Season Premiere: Friday Night Lights – “Last Days of Summer”

“Last Days of Summer”

October 5th, 2007

The world of Dillon, Texas is askew as Friday Night Lights starts its second season…well, actually, no its not. Dillon is taking a backseat, more or less removed from the series’ credits in favour of shiny pictures of its actors. The show operates as if its finale had established a laundry list of character problems, but the only real drama was for the Taylor Family and Panther Football.

And yet, Jason Katims has chosen to add drama for every single other character: Matt and Julie are drifting apart thanks to a Swede, Landry is trying to impress his father by trying out for football, Street feels left out by the new coach, Tyra is being stalked by last season’s attacker, Buddy is stalking his future ex-wife, Riggins has become a drunken lout (again), and only Lyla has found solace (Although not much) in Jesus.

I know that there needed to be an obvious problem to solve when Coach Taylor returned, but the show has been thrown into too much turmoil too quickly. This used to be a series about a town that, while football crazed, was at its heart full of decent people. Instead, it’s about scandalous teenagers and people in over their heads. My faith in the series can’t help but wane in this moment: have they forgotten what made the show what it was?

Well, the answer is no…they’re just taking a little while to get back to it. And, well, I’m okay with that. I think. Until the murder.

I was most angry that they were turning Julie into a boy crazy and illogical teenager incapable of making a smart decision. She was madly in love with Matt Saracen when we last left the series, and while I know she had a rough summer with the absentee father and all I don’t see how she’d abandon Matt in that way. But then it made sense: she is incapable of believing in love when she sees her parents being torn apart by a separation due to other situations.

My anger then moved to other areas, such as Riggins: he was well-adjusted and wanting to be just friends with Tyra at the end of last season, but apparently winning State turned him back into his alcoholic self. What is the cause of this complete character change? Will we ever find out? It’s ironic that Lyla, one of my least favourite characters, actually comes out the best in this transition: her finding Jesus has apparently been accompanied by a newfound wit.

The show even took its one character who was just a kid trying to score with the hot chick and play in his metal band, and they turned him into a murderous football player. Landry was just a student before: now he’s trying out for football and trying to be someone he isn’t to impress others. His interactions with Tyra were pretty damn funny, but his true potential is ruined when his role can no longer be as an innocent in this environment. Instead, he’s a homicidal teenager too stupid to realize that dumping a body is never a sound strategy.

I have all sorts of further rants on this subject, but Daniel Fienberg has pretty well summed up most of my frustration over at Check the Fien Print. Most telling is the change form an accidental murder to one done in cold blood: this only sends things down a worse path.

And while the new title sequence isn’t terrible by any means, and the show remains a terse interpersonal drama, but it is extending itself too quickly. I’ve heard that the first three episodes operate as an introduction of sorts, but here we have one game-breaking element (The murder) along with so many new problems that there lacks a central core: where’s the heart, Friday Night Lights? A baby does not equal heart when it arrives into a broken home, especially when Eric/Tami barely got any screentime together.

I’ll compare it to another teen-related show that was saved from low ratings and pressured in its second season: Veronica Mars started its second season with a bus crash and a purported homicide, and the show was never able to retain its wit and charm compared to its brilliant first outing. Much as the Taylor family’s drama remained powerful and strong in this episode, so too did Veronica’s relationship with her father…but the plot crumbled around it. I worry that FNL’s bus crash is a pipe to the back of the head.

I don’t want to see that happen here: I want us to return to the Dillon that we once knew, where people could be happy and that it’s about more than sex, drugs and football. The eyes are not clear, the hearts are not full, and I think it can lose…but it’s not fourth and goal quite yet. Anddd I’m out of football metaphors.

Cultural Observations:

  • What Would Riggins Do? I really wish he’d actually become a character again. Still, being Captain of the S.S. Tattas is fairly brilliant.
  • I feel like skipping like eight months of time was just a bit too much for the series, at least while trying to dangle so many storylines.
  • Did I rant about the title sequence? They took one of the best in television and turned it into something stereotypical and unfortunate.
  • I didn’t even mention the new coach above. That’s because we spend mere minutes with Bill McGregor. Something tells me we won’t be getting to know him for too long.
  • A frustrating part of the episode: Matt is apparently no longer captain of the team. This was hinted at, but never actually addressed.
  • The Buddy Garrity storyline felt like a REAL waste of time when dealing with everything else.
  • I don’t think I have much else to say of the murder storyline other than “Why, Jason Katims, why?” Was it Network pressure? If so, I hate you NBC and Ben Silverman.
  • The preview made my brain hurt.

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