Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reviving the Classic

Friday Night Lights: How The Other Half Live
Season 3 Episode 3

Despite the modern tendencies towards doing so, I try to avoid throwing around the term "classic" that much. It's a lot to ask for something to be just as enjoyable five months or five years down the road. "Enjoyable" is a much better term. Rocky Balboa was enjoyable. Rocky I, III and IV were classic. Rocky V didn't happen. Got it? The thing is there hasn't been many classic sports movies in the last 20 years. Enjoyable? Sure. Rewatchable? Throw on Varsity Blues and I'm set until I hear the Dawson scream through one of the top ten worst non-Kennedy accent attempts ever "AH DON'T WANT YOAHR LIFE!". Good times. But classic? Maybe Rounders, Jerry Maguire, parts of He Got Game. And look at television... there wasn't a classic sports tv show during the first quarter century of my life. Sorry, Hang Time doesn't rate friends. But Friday Night Lights got it... and lost it... now could it be back? Check below the cut to find out "How The Other Half Live".

Forgiving the often implausible endings, the first season was about everything a sports fan could want out of a sports show and on top of that one of the better dramas on television. Second season... let's just say a season that begins with the most innocent, enjoyably flawed kid in school beating an attempted racist to death, then covering up the murder, first alone and then with his sheriff dad (played by Mr. Aaron Peirce himself, Glenn Morshower)... not so much. They tried amping up the teen drama in virtually every storyline to generally mixed to poor results.

But we're three episodes in an nobody's dead. And if this one season is all we get, it will be more than worth what they went through to get here. Four more episodes each with Smash and Street and one more year with Seven, Riggs, the lovely Lyla and the often annoying Tyra.

The arrival of the super-rich McCoys and their golden-armed QB son JD have so far been set up as the first real villains (for lack of a better word) in the history of the show. At least the first that we will see for more than a few episodes. Of course, we've hardly heard word one from the young man himself. All we know is he has a great arm, lots of potential and a super-rich dad trying to push him into the starting spot past Matt Saracen, a kid who lives with and takes care of his dementia-suffering Grandmother and has struggled to be an adequate replacement for the last next big thing, Jason Street, since day one. On that fact alone, the kid is hated... at least until we actually get to see more of him.

No the big problem is Joe McCoy, a rich beer distributor who moved his entire family to Dillon to force his son into the limelight, really standard living vicariously through your child no matter the consequences (for further example see every high school football story ever told). At the start of the episode he's taken over the field in the mornings to chat with the boosters and have his son school by a high-paid young QB specialist, Wade Aikmen, for thousands of dollars a month. All this goes over great for Matt, who has always been significantly defined by his abandonment and self-esteem issues (see his dad going to Iraq indefinitely, his recently returned mom having abandoned him as a baby, even Coach's daughter Julie dumping him in early season two... for no good reason... ah season two, ugh). Thank heavens for Coach, "That's not my quarterback. You're my quarterback."

The thing that separates this show from just about everything else is the relationship between Eric and Tami Taylor... just a couple that loves each other so freaking honestly and despite the fact it would be more dramatic to have them at odds, always love each other and their teenage daughter Julie and their baby at the end of the day. Realizing how starry-eyed this sounds coming from a child of divorce, it's the most realistic, mature and interesting relationship on television. All the credit in the world goes to Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton here. This week, Tami must go through the annual team BBQ ritual, an enormous pain in the butt that Eric absolutely never helps with.

At least she runs into her new BFF Nadine McCoy at the grocery store. Let's just say Eric does not appreciate the idea of holding HIS annual BBQ at the home of the millionaire trying to dictate the terms for the team in an manner that grows less passive-aggressive every day. At least it led to the following exchange:

"Explain somethin' to me. How can we be a host of our BBQ at their house. Isn't the definition of hosting when you have something at your house."

"Well I think it's like co-hosting."

Of course every fear Eric has is realized with Matt feeling even more pressure and Eric getting cornered by Buddy, Joe and Wade. And getting pushed to start JD within two seconds. The difference between Buddy Garrity who pushes because he loves his former team WAY too much and in the end still wants to play pool with Eric and Joe who just grins cockily, absolutely certain in his power to get his way in the end... this is why we like Buddy. At least Eric and Tami end up in a wonderful place as they compare him being pressured regarding JD to her decision as the recently named principal to reallocated Buddy and Joe's JumboTron money for badly needed school supplies at Dillon High.

Eric: "You know who I miss... I miss the coach's wife"

Tami: "You know who I can't wait to meet... principal's husband."

Eric: "Touche"

The on-going punchline of the town hick Billy Riggins and stripper Mindy Collette (the older siblings of longtime fullback Tim Riggins and former-bad girl, now college admission hopeful Tyra Collette) getting married is usually played (very effectively) for laughs. Kind of like when Mindy professes her love through a Finding Nemo quote. But this year's felony, Billy and Tim ripping off a supply of copper doesn't come off phony like the murder, but tragically believable. This really is the only way this guy can pay for his wedding and the start of his new life. And an excellent job by Taylor Kitsch (star of the upcoming Wolverine movie) as Tim, who really shows some conflict blowing off the BBQ and his girlfriend Lyla, but is hardwired to be there for the screw-up older brother, who could have but never did abandon him. A true wingman, even to the big brother that tells him he'd be a much better criminal than the guy who bailed on him.

Another of the senior players, Matt, is well on his way to a reunion with former girlfriend, Julie Taylor. Which is about the only thing this poor kid has going for him right now. Since the almost never beaten Arnett Meade coming up Friday and the entire town drinking the McCoy Kool-Aid, this guy is constantly reminded he only got a shot because Jason Street (still a no-show after three weeks, his four episode farewell storyline kicks off next week) went down.

During the game, yes contrary to season two this is actually a show about a high school football team so they show some football, Matt becomes a real hero. Getting his butt thoroughly destroyed for four quarters getting up from every hard and late hit. My one continual complaint about the games is that they feature no player on the defense, since their only thematic prupose here is to stink enough to make Matt's job harder. Really, where is the scene of Eric tearing into a linebacker? And a miracle scramble by Matt before fumbling away the game... Zach Gilford once again proves he has a future... regardless of whether he is back next year.

I haven't mentioned much about former star tailback Smash Williams, played by Gaius Charles, in his second to last episode. The thing is they probably could have skipped this bit about him considering a managerial position at the Alamo Freeze instead of hauling his rehabbed knee off to college tryouts with Eric. No way they spend two episodes getting him back to where he was physically and emotionally to being the kid that was going to wow the world and he considers not doing it at the nearly last minute to stop his mother from taking a second job. It just rings false. At least it gives his Mama, Corrina a chance to shine, "Honey, I didn't have kids to buy me no house. What is wrong with you?"

Some other highlights:

Eric refusing to let the valet park his truck at the McCoy McMansion.

After the boys rip down the fence, the rottweilers chasing down the Riggins brothers only to run past them to freedom... glorious freedom!

Matt and Julie mocking the McCoys' JD Glory Room... complete with participation trophies from when he was nine. And JD catching them and maybe making us think he doesn't like all this much attention in the first place... maybe the kid's not as bad as his dad.

Lyla Garrity telling her dear dad, Buddy, that she won't need a ride home, while at the same time denying the tragic realization Tim absolutely will let her down and no show. And on the other hand Tim utterly refusing to give up on his brother.

Matt saying, before the final drive, "I always got one more in me." Then seeing Julie after the game. The girl who dumped him a year ago for better things, waiting for him and Matt's "Let's go somewhere and talk about anything but football."

And the best part of the episode: the silent montage at the end. Any fan of this show can tell you the moments where the actor's get a chance to be quiet and just rock our world is a continuous highlight. As long as it doesn't rely too much on the weaker actors in the group like Minka "Wow Tony Romo and John Mayer Like Me, Tee-Hee" Kelly. There is a reason one of my favorite episodes ever involves a Lyla Garrity slam page. But Eric pulling the For Sale signs out of his yard... Tami standing out on the lawn with him... Tim and Billy drinking beers at an empty pool next to their purloined copper... Matt pushing Julie's shoulder while walking the empty streets of Dillon... these goosebump scenes... we in the sports fan world call that "classic."

1 comment:

Billy said...

Hang Time is the best, fool. Now I've got the theme song stuck in my head...

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