. The sixth episode of the final season is aptly named “Swerve,” as six characters attempt to swerve out the way of literal and metaphorical dangers. Julie and Eric, Vince and Ornette, and Luke and Billy are drawn to each other like magnets, in a pull that precariously approaches complete destruction.

Eric Taylor, professionally, is heralded this week as a “kingmaker” on the football field. Despite being the cover boy for Texas Football Monthly, his home life crashes, literally, into a stone mailbox when daughter Julie wrecks her car so that she can stay in Dillon, rather than return to Burleson University and the repercussions of her adulterous affair. Let’s recap the turmoil Eric Taylor has endured in four seasons in Dillon, Texas. He has survived: 1) his Notre Dame-bound quarterback’s spinal cord injury in the season opener; 2) a lawsuit regarding said paralyzed athlete; 3) a running back dabbling in performance enhancing drugs; 4) an alcoholic fullback who misses at least a week of practice every season; 5) racist comments from an assistant coach; 6) the most interfering athletic booster in the history of high school athletics; 7) living four hours away from his wife, daughter, and newborn child for eight months; 8 ) an investigation into recruiting violations; 9) losing his job to an even more annoying/malfeasant athletic booster’s coach du jour; 10) inheriting a derelict athletic program at East Dillon high school; 11) forfeiting the very first game of the East Dillon football season; 12) coaching a team where the quarterback and team leader is a juvenile delinquent on his last chance to get straight; 13) an inquest and witch hunt to fire his wife after she counseled a pregnant teen through her family options; 14) various rivals that have destroyed his playing field, trashed his locker room, and beaten up his players.

Football coaches have had easier times. Yet in all of this turmoil, nothing has brought Taylor to his knees like the news that his oldest daughter Julie has had an affair with a married teaching assistant. Taylor leaves practice early and arrives to the game late. For the man who is everyone else’s rock to be so adrift—well, the Lions are unsure and nervous as to what it all means.

Watching Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton’s work in this episode is proof positive of what an alchemy casting really is. The chemistry between the two in undeniable, but what is particularly effective is watching the two of them work off of one another. During the scene in the Taylor bedroom, when they first talk to one another about the Julie ‘affair,’ there is not an ounce of artifice on-screen. Follow this up with another scene where Eric numbly stares off into the backyard and you understand this marriage—not these characters, not these actors, but this union—this marriage of actors and their respective characters. As purely as can be, Eric says, “She needs her butt kicked,” referring to their daughter. To which Tami simply replies, “You might be right.” Her answer isn’t sarcastic, isn’t placating. It is an honest assessment that perhaps their daughter does need a swift kick to her ass. Finally, as we watch Eric try to force his daughter out the door to face her troubles, we see this man we’ve grown to admire and care for over five seasons arrive somewhere he’s never been. Eric Taylor knows a lot of things, but he does not know how to fix this problem. He swerves at the disaster in front of him, and hits it anyway.

Although Ornette Howard sees the danger in front of him, in the shape of a local thug who’s trying to collect on a debt his son Vince owes, Ornette doesn’t swerve. Instead he braces himself for the crash and hits the accelerator. At the beginning of this season, Ornette arrives in Dillon after serving time for dealing drugs. Howard left behind a crack-addicted wife and son desperate to get his mom clean and to himself out of jail. The ‘solution’ for young Vince was to begin working for a local car thief who was responsible for the death of Vince’s friend Calvin. When Vince accepts the $5000.00 needed to send his mother to rehab, Kennard utters, “I got you. I got you.” In desperation, Vince appeals to his dad for help when Kennard calls in the loan. Ornette agrees and there is a sense that he will take care of ‘it’ and do so above board so as not to screw up his parole. When Ornette and Kennard meet Friday night, in the shadows of the East Dillon football field lights, Ornette returns to his old ways, viciously beating Kennard and threatening him with worse should he come after Vince again.

The final pair trying to avoid a collision is Billy Riggins and Luke Cafferty. Billy, we see, is finally (?) bearing the weight of his decision to allow his younger brother Tim to take the fall for their chop-shop doings from last season. From paying his monthly mortgage bills to tearfully watching the highlight reel Tim and Billy put together for college recruiters, we’ve not yet seen Tim’s incarceration weigh so heavily on Billy. When Billy notices that Luke is spiraling out of control, it’s as if Billy is able to correct some of the wrongs he committed with Tim. Whether Billy’s aware of it or not, Luke is his chance at redemption. We’re aware of it, of course, as Luke stands in front of Tim’s beat-up truck as Billy protects him from doing more damage to himself. As he later confirms to Luke, Billy is taking Luke under his wing, something both of them desperately need.

“Swerve” was a dizzying display of emotion and drama. And I loved every minute of it.

Grade: A+

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Cast & Credits Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor: Kyle Chandler
Tami Taylor: Connie Britton
Julie Taylor: Aimee Teegarden
Vince Howard: Michael B. Jordan
Luke Cafferty: Matt Lauria
Billy Riggins: Derek Phillips
Ornette Howard: Cress Williams

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Kingdom,” Friday Night Lights 5.05 Review

December 8th, 2010

I ended my last Friday Night Lights review by writing, “Despite the disappointments in this episode, my faith in Friday Night Lights isn’t diminished.  I’ll just keep looking for that special brand of perfection they create in Dillon, Texas.”  Who knew that it would only take one week to return to what makes Friday Night Lights great?  Well, maybe I did.

“Kingdom” is, already, one of my all-time favorite episodes of FNL.  It’s a very simple episode– the East Dillon Lions travel to South Kingdom High School, to revisit the team that trounced the Lions so badly in their home opener last season that Coach Taylor forfeited the game.  Because Kingdom is 250 miles away the team enjoys an overnight stay at a local hotel.  That’s it really.  I mean there are some brief encounters with Julie and Tami, but the depth and breadth of this episodes revolves around the coaching staff and players.

Although FNL is an earnest television drama, it is also incredibly funny.  Landry Clarke, Buddy Garrity, and Lorraine Saracen have provided laugh out loud moments over these five seasons.  The reason “Kingdom” soars as an episode is because it simply allows the men, both young and old, enjoy each others company and provide a little levity in the interim.  The representative scene of the episode involves the four football stars, Vince, Luke, Dallas, and Hastings blowing off some steam the night before the game.  They’ve all convened on the patios of their adjoining hotel rooms with Coach Taylor a mere 20 feet away hidden behind the shrubbery.  Taylor is outside in a moment of solitude, only to find himself listening in on his young players think out-loud about the upcoming game.  The players vow no revenge on their opponents, they simply commit themselves to one another to do their best the next day.  Amidst the self-reflection on last year’s forfeit the boys tease each other about their mommas’ home cooking, the porn their roommates are watching, and the difficulties of falling asleep in a strange place.  They are young men being young men.  But to watch these friends talk to one another while their coach quietly listens highlights the beauty of this show.  This scene’s simplicity belies its power.  Watching Eric Taylor’s face subtly shift between whimsy, concern, chagrin, and contemplation, one realizes that is these same moments in our everyday lives– the honestly simple ones– that define us, not the pomp and circumstance of a come-from-behind football victory.

Not only was “Kingdom” a sweet and funny episode, it also marked the eagerly awaited beginning of the end of Julie’s love affair storyline.  The “Julie is a slut” tirade in the library was about as unrealistic as the writers could envision.  The spurned wife and adjunct professor will no longer be either in the near future because of such outlandish behavior.  But whatever we need to do to get Julie back to reality is greatly appreciated.

I find myself at a loss to describe this episode.  But then again brilliance has a way of muting commentary.

Grade:  A

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Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric Taylor:  Kyle Chandler
Coach Crowley:  Timothy F. Crowley
Vince Howard:  Michael B. Jordan
Luke Cafferty:  Matt Lauria
Dallas Tinker:  LaMarcus Tinker
Hastings Ruckle:  Grey Damon

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“Keep Looking,” Friday Night Lights 5.04 Review

November 29th, 2010

I think it is appropriate that this most recent episode of Friday Night Lights was entitled “Keep Looking,” because I kept looking and watching the episode to try and figure out what exactly went wrong, what drove this episode off the steady FNL rails.  One of the reasons why Friday  Night Lights soars is its innovative camera work.  Instead of the traditional television format where cameras are placed in specific locations, FNL cameras are almost hidden so that the actors don’t always know where they will be.  Instead of acting to the camera, the performers, instead, act to one another creating a more intimate, honest performance.  My first theory as to why this episode seemed a little wonky is because the camerawork seemed much more traditional and much more methodical and planned.  For Friday Night Lights, methodical and planned is not asset, it’s a distraction.

Ultimately, I’m compelled to lay blame on this episode’s director, Todd McMullen.  This is disheartening given that McMullen has been a part of FNL since the pilot episode as either a camera operator or a cinematographer.  I understand the attraction of leaving behind the cinéma verité style that the series has used so often in favor of a slicker, more traditionally Hollywood style.  Guess what?  The reason Friday Night Lights soars as a series is that it’s not your typical Los Angeles film and televison fare.  In McMullen’s first time as director, there are awkward acting moments from the normally solid Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity.  We’ve seen Buddy yell, cry, and drunkening stammer “I love you.  I love you” in front of his children.  Why in the world is he now a passive, completely accomodating dad to the unruly Buddy Jr., played unconvincingly by Jeff Rosick.  Rosick, in no way, is convincing as a high school sophomore.  Even if his ball cap is worn to the side, he still has the sullenness and surliness of an arrogant 25 year-old.  There was even uneven acting at the hands of the greatest husband-wife tandem in television– Eric and Tami Taylor.  Kyle Chandler’s Eric, awkwardly, at one point stands still after throwing something in a trash can, arms hanging in the air as he listens to Jess and Vince fight.  Never, in five seasons have we seen Eric do something like this.  This isn’t in Eric’s nature.  Eric, if anything, would throw away that piece of paper and then dart behind a door to surreptitiously listen to the happenings, give an eyebrow raise and then pretend he never heard anything when he later casually solves the problem at hand.  Even Tami isn’t herself as she tries to figure out the mathematics homework that student-du-jour Epyck is having trouble with.  Eric suggests that she call Julie and she energetically bounces up from the table awash in insecurity and immaturity, two things that don’t come to mind when thinking of Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor.  Are we to believe that Tami is scared of asking the math teachers for help?  I think not.  Even when I want to blame part of of the episode’s awkwardness, not on McMullen’s misguided camera and acting instructions, but on Bridget Carpenter’s script, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Rawna, Stacey Oristano, and Madison Burge highlight that when allowed to do the work they’re capable of, the actors of Friday Night Lights deliver.

Michael B. Jordan’s Vince Howard has emerged as the new Matt Saracen of the series.  Matt Saracen is the original everyman of Friday Night Lights, whose battle to be a man on the field while under the strain of unrelenting pressures at home made Zach Gilford’s character the under-appreciated core of the series.  Before our eyes, Vince has emerged from the shadows of his mother’s addiction and father’s incarceration to become a steadying force for all who encounter him.  Vince’s school dance conversation with girlfriend Jess (played by Jurnee Smollett) was our weekly reminder that no matter how strong he is on the field and off, Vince is still a teenager.

Despite the disappointments in this episode, my faith in Friday Night Lights isn’t diminished.  I’ll just keep looking for that special brand of perfection they create in Dillon, Texas.

Grade:  C+

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Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric:  Kyle Chandler
Tami:  Connie Britton
Vince:  Michael B. Jordan
Buddy:  Brad Leland
Regina:  Angela Rawna
Stacey Oristano:  Mindy Riggins

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview

“The Right Hand of the Father,” Friday Night Lights 5.03 Review

November 10th, 2010

It’s quite the task trying to figure out just the right metaphor for Dillon, Texas.  At times Dillon strikes me as a West Texas undertow—all smooth on the surface, while a  deadly current waits underneath.  At other times Dillon’s residents all appear to be living in a bubble and it is a waiting game to see how long that bubble can ride the wind before popping.  Tonight’s episode certainly was the latter, with several characters on the verge of breaking or being broken by others.

The episode begins with Tami and Eric watching a viral video of a Maura, Vince’s rally girl, being manipulated and twisted like a rag doll by various high school boys after she becomes completely incapacitated at a Dillon party.  I was a bit relieved to see the high school administration take a stand about the unacceptable behavior of all of the Dillon students, with an extra ounce of punishment directed at the football players.  I was feeling a bit judgmental about these ‘crazy kids’ and their drinking ways.  But as Tami and Eric humorously remind me, we did the exact same crazy things during our own days; only we’ve tamped it down in our subconscious so that we can revel in our self-righteousness when the moment arises.  Despite the recollection of their own improprieties, Tami and Eric realize that this behavior is a bubble, that when it bursts, will cause damage.

Tami’s personal bubble bursts when the young women of East Dillon laugh at the notion of being lectured about responsible drinking and social behavior.  Having had similar conversations with my female students, I felt her frustration all too much.  Our young women seem to be under particular assault in this mediated culture that preys on the insecure and ill informed, like Maura.  For Maura, to be the town ‘rag doll’ means that she has a certain level of notoriety and infamy, and there’s nothing worse in a viral society than to be ordinary and unnoticed, no matter the danger of that attention.

Coach Taylor instructs his players that “their standard” demands that they behave better on and off the field.  To the point, no longer will they be casually readying themselves for Friday games.  Instead they will comport themselves in ties and jackets to be the best representatives of Lion Pride. During a character-building session at the local grocery where the players distribute fliers about the next game, Vince’s bubble starts to tremble under the pressure of the team and his ex-con father’s return to town.

Michael B. Jordan delivers a heart-breaking performance tonight as Vince Howard.  Gone are the carefree days of the Vince who was in love with life, his girlfriend, and his team.  The Vince of last season was back because the pain and strain of his former self reappeared full force in the shape of his father.  Out of parole, we’re not quite sure what he went away for, although Vince reveals that his father is who lead his mother to a life of addiction.  It isn’t until a seething Vince starts to hassle Coach Taylor that we know he truly is on the verge.  That scene where Vince unfurls is powerful.  From Coach Taylor’s stinging reminder that “The first time I met you, you were climbing out of a police car,” to Vince’s admission that he can’t be a man because his father “never taught me,” this is classic Friday Night Lights where honesty can be ugly.

Two other characters feel life altering tension as well this episode.  Buddy Garrity and Julie Taylor find themselves making decisions that feel right (Buddy) or felt right at the time (Julie).  Buddy’s decision will find his son Buddy Jr. moving back to Dillon to be under the right hand of his father and away from the “hippie” influences he’s been subjected to in California.  I’m sure there will be lots of prime Nebraska Angus steak in his future, but that’s beside the point.  Julie has fallen victim to the loneliness of her new college life and slept with her married teaching assistant.  This is a guaranteed bad decision and it’s only a matter of time before Tami has to step in to take care of the original troubled girl in her life. I think when it’s all over, Tami will once again say to Gracie Belle, “You are my favorite daughter.”

At some point during this episode I said to myself, “There are only 10 more left,” referring to the fact that of this 13 episode final season, there are only 10 more chances to engage with these characters.  I feel as if there is so much ground to cover, that there is no way FNL can possibly do it.  It, of course, is tying up every storyline neatly, but more importantly honestly.  But of course they can.  This is Friday Night Lights.  This show is quite simply a genius undertaking of television artistry.  There is no hyperbole when referring to Friday Night Lights—it truly is that damn good.  It is the best television drama in history.  There has never been a more realistic portrayal of a married couple on television, dare I say, in film as well.  Only literature has the capacity to reach the heights of Eric and Tami Taylor and their cadre of companions in Dillon.  This is, of course, because Friday Night Lights is television’s finest piece of literature.

And I, for one, will savor every last word.

Grade:  B+

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Cast & Credits

Friday Night Lights, Wednesdays 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central, DirecTV

Eric:  Kyle Chandler
Tami:  Connie Britton
Vince:  Michael B. Jordan
Buddy:  Brad Leland
Regina:  Angela Rawna
Vince’s father:  Cress Williams

Official website: http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/friday_night_lights/overview