“The Lights of Carroll Park”
January 13th, 2010
The problem with episodes of Friday Night Lights which feel overrun by homicide or criminal elements is not that those stories are inherently terrible, but rather that they feel incongruous with the show’s world. This is purposeful, meant to manufacture tension, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. It’s entirely possible to confront these types of issues within the show’s particular worldview, demonstrating the consequences of crime in ways which feel less contrived and disruptive of the show’s natural order. The show can be about the conflict between the criminal and law-abiding without the show becoming defined by that conflict (or by characters flirting dangerously between the two worlds), and “The Lights of Carroll Park” is a good example of how that can be accomplished.
It’s a slightly more problematic example, however, of how the show can confront the question of abortion. While I am not judging that storyline too quickly, as I’m sure it will be given more time to develop over the weeks to come (and perhaps into next season), the show sort of stretched the believability of its characters’ maturity in dealing with the situation. While I’m all for level-headed approaches to these kinds of storylines, as it’s one of the show’s strongest qualities, I also feel as if there are certain character who should be responding in ways that aren’t mature, and in ways that reflect how challenging these kinds of moments can be.
I guess me distinction is that I want the show to be challenging as opposed to challenged, and while the revonation of Carroll Park naturally fit into the first category I think the teen pregnancy sort of forced its way into the same position.
January 6th, 2010
Friday Night Lights is a show that, despite various dips in quality, has not fundamentally changed since its first season. It has always been a show about the people in a football-crazy town, revealing both the problems which complicate their lives and the people (and the sport) that helps them keep grounded.
The show’s problem has been those moments (primarily isolated in the second season, but cropping up in the first season as well) where it feels as if the problems are the only thing that’s working about the show. The second season didn’t just struggle because a character murdered someone, but rather because the show simultaneously retreated from the football culture that was its heart: I don’t believe the murder would have ever been a good idea regardless, but it could have been handled much more efficiently if it had been folded into the community rather than remaining a distraction.
While the fourth season started as an homage to Season Three, with Matt Saracen’s farewell arc echoing Smash and Street’s exits, it has quickly evolved into an extended test of whether the show better understands the mistakes it has made in the past. The show has never been beyond having people make mistakes, and delaying the consequences of those mistakes, but the show is stepping into familiar stories, and not in a good way. “Toilet Bowl” is filled with red flags, characters taking actions that come from a somewhat logical place but which for the sake of narrative expediency are coming faster than they probably should.
It’s adding up to a show that I’m not quite as excited as watching, even if (relative to the second season) there are more reminders of the show and the community that elevate that drama to another level.
“In the Bag”
December 16th, 2009
In the show’s third season, the show said goodbye to two characters who, for the most part, were unconnected to the remaining characters. Yes, everyone had a relationship with Smash and Jason Street, especially the audience, but there was the sense that their relationship was coming to an end. Smash and Jason Street were ready to leave Dillon, and the show’s characters were ready to see them leave and achieve their dreams. As much as people respected these individuals, they were moving onto bigger and better things.
However, last week’s character exit left behind people who were emotionally connected to them beyond respect, people who don’t entirely know how to function without them. And accordingly, “In the Bag” becomes a discussion of those intense connections, as people try to deal with parts of their lives on which they are dependent and those parts where other people are dependent on them.
“In the Skin of a Lion”
November 11th, 2009
It isn’t precisely a dud, but “In the Skin of a Lion” is certainly the weakest episode of the fourth season thus far. It’s really an issue of premise more than it is of execution: every scene and storyline that they ask these actors to portray is effective and hitting the right notes, but there are some underlying imbalances to be found within them.
It’s a problem that the show had, to some degree in its third season, but which felt overcome by an intense emotional centre that kept the show balanced. Part of what the episode is about is how that emotional core is absent in East Dillon, and while the episode works to bring it back the vacuum at the centre of the East Dillon Lions makes this episode distinctly less enjoyable or empowering than the episodes which came before it.
“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”
December 17th, 2008
It’s kind of inexplicably saddening to know that my two favourite Wednesday shows, Friday Night Lights and Pushing Daisies, are both in similar positions. They are both shows with a shortened life expectancy, airing episodes that are forced to start slowly wrapping up one side of storylines to please fans should they not get a renewal, and at the same time laying the groundwork for a next season that will likely never happen. For Pushing Daisies, we know its fate; for Friday Night Lights, everything remains (perhaps unrealistically) up in the air.
In the case of the football drama, in particular, this status is proving problematic, as Jason Katims and company are being forced to keep one foot planted firmly on each side (either wrapping up our existing stable of characters or preparing for a pipedream season four) of the fence, posturing like a sumo wrestler, putting their weight on one foot at a time at various points in each episode. The problem is that this never feels organic: when Jamarkus was introduced a number of episodes ago, alarm bells of “random, never before seen character = setup for season four” went off, and this week’s redistricting is by design something that won’t have an impact on the current plot but rather some long term ramifications.
But the largest example of all of this is the story of the McCoy family, which has gotten the short end of the stick since it began. Joe McCoy as a character has always been a bit of a threat to Eric, and to the team’s dynamic, thanks to his ironclad control of his son. In this episode, he transforms into something much more than that, and it feels like we needed considerably more time to get there. But this is a storyline that doesn’t have the same life as everything else: it isn’t wrapping up any storylines, it can’t really boil its way into season four, and as a result it was never given enough time to be as meaningful as possible.
The result is a sort of rushed shorthand, drawing from the depths of television villainy and the show’s own playbook to give the illusion of a truly meaningful and emotional storyline. What’s more frustrating, though, is that it actually ends up coming together as a pretty good episode in the end, because the two sides of the fence were achieving something just about right for this point in the season.
“The Giving Tree”
December 10th, 2008
If you’re a fan of Friday Night Lights, “The Giving Tree” is an episode made for you. It’s all about callbacks to past events, to incidents that are three seasons in the making and which are reflective of past events. The episode’s main problem, in fact, is that it leans somewhat too heavily on those elements of the story, feeling fairly limited in its real “new” developments moving forward.
But I think we’re reaching the point where, the show’s renewal seeming more and more unlikely within the newly limited primetime environment at NBC, anything that speaks to the future seems premature (but tantalizingly interesting) while everything that speaks to its past seems like a justified farewell. So when the storyline circles back to the question of Julie having sex, and its impact on her mother in particular, it feels like something that had to happen, and did admittedly feel like a new sort of conversation than what we saw in “I Think We Should Have Sex.”
The other two major storylines in the episode felt somewhat more derivative, one because of the history of the two characters (as loathe as I am to discuss that history) and the other because it felt like a fairly contrived if socioeconomically realistic plot development. This isn’t to fault the episode on some broader level, and I’m happy that the resulting points of conflict are happening for the sake of getting more of characters I enjoy, but with only three episodes left in the season I’m getting to that point where I’m caught between past and future events.
“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.
“New York, New York”
November 19th, 2008
[NOTE: I go into what might be considered spoiler territory before the fold (it just worked out that way), so if you’re waiting until Spring and don’t want to know anything scroll away now! Hope this warning works – MM]
When Smash Williams received his swan song on Friday Night Lights, we ended that episode on an image of Smash’s face, smiling of pride (and his justifiably reinflated ego). It was a moment where you couldn’t help but feel like there was pride in his success, hope for his future, and that small tinge of disappointment that he was exiting our narrative and entering into another part of his life that doesn’t involve Dillon, Texas.
But for what will be Scott Porter’s last episode portraying Jason Street, we do not end on a shot of an admittedly fantastic Porter after pouring his heart out to Erin. Rather, we end on a shot of Tim Riggins, one that (for me) was far more emotionally affective. What is so amazing about Porter’s performance, and the character of Street as a whole, is that what could have been a hokey period after that pilot developed into someone who can serve as emotional and inspirational anchors for this series. While watching Smash succeed was satisfying, watching Jason grow into a man and a provider (even when the means were highly suspect) feels like the kind of story this show was born to tell: a story about a kid who was supposed to be on the path to greatness proving that, even when the terms changed, he never left that path.
And when we cut to Tim Riggins, of all people, overcome by emotion at the sight of Jason Street’s final moment, we realize that within both the show’s universe and our own, it doesn’t get much better than this.
“Keeping Up Appearances”
November 12th, 2008
One of the concerns I’ve had with the most recent set of episodes in Friday Night Lights’ third season is that the behind-the-scenes planning is becoming fairly transparent: it feels like things are happening that are in fact predictable, and in some cases feel less like organic character development and more like pieces being moved on a chess board. Last week, though, everything moved in the right direction: even if it was predictable, it felt totally in character, and like the proper culmination to the storylines set up over this season and last season, for that matter.
What doesn’t work in “Keeping Up Appearances,” however, is that none of it felt natural: every storyline had an element to it that felt artificial. Whether it was in order to rush Jason Street to a happy ending, or introduce a potential character for a reboot-driven fourth season, or push Tim Riggins into college, everything felt dialed in on that purpose. And in an episode all about selling (house, people, football, etc.), I feel like the show was all too willing to show us, their audience, that they had a (somewhat) shameless agenda on the table.