‘Friday Night Lights’: MVPs

Coach_2There’s little point in speculating today how much more “Friday Night Lights” we’ll see. Just too many unknowns right now (though certainly, it’s not too soon for viewers to mobilize in support of the show at “Save Friday Night Lights.”)

Essentially, “FNL” fans are like the fans of the Dillon Panthers.  With the regular season ticking away, we’re wondering if the show is going to make the playoffs.

But thanks to the show’s efficient crew, we did get a good long look at the 2007-08 “FNL” team.  Here’s a scouting report for the team on (hopefully) the eve of the postseason.

ROLE PLAYERS
You see a play called for them every so often, but they’ve been deemphasized from the game plan.

Jason Street: Perhaps it was a result of the ticking clock that always hovers over “FNL,” but the notion born in last season’s finale — that Street had just the right makeup to become a shed-no-tears paraplegic football coach — was tossed aside with seemingly little regret. It’s not that one can’t understand the impatience or alienation that led Jason away, but was landing him as a car salesman really more satisfying, for the character or for the viewer? Though capable of great moments (such as last week’s pregancy story with his one-night stand: “If it happened and it’s true and it’s mine, it’s a miracle.”), Street became an ancillary player. On a show that has more roles than it can handle in a given week, “FNL” might have lost something when it sent Jason into the figurative wilderness.

Lyla_3Lyla Garrity: You could be forgiven for wondering whether Lyla still went to school, or whether she simply spent her days praying and hiding from Tim Riggins. The intentions of “FNL” were unassailable in having Lyla explore her faith, but the show simply ran out of time to do so in as meaningful way as it surely would have liked to. Though “FNL” did scratch the surface of a young person trying to live a religious life in a secular world, and last week’s episode set up a nice conflict between her faith and her hormones, in the end she, like Jason, had to take a backseat to most of the other characters.

SPECIAL TEAMS
When you need an extra point or two, they’re automatic.

Buddy Garrity: Buddy is still Buddy — kind of the Michael Scott of Dillon with his tendencies toward misplaced priorities and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but also with his surprisingly good intentions. Buddy adds a lot of life to the show in his short bursts of screen time, and “FNL” wouldn’t be the same without him.  If “FNL” found Buddy a woman on par with him, that would be a riot to watch.

Corinna Williams: My colleague Kathy Lyford has been extolling the performance of Liz Mikel all season, and I agree that she deserves a special shout-out. Corinna was critical because we needed to take seriously that her son Smash didn’t operate in a football-only vaccum. Corinna transcended the cliche that she might have been. She didn’t have all the answers, but she provided backbone in a world that, when you think about it, lacked any outside of Eric and Tami.

STRONG IN RESERVE
This player’s learning curve would pay off in future seasons.

JulieJulie Taylor: Quietly, after a rather noisy start to the season, Julie seemed to mature this year in a way that was gratifying. She’s still a young girl who can be overly demanding of her mother’s attention, but one gets the sense that she was really learning from her misinfatuations with the Swede, Noah and Riggins. Both she and Matt Saracen have been through some rough times without each other this year, and I wouldn’t have any problem seeing them reunite in the theoretical future and really get serious. Keep in mind that for all the romantic comings and goings, “FNL” hasn’t yet had a sustained teenage relationship that lasted a season. A Matt-Julie combo would be a nice complement to Eric and Tami. Julie’s a fine, developing player on this team.

OVEREXPOSED
Sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Tim_2Tim Riggins: When in doubt, give the ball to Riggins. That seemed to be the “FNL” mantra this year. His Odyssean search for a place to crash, his endless pursuits of Lyla and his woebegone status on the football team all provided him with all the screen time he could handle.  Was there any better example of this than his inexplicable appearance as a courtside helper with Tami’s girls volleyball team? In my mind, some other “FNL” players suffered because of the overemphasis on Riggins, though it’s not as if he couldn’t get the job done. His performance as a first-time sportstalk host last week provided one of the funniest moments of the season.

1,000-YARD RUSHER
Just give him the ball and watch him run.

SmashBrian “Smash” Williams: Unlike his character, who was suspended at season’s end, Smash had his biggest moments as “FNL” went down to the wire. His anguish over his future and his attempts to make sense of how God closed a door but opened a window were completely convincing, and they helped the show overcome the contrived conflict that cost Smash his scholarship. (Was there not one enterprising reporter in football-mad Texas who could expose the lie when Smash’s provocateur said that he and his friends were attacked “just because we were white”? Guess we may never know.)

LOST IN THE OFFENSE?
These would-be-MVPs have worlds of talent, but they aren’t always getting the right play called.

MattMatt Saracen: Matt might have had the single best “FNL” moment of the year with his “What’s wrong with me” lament from inside the shower, but all in all, it was a bit of a lost year for QB 1.  His relationship with Carlotta was pretty but never got to fully develop. Little of interest happened on the field. He lost touch with Landry throughout the latter’s troubles with the law. Matt’s the greatest, but he probably deserved a little better.

Landry Clark and Tyra Collette: What’s truly depressing about the Landry-Tyra saga is that, just as I feared, history is being rewritten on some websites to suggest that it was the killing of Tyra’s stalker that brought Landry and Tyra together. Some people have already forgotten that the bond between Landry and Tyra was being formed before Tyra’s stalker even materialized — that it was Landry’s rescue of Tyra at the end of the first season that crystalized them as a couple and made the show’s most-criticized storyline this year unnecessary. Landry and Tyra worked because Landry’s love of Tyra yielded an insight into her character that in turn gave life to her self-esteem and made her see that beauty was anything but skin-deep. That’s a lot of brilliant material right there, and it was all in the works before Landry ever hit anyone over the head with a pipe. Still, I eagerly anticipated every moment that either of them were onscreen. They’re just wonderful to watch. (And by the way, I loved Landry’s jilted Jean (Brea Grant).)

MVPs
You cannot stop them; you can only hope not to contain them.

TamiTami Taylor: It’s hard to believe that when the TV version of “FNL” was being developed, Connie Britton was going to pass out of fear she wouldn’t have an important enough role. Tami became as essential to this show as anyone outside of Eric and is a role model for any television writer trying to create a female character. Perhaps my only frustration with Tami this season her recurring tendency to be Ericjudgmental. In Friday’s episode, for example, she walked out in an indignant huff when Eric gets in the fight with her ex-boyfriend Mo (Peter Berg), neglecting the fact that she kindled the fire by being so warm to Mo and so oblivious to how that would make Eric feel. But there’s no denying it: Tami could be the MVP of the show.

Eric Taylor: It’s Eric’s world; the rest of us just visit. Nothing against Chris Mulkey, who played Eric’s draconian replacement in the season’s opening episodes, but can you imagine “FNL” without Eric’s presence?  He’s the man, and no one outshines him.

— Jon Weisman

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  1. This TV show is one of the highly anticipated ones. It has an eccentric plot and brilliant cast.

  2. Thank you, great stuff as usual.jyfik

  3. A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

  4. Jon says:

    Fair enough, Jane – I had forgotten that was the penance – but it still raises the question, how does Riggins have time to be with the volleyball team now that he’s back on the football team? And wouldn’t the penance have been lifted once Eric realized Tim was looking out for Julie?

  5. Doug says:

    Excellent article, Jon. Thank you.

  6. Jane says:

    Thanks for the article. I have one nit to pick, though, and that is with the author’s question, “Was there any better example of [Riggins having too much screen time] than his inexplicable appearance as a courtside helper with Tami’s girls volleyball team?”.
    Far from “inexplicable”, it was actually a nice bit of continuity. Recall that he was made to assist the volleyball team as penance for his having missed several practices while in Mexico. I applaud the writers for that touch – for not dropping this side storyline when Tami was made coach.

  7. Emily says:

    Great article, I agree with most of what you said. I do think they dropped the ball with Matt this year, particularly by putting distance between him and Landry. But boy can Zach Gilford act! The bathtub scene was emmy-worthy. This show needs more episodes to do everyone justice. Not to mention it’s a critical darling on a station that keeps churning out reality crap. NBC will be crazy if they let it go. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!

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