Friday Night Lights – “Game of the Week”


“Game of the Week”

December 3rd, 2008

“It would be good to get the ball rollin’, you know?”

It’s “Beer-Thirty” in the afternoon in Dillon, Texas, and Buddy Garrity sits in his recliner with a beer and a football game. A knock at the door sends him a reminder: it can’t be his ex-wife, who hates him, or one of his friends, because he doesn’t have any of them. For Buddy Garrity, his life is football.

But while the show has always used football as a point of dramatic tension in the lives of these players, and this episode featured some of the most football-oriented plotting since the show’s first season, this episode was about the show’s continued reminder that their lives go beyond the gridiron. While our two “goodbyes” pre-planned before the season may be over, this doesn’t mean that the theme won’t continue: they have a lot of characters to send off into some form of television sunset, and we’re starting to see the plot, well, get the ball rolling.

While the stories don’t quite have the same resonance as did the emotional exits for Smash and Street yet, what they do have is football. If this week’s game is any indication, the stakes are higher than ever and we’re back to having the big games as the backdrop for our action. What resulted here was a reminder that, as the stakes for the Panthers grow higher by the week, so too do the characters’ drive to go to college, to solve their interpersonal crises, and to (in some cases) get over significant hurdles to their future.

And if things are this captivating now, I’m fairly certain the State Championship will be happening in my living room, live in person.

The real drive of this episode is investigating what keeps people (in this case, almost entirely men) from being able to make commitments and to achieve their potential. These problems range from the highly volatile (Cash’s character assassination we all saw coming a mile away) to the highly emotional (Saracen’s commitment to his grandmother), and from the genetic (The Riggins Curse). However, only Cash was really in the wrong within this scenario: the others all had, if not the most optimistic perspective, the best of intentions.

I think that we all saw this coming with Cash – anyone who didn’t read “DANGER” from the painkillers should have picked up on the purported Baby Mama, yet alone his general smarmy nature. The guy was a charmer, and Tyra has proven in the past to be someone easily swayed by charm. Tyra’s problem is impulsiveness: while most of our characters have been sitting back avoiding the future, Tyra ran off with Cash to not leave it to fate. What she got, of course, was what we expected: a complicated boyfriend, an explosive personality, considerable gambling debts, and a whole bottle of anger.

While I don’t like them as a romantic coupling, this would be a far more reasonable time for Tyra and Landry to get together, considering their phone call. It was one of those scenes that just kind of clicked, even with the distance between them. She was just so much more at ease, even just hearing his voice: I loved her quick reaction to hearing the name of the girl on Student Council, knowing that they were panicking over the lack of a winter formal theme in her absence. It was a reminder for her that she does have a life to be living in the moment: while the future is important, and her uncertain collegiate future was what drove her to this in the first place, she has friends and commitments and the frivolous high school life that is her reality.

I don’t blame the show for spending time with Tyra right now – Palicki is continuing to do good work, and the show has proven in the past that her character presents an interesting counterpoint to football-crazy Dillon. She isn’t like any of those people, her life not defined by football – she’s always been presented as someone destined for bigger things, for bigger realities, and I think it works in an episode like this one. She wants to rush into her real life, and all it did was give her this mess of a situation: while it will get to a point where she will be unrealistically reckless for the sake of teaching that lesson, I think the show has struck that balance well enough.

We should be surprised by that at this point, but forgive us for being somewhat apprehensive about the second season. One of its problems was that storylines felt removed from the first season’s reality, things stretched to expand the universe to something it wasn’t. This was most clear with Matt Saracen, whose life with his grandmother was once enough drama in itself without adding a sexy nurse. By comparison, this week’s episode was startlingly real: Matt is unable to reconcile his grandmother’s care with any idea about his future.

There is nothing selfish about this situation: yes, Shelby throws this accusation at to Grandma Saracen with perhaps good cause, but the elder Saracen is not in any position to handle this situation with grace. The reality is that it would be very tough for Matt to leave her, considering he’s been taking care of her for as long as he has, and that Shelby is no substitute for that. She needs to be able to let him go, if he is going to go to college, but she needs time to get used to that idea (as anyone with dementia would).

They’re really presenting Shelby in a positive light here, which is a good thing: while there are certain parts of this show that could handle crippling disappointment, Matt Saracen has had enough in his young life. Her abandonment of the family was something that haunted him, and for that to begin becoming rectified is perhaps enough of a victory for Matt to begin with. But, like during his stint as wide receiver, Saracen is someone who has taken a lot of hits in his life and powered through. The boy can’t take any more hits, and I don’t think the show is setting him up for any.

As always with this group, great performances all around: the scene with their showdown on this subject had that great level of heightened emotional states, and while Shelby and Grandma were apparently operating on 24 time to get to the stadium so quickly I thought it would partly make sense that (with Matt not playing and the game on National TV) they wouldn’t head out into the cold. I thought we could have used a bit more of Matt and Julie in the episode (the latter being mostly absent to begin with), but I thought it was a good glimpse into the home side of Matt’s life.

Also taking a backseat this week were the Taylors in general, not just Julie – it’s a little weird to see a Football-driven episode have so little to do with Eric and Tami, but their job here was to flit in and out of other storylines. It made sense for Tami to be Tyra’s contact of choice when things went bad with Cash, and it dragging them away from their birthday getaway seemed a logical use of the characters considering how absent they were everywhere else. The drama just wasn’t in Eric’s department this week – even the game never really came down to Eric.

That game, by the way, was the first “complete” game we’ve seen in a while. They showed us a situation where the Panthers had to punt for the first time in a long time, and they actually showed every scoring play in the (admittedly low-scoring) game. I mean, they actually showed us a field goal, which is almost unheard of. I still find it fairly problematic that the show has never let us meet these wide receivers who were failing the team, or the kicker who nailed the field goal, or anyone on the team who isn’t Landry, Matt, Riggins or J.D. (who himself got little storyline this week). I have to wonder at what point they’re going to start leaving some room for a fourth season at this stage, because they’ve got a lot of time to spend with the current players before transitioning into new ones.

Tim Riggins, though, has gotten at least part of his happy ending. I wouldn’t consider this a swan song for the infamous Riggins boys, but Tim in particular is in a good place. Yes, he was daft to act as he did with Lyla and get drunk before his interview, but let’s remember: he was doing it out of a combination of a realistic fear of the future and, most importantly, a sense of duty to comiscerate with his brother in his state of sorrow (and undress, as the case may be). Billy’s situation made sense: he was too much of a screwup for even Mindy, Finding Nemo-loving Mindy, to be willing to give up her entire livelihood. It was an admirable desire: he has his house money, and he wants to be able to support her.

Tim’s problem is that he doesn’t share his brother’s confidence: while Billy is growing up and into his new role, Tim by comparison isn’t ready to admit he could go to College, or that he could prove to Lyla he’s something other than the plaid-shirt wearing guy he is. Tim is still in the defeatist side of the Riggins duo, which seems somewhat strange to me: he just saw Jason Street succeed in an enormous feat of positive thinking and hard work, so wouldn’t be come home with the same attitude? I can somewhat believe that a crashed truck and a drunk, half-naked Billy on the couch drowning his sorrows would bring Tim back into a negative mindset, but it seems to me like Tim’s insecurities are a bit too fast and loose at certain stages of the series – not unlike Tyra’s, to be honest.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to see that his work on the football field is paying off, and it makes sense that a small school with a conveniently graduating backfield would look at a player like Riggins as someone who would be willing to join a smaller team in a potentially long-term capacity. I don’t know all the intricacies of high school football recruiting, but it seems to me to be amongst our more logical “resolutions” for our characters. And the fact that the game was being televised nationally made it a good excuse for the recruiter to be in town to see Riggins play.

I think my favourite part of the Riggins storyline, though, was Lyla getting drunk with Mindy and having a comisceration of her own against the boys Riggins. I love that she fails to convince Mindy to stay away from Billy as he comes banging at her window saying she can continue work, and I love that she’s so hungover the next day that Riggins tries to get drunk off her breath by making out with her. Say what you will about Minka Kelly (I have), but I thought she brought a real sense of what Lyla is: someone who has the best of intentions but sometimes wants to be a Riggins, get drunk and dance to Katy Perry, and wake up the next morning wondering why she’d do that to herself. It was a nice turn, and I have to give Kelly kudos for that.

The real question now is “What next?” There’s four episodes left in the season, and there’s three more games left should the Panthers make it to State if I read that graphic correctly. I’m curious to see how much of a coda the season gets, regardless of the outcome. This episode was definitely a step towards that, at least in some regard, so we’ll see where we go from here.

Cultural Observations

  • Landry being on the Panthers never made sense to begin with, but the idea that he maintained a 4.6 GPA after murdering someone AND joining the football team baffles me.
  • Loved Riggins’ various rants at Lyla after she drove away – “Okay, seriously. It’s cold” was a great line reading from Kitsch.
  • I was kind of madly in love with the image, as Matt was, of him as bank robber, Shelby as the getaway driver, and Grandma Saracen covering the door. If the fourth season doesn’t work out, I say spin-off.

1 Comment

Filed under Friday Night Lights

One response to “Friday Night Lights – “Game of the Week”

  1. The Saracen Gang terrorized West Texas and parts of New Mexico for 17 months at the end of the naughts. Led by crafty former high school quarterback Matt Saracen, they successfully robbed eight small banks before being taken down in a hail of gunfire at the Third National Ranchers’ Trust in Odessa, TX on May 7, 2010. The FBI team was led by rookie Special Agent Veronica Mars in the first of her many showdowns with ne’er-do-wells.
    The Spinoff Encyclopaedia, vol 2

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