Friday Night Lights, “On the Outside Looking In”: Babies smoke in Texas.

Granted this is only my second review of Friday Night Lights, but it’s just getting tough recognizing each week what a solid show this is and that this will be its last season. Even more tough looking at the ‘this new show looks so terrible, I can’t stop from groaning every single time I see its ridiculous previews” replacements that surely won’t fill the FNL void. But this episode (expectedly) seemed to have more meat to it than the first, now that we’ve gotten through the off-season catching up. While there weren’t any crazy revelations, scandals or football sparkle reels, we did see some dimension and conflict added to a few of our newer, less familiar characters. Conflict like, perhaps, being the outsider…looking in [/callback].

Anywho. To borrow from Superman, East Dillon is starting to look a bit like bizzarro Dillon, where opposite…is opposite. Mrs. Coach Tami Taylor is mega unpopular. Jess is fighting in the girls room and binge drinking. No one knows the name of star running back Luke Cafferty.  Mrs. Billy Riggins is actually acting like a parent. Becky is keeping her emotions in check and acting like an adult (besides missing curfew). And the freshly top-of-the-world East Dillon Lions aren’t even ranked. Normally I’d write off this much change to a show just getting desperate to keep things fresh, keep the ratings up. But the writers have kept the changes close enough to the realm of possibility to make it really interesting. And while I’ve never particularly cared for the Jess and Mindy characters, I was a little surprised to find myself identifying—or at least commiserating—with them through this episode. I’ll be curious to see how the writers play out both of their identity question marks.

The one move that wasn’t so uncharacteristic, unfortunately, was with Vince. Not to delve into the whole race issue—especially race in sports…in Texas—but please, please tell me we’re not being set up for another Smash-type fall from greatness. Back in—what was it, Season 1? Season 2?—Smash was at the top of his game, football had helped him stay off the streets and work toward a better life, letters of interest were coming in. Then he starts juicing. Downhill from there. And with Vince now in a similar situation—East Dillon had a great season, he’s getting some recognition as QB, his relationship with Jess is pretty solid, he’s also getting some collegiate interest—are we really going to see another black kid from the poor side of town get the rug pulled out from under him? Because if they’re busting Luke for rough tackles, does anyone believe they’ll get away with Vince’s mom’s new wink-wink-under-the-table job? Please, for the love, let just one kid keep his head on straight, get the college scholarship and go on to have a successfully football career.

But on a similar note, I continue to appreciate how realistic the scenarios and dialog are in this show. For those who aren’t familiar with Texas football, especially high school football, these same issues of eligibility, drugs, rabid parents/boosters and lawsuits are pulled right out of the local headlines. It makes the show feel real, rather than just pulling from the same old tired football clichés of learning to work together, homecoming rivalries, stealing the QB’s girlfriend, or whatever. And beyond football, kudos to whoever wrote the scene that introduces us to Epic. That snotty, teenage, defeatist attitude and the helplessness of Tami as she watches Epic just walk off campus makes me grind my teeth, flashing back to my time as a substitute teacher. If they’re going to keep this one realistic, though, it had better take the better part of the season, not an episode or two, for Tami to win over Epic.

Questions for pondering:

  • What’s up with Tami’s co-worker enemy all of a sudden turning on a dime to help her out? Ulterior motive?
  • Is it just me or is Julie’s TA kind of a creep? (And by creep I partly mean not a great actor.) He’s got to be married or something, right? I just don’t understand why she can’t get back together with Matt—you can make it work!!!
  • How cute was Coach Taylor relaying the message to his wife that their creepy-looking baby would like mac and cheese for breakfast.
  • Are there any other Parenthood/FNL watchers out there who are kind of getting Vince’s character on Parenthood and his character on FNL mixed up a little? Because I have to sometimes remind myself that he’s not cheating on Jess with Haddie. At least on Parenthood he’s got the evil-Spock goatee to help us tell the two apart.
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