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October 9, 2015

Friday Night Lights: Leave No One Behind

by Brett Love, posted Feb 2nd 2008 8:32AM
Zach Gilford - Friday Night Lights
(S02E14) This episode left me comparing the show itself to its own fictional Panthers football team. Both had their seasons get off to a rough start, but now everyone seems to be coming together in the hopes of a strong finish. There are still no guarantees for another run at state, or a third season, but tonight was a step in the right direction for both teams. With some great development for Saracen, a turn in the Landry/Tyra story that didn't make you want to kick a writer in the crotch, and the continuation of Smash's story, a lot of points were put on the board.

Things have been kind of quiet on the Saracen front recently, so let's start there. I liked almost everything about this one. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that it all came on just a bit too suddenly. It's been one of the bigger weaknesses of the show in this second season. The stories just don't seem to flow between the episodes as smoothly as they could.

While getting into this latest batch of Saracen story could have been smoother, the setup for it has been long in the making. And the payoff was fantastic. The writers managed to boil 35 episodes worth of Saracen's story down to that one climactic scene with Coach Taylor in the bathroom. "You left me for a better job. You're daughter left me for a better guy. Carlotta left me for Guatemala. My dad left me for a damn war. Everybody leaves me. Is there something wrong with me?" It was just perfect.

Saracen has been under so much pressure that some kind of reaction seemed inevitable. You could argue about the odd motorcycle scene, the ease with which high school kids seem to drink in public, or the trip to the strip club and how they fit into his downward spiral, but I don't know how they could have done any better than they did with that big scene bringing it all together. I will also add that I did really enjoy the little bit with Landry and Smash at school. Landry's line "I just don't want to see you become an at risk youth." was very funny. And Smash's disgust that Matt would be choosing Riggins as a role model reinforced the fact that while things aren't as contentious between those two as they once were, they still are far from the best of friends.

Speaking of our friend Smash... I kind of go both ways on the revelation that TMU has pulled his scholarship because of his questionable character. On the one hand, I thought it made for some good TV. There was a nice scene with his mother. His speech before the game was very moving. And that last shot with him breaking down in the locker room was great. On the other hand, if we are to believe that Smash is actually a blue-chip recruit, I'm far too cynical to buy into the notion that any big time school would let something like this dissuade them from offering a scholarship. Even in my happy little burg, we've seen athletes with much worse records get away with far more. Have a look at this recent article from The Seattle Times.

The short version, for those of you that are click-averse, finds a highly recruited senior football player at a pre-arranged fight. His friend hits someone in the head with a baseball bat, knocking him unconscious. And then the recruit proceeds to stomp on the unconscious participant's face, breaking his jaw. He was charged with felony assault and confined to his home while awaiting trial. But then he tested positive for marijuana, violating those conditions, and ended up spending three weeks in jail. Not even that could deter the UW coaches though, as three of them wrote to the judge assuring him that their offer of a scholarship was still good. And things only went downhill from there. It's a grisly tale, but for our purposes here, it calls to question the believability of the Smash story, for me anyway.

Moving on... I'm starting to wonder if Aimee Teegarden has done something to piss off the writer's room, because it just seems like they can't stop kicking Julie around. Every time I think, "Ok, they got past that one, now maybe that well adjusted good kid we met in season one will come back." they send her off on another bender. I was rolling my eyes a little bit at her jealousy of the Tami and Tyra relationship. It felt a little forced and they seemed to go a little overboard pointing it out. That was a case where less would have been more, because the forgotten meeting at the DMV carried more than enough weight to get them to the conflict anyway. It wasn't my favorite of the Taylor family moments, but like Charlie running at the football, I think this time Tami and Julie have made some progress.

And finally, a new wrinkle in the Landry/Tyra story. I really like what they are doing with the two of them now. Although, I was rooting for his decision to go the other way. Whether you were rooting for Jean or Tyra though, at least the story now feels like it has a place in the show. The unfortunate part to all of it is that they really didn't need the crappy murder story to get here. It all would have worked out perfectly fine if that had never entered the picture. They still would have had Tyra unsure of her feelings, concerned about appearances. Landry still would have been nervous, smitten, and gun shy that things were too good to be true. It was the wrong road, but at least it eventually got to the right destination.

And with that, only one episode left before FNL takes its place on the increasingly crowded sidelines. We're certainly going to be left with more questions than answers, but I'm taking solace in the fact that the ship has been righted.

Did you have a favorite? What did you want Landry to decide?
It had to be Tyra.251 (52.6%)
It should have been Jean.171 (35.8%)
Neither, I'm holding out hope for Jean and Tyra to get together.55 (11.5%)

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Ben Silverman
Entertainment President of NBC
3000 W. Alameda Ave
Burbank, CA 91523

Above is Mr. Silverman's address. Spend 5 minutes tomorrow letting him know how we all feel about FNL!!!!!

February 07 2008 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with everyone that the show doesn't have the heart-stopping grace it had in Season 1. But I am devoted to the characters. Eric and Tami's marriage is the deepest, most interesting depiction of a relationship I've ever seen on television. Riggins breaks your heart--they all do really. This last episode was epic. Smash's speech and that last shot of him breaking down was so right, after watching him bragging and preening for two seasons, talking about himself in the third-person so he could build that legend thing in his own mind and everyone else's (his friends love him anyway). Watching him doubled over, it made me realize how wonderful the show can be. Smash is so humbled, it's excruciating ro watch, no matter that you saw a year ago it was going to happen. His amazing mother (she's a beautifully written character) and his coach have tried to spare him, but at that moment he gets it. It's that universal experience that makes the show so moving. That scene with Serazen in the shower was the same. You watch these kids acting cool and being funny--then it all implodes when their bad choices finally catch up to them. That Serazen scene is especially wrenching because Coach was so pissed off and was well into his rant about how everything the boy was doing was WRONG. When Serazen spoke, suddenly you see Coach's face go soft and he says "No, there's nothing wrong with you." Coach Eric is the man every boy in trouble should have in their livfe. It's classic drama; my nine-year-old daughter was sobbing. Good stuff. Great show. It scares me to criticize it considering that the alternative is "The Biggest Loser" or one of those weird Bob Sagat game shows. Please, NBC, give us another season.

February 03 2008 at 1:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Three things....

One and Two are just to say that you are dead on with both your comments about the bad story flow in Season 2 and your comments on Aimee Teegarden (a.k.a. Julie) getting some major bad material from the writer's room.

I mean, teen angst is one thing but Julie has been skirting the sociopath line this season.

The third thing I wanted to point out is that the Smash storyline is "ripped from the headlines" if you will. Randy Moss (now of the New England Patriots) had his scholarship revoked by Notre Dame after getting in a racially motivated fight his last month of high school. He ended up at Marshall University which is, no offense to them, a big fall from Notre Dame.

I don't think the point of the storyline is that Smash won't get into another college I think its that he'll end up at a college so low on the food chain that he won't be surrounded by a good enough team to stand out.

February 03 2008 at 6:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always love your summaries. Great show and fantastic episode.

February 02 2008 at 10:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great episode. The Saracen scene was one of the better ones in FNL history. A season and a half in the making, for sure. Thought it was one of the better episodes of the first two seasons as well, which is saying something. I do not necessarily think that things have been happening out of the blue this season, it is just that other than with the Taylor's, and maybe Riggins as well, for everyone else we deal with their character development, and then we do not always come back to them the next episode.

I expected a reaction from Matt to Carlotta leaving. We just did not get it until this week because last week they were fleshing out Riggins and Street and Smash and planting the seed for Jean and Landry. This week was action packed though, from Saracen to Julie and Tami to Smash and Landry's love triangle. I felt like there was never any let-up in the episode. Also, it was great to see Buddy, however briefly, back in his regular role of overzealous booster for a little bit out on the field.

I also enjoyed the comedic moments of the episode, especially with Saracen and Riggins as well as Saracen and Landry at lunch. It was hilarious to see Matt in his drunken stupour on the field, lining up behind the wrong linement, and then yelling "On your marks, get set..." Priceless.

February 02 2008 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff N.

It just was a fantastic episode. So much happened. Great acting & writing. Shows like this don't come around too often. I sure wish they didn't have a writer's strike to shorten it.

February 02 2008 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Given that the M in TMU stands for Methodist, the questionable character revocation might not be so out of character, especially if TMU is modeled after SMU, TCU, or Baylor.

I do echo your note about the suddenness with the character development and wonder if the expedited writing schedule to stock up scripts before the strike began was part of it. The show seems to have a continuity issue. They'll do great things like show Matt in art class (nice callback to season one when Street mentioned how Matt draws), but then there are gaps, like is Lyla out of school? Was she skipping class to go to lunch with the new guy?

Overall, it's still some of the best television out there.

February 02 2008 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate this TMU thing. I realize its probably way easier if they use an imaginary university but its just stupid to think that Smash won't get any scholarships because TMU thinks he has questionable character. It sounded like every college in the nation wanted him and I'm sure one of them wouldn't mind a little assault on his record. Ohio State would probably be all over that. (Insert Maurice Clarett joke here)

February 02 2008 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think you hit the nail on the head as far as the problem with season two. Characters seem to take actions from out of the blue, just for the convenience of a particular episode. Tyra is completely into Landry, then she's embarrassed someone might see them together. Street is suddenly out of money and needs to sell cars. One week Julie is a raging bitch, the next she's precociously wise. Saracen goes from being the rock onto which life can heap troubles to rebellious hater of all authority. Overall the season seems like it has struggled to find cohesion.

But I also agree that last night's episode was a bit of a breakthrough. While it was really abrupt and then played out ridiculously over-the-top, we can at least imagine why Saracen might snap. And at least this week Julie's obnoxious teen bitchiness was justified, and it was Mom who screwed up a little. Most importantly, Smash's storyline creates a season-long goal and challenge for the team, to get to the play-offs without their star.

I agree with John B in comment #1 that a rotating cast is the way to go. But to me, that means no more following Street and other characters as they graduate. Meanwhile, I was really voting for Landry's nerdy little friend to win his heart. At least, as written here, it was a Tyra subplot that didn't make me cringe. The love triangle was genuine.


February 02 2008 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I completely agree with your team/show metaphor. The beginning of the season hooked me, then left me hanging, but now, I feel like things are much more complete. The ending of this particular episode was wonderful, showing Smash and Saracen in situations that I actually cared about, and a loyalty that has marked the Panthers thus far.
I really did enjoy the Tyra/Landry line this time around, as well. I love Jean, but this put Landry in a position that is much more authentic, and Tyra in a position to seek advice and be a better person. They both needed that.
Julie still makes me uncomfortable, because she's so damn childish. The story line is a little beyond reason, but she's not helping herself out at all.
And please, no more Lyla/Riggins/[Logan]. The whole thing just makes me squeamish. But I did love the look on Lyla's face at the restaurant when she had to admit, yep, I did that. Priceless.

February 02 2008 at 9:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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