It’s Always Sunny, “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” and “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods”

“Gatsby believed in the good joke, the kick-in-the-nuts future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the MEH.”

This altered quote was one of my first brushes with literary depth when I was 13 years old. The Great Gatsby opened the door for a year of reading One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn and some accompanying bleak short stories that would reaffirm my cynical world view and remind that I am not the first person to think people are inherently disappointing and terrible. My father had done his best to remind me to cultivate a basic mistrust of people outside our inner circle, but to know that Mark Twain agreed people sucked was a powerful thing.

For some reason, as I sat through a long backlog of recorded shows after the Thanksgiving holiday, the altered quote above kept rushing back. I prefer TV comedy to any other option (sorry zombies, vampires, crime procedurals and Two and a Half Men), but want to have at least 2-3 wow/lolz moments per 30 minutes invested. This can be as simple as a wiener in a mousetrap or as elaborate as hiding $200,000 in a banana stand – just bring the funny.

As low a bar as this sounds, you’d be amazed how often TV fails to reach it. The last two episodes of Sunny left me with a few laughs, but, when combined with the other dross clinging to my DVR, just left feeling like I would spend most of my TV time borne back ceaselessly against the meh.

So, now that I’ve journaled my feelings, let’s look at two exciting episodes of Sunny…together. Two weeks ago, Charlie killed a bunch of rats and went into a depression. I enjoyed his funk because it reminded me of my friend who reminds of Charlie getting depressed, well at least until I felt bad for everyone involved. Anyway, the gang decided they should be nice people and plan him a birthday party – but not really try – and then a bunch of boring crap happened that proved they weren’t really nice, which is totally shocking six seasons in. There was a friend who lives under a bridge and smokes crack and just made me feel dirty about myself who was on screen for awhile and something about a gifted shirt that was quickly returned and replaced for a better shirt. Oh and Charlie and Dee decided to go to a spa together (more on that later.)

It wasn’t bad or anything, but it just never resonated with me. I did laugh out loud when Dee asked Charlie to go to a spa with her. His response: “What is this word ‘spa?’ I feel like you’re starting to say a word but not finishing it. Are you trying to say ‘spa-ghetti?’ Dumb Charlie will always have a special spot in my heart, which is why the end of the episode made me at least end happy.

After an episode of teasing references, we got to see Charlie’s “Dram Bok” (or dream book.) This contained everything that goes on in his head between when he sniffs glue before bed to when he wakes up again the next day with cat food breath. Charlie’s book shows us ridiculous sketches for his denim chicken, teeth bird and worm hat. Sunny has always had the market cornered on denim comedy (remember the work out episode where Dee wears jeans to work out), but the idea of denim chicken really spoke to me. I would like to put one on my desk tomorrow. If you’re a coworker reading this, there are now 19 days until Xmas (Futurama, whaddup!?) Still, the meandering of the rest of episode cannot simply be redeemed by a bunch of teeth glued to a bird or a rat stick.

The next episode was going to be even ZANIER. You see, the commercial said the gang was going to get lost in the woods! Can you imagine those crazy kooks trying to survive a night in the wilderness? How would they find food, shelter and beer (because they like to drink!!!!!)? How would they escape? It’s all so darn zany!

So yeah, my attitude wasn’t the best at this episode and the part in the woods pretty much went how you would expect – except for the bunny. Dee, Frank and Mac decide to capture and kill a bunny, but they soon become convinced it is stealing their souls and grow to love – even worship it. Dee even names him Peter Peter Nickel Eater (which I imagine I will enjoy referencing later around small animals.)

Meanwhile, Dennis and Charlie are paired up to hitchhike to safety away from the wilderness and deliver a pretty good A Plot. I’m too lazy to look back on this, but I feel like it has been way too long since we’ve seen a good Dennis and Charlie pairing. They gave us Day Man – why not keep them around each other more? Anyway, they hitch a ride with a man-loving Tom Sizemore (add cock to his many addictions) who thinks they are “lot lizards.” Their goal is to get to Atlantic City for an animal rights fundraiser Frank donated money to so he could tell off the people running it.

As an aside, sometimes the use of money on this show drives me insane. Are they poor? Do they live off Frank’s riches when needed? Does the bar have customers? Every time I see someone bad with money, I blame TV. I’m not asking for a shot of their bills the way Roseanne did, but at least give me a framework.

Anyway, Dennis and Charlie escape Tom Sizemore and make it to the casino. Dennis convinces Charlie that he needs to start saying yes to life more, and he quickly wins $15,000 in roulette, tries asparagus and delivers a speech to the audience. Then, they get to hang out with their favorite Philadelphia Phillies ballplayers – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. I was kind of hoping they’d pair up and hit the town for a bit, but the image of them wrestling homoerotically on the floor drunk while the two professionals watch dumb-founded worked for me, too. Before the night ended, they made sure to text photos with the ballplayers back to the gang in the woods to taunt them for missing their heroes.

The episode gave Sizemore one more appearances to pick up the rest of the group in the woods before the credits rolled and then I happily moved on to watch The League and drool over another Archer promo. Maybe I’ll get a chance to review THAT show two weeks too late in the middle of winter. After this handcrafted nearly 1,200 word masterpiece, how could I be asked to stick around and help drive traffic?

The Walking Dead, “Wildfire”: I’m okay!

I spent years working as a substitute teacher, then as a teacher, then as that creepy guy who kept showing up to high school football games, so if there’s one thing I know, it’s high school kids. And I’ve seen my share of kids freak out, start crying, or cuss someone out, because mister, I just can’t deal with this mess today. It’s stupid and I have about zero patience for it, so when Andrea sticks her gun in Rick’s face because he had the audacity to tell her that her dead sister is about to turn into an effing zombie, and they need to put a bullet in her head quick, I found myself grinding my teeth.

But everyone backs off, because hey, she’ll do it! And eventually Amy opens her eyes, takes a few ragged, shallow breaths and begins grasping for Andrea’s BRRAAAAAINNNSSS!1! Andrea says her goodbye’s, cradles her baby sister’s head in her arms, then proceeds to blow it off. Good thing she was wearing protective gear, shooting that Desert Eagle or whatever the hell it was off six inches from her own head.

Like the zombie attack in the episode before it, “Wildfire” was able to get rid of a few useless characters, chief among them the Mexican stereotype and his family. I believe his character was listed as Juan Sanchez-Gomez on IMDB. Of course, the big revelation was that Jim got bit in the attack, and doesn’t have much longer himself. Now, him I will miss. Because one, Andrew Rothenberg is a good actor, and two, I felt Jim actually brought something to the group. His heat stroke induced grave digging, his mindless, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Every group like this needs at least one crazy person around. But it looks like we’ll have to turn to Shane for that, at least for the foreseeable future. That look on his face as he tracks Rick down the barrel of his shotgun was truly maniacal.

At this point it’s obvious that the Shane/Rick blowout isn’t going to play the same as it did in the comic. It’s a pretty big card to play so I can understand why TPTB would want to hold off on it, but I feel like the story needs to take a bigger leap than it has so far. That may be me fooling myself into thinking ‘The Walking Dead’ is a show that it really isn’t. This is a character drama, but the zombies and blood and guts have me treating it like a genre piece. I may half expect the Smoke Monster to fly out of the woods and kill all the zombies before they can hurt any of the survivors, but it just isn’t gonna happen.

After some tearful goodbyes, everyone jumps in their cars and takes off for the CDC in Atlanta in a nice little driving montage with some great scoring by BSG-alum Bear McCreary. When Jim gets worse, he asks Rick and Shane to be left on the side of the road. His thinking is that, once he becomes a zombie, he’ll be able to be with his family again. I understand that people in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies themselves, but man, Jim’s just an idiot. I know that Jim doesn’t really think he’ll be rejoining his wife and kids, but who would want that for themselves? What sort of weird fulfillment would it bring? My wife and I have already pinky-sworn to kill each other in the event one of us is ever bitten by a zombie, and waste no time getting freaky with the other’s attractive best friends. Double tap. Get freaky. That’s the plan. None of this quasi-spiritual BS about being reunited after being bitten ourselves. That stuff’s for the birds. And by that, I mean the Hitchcock movie.

So Noah Emmerich is the last man in any sort of official capacity who may know what’s going on with things. When Rick and the gang start asking questions about what’s happened, I bet he pops up with some brews and starts talking about high school, just to make sure they don’t notice all the cameras filming them, or how none of them have actually ever left the city. It’s always more realisitic to have characters in these sorts of situations seek out answers when some seriously crazy stuff is going down. We all remember how frustrating things got on ‘Lost,’ when everyone was stuck on this island with Others and polar bears and French women and didn’t really seem to care what it all meant. But, this could also be a serious misstep for the show. Introducing this sort of authority into a show with genre elements (even if the show isn’t necessarily genre itself) is almost always never good. And if they were ever to introduce the president, I think I might tune out entirely just on general principle. We’ll see what secrets are revealed in the finale.

A stunning, sometimes disappointing first season. And it’s all been building toward, what, we’re not really sure. But we can definitely say that we’re going to find out. Yep. We suuure are.

The Walking Dead, “Vatos”: I’m glad that’s over.

I think most will agree that it’s a good thing ‘The Walking Dead’ is taking departures from the comic. It keeps things fresh and exciting, and keeps the fans guessing what’s coming next. So let’s see those new characters. And let’s see that horde of zombies bring God’s swift judgment upon their heads, because man, were they annoying. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thought the last ten minutes of the episode were the best part, can I?

Four episodes in, and I’m still waiting for the show to click. It’s doing so many things well that it hurts that much more when it does things wrong. “Vatos” touched on several ideas that felt like they sounded great in the writers room, but came out half-baked. Let’s take a look. ISSUE THE FIRST: The Mexican gang. These guys would have worked so much better had they been either a straight up gang or just a group of nurses, doing good, helping the sick and afflicted. There’s a really interesting idea that was touched on in “Dirty Hands,” an episode of ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ third season. And that was, in a post-apocalyptic society, when the job you’re given is usually where your skills are strongest and where you’re needed the most, do you really have any freedom to move around, to eventually do something different? On BSG, you could see these people doing a certain job year after year, and got the sense that their descendants, years and years later, would be doing the exact same thing. On ‘The Walking Dead,’ I thought it would have been much more interesting to see the foundation being laid down for some sort of Canticle-of-Leibowitzesque guild of healers. All the guns and tough talk kind of ruined that.

If, on the other hand, they hadn’t been nurses, but just a group of Crips, it would have brought up questions of how different groups of survivors are beginning to govern themselves. Questions that the comic has raised already, and I imagine the show will eventually. Speaking of the gang, how much cooler would things have been if the leader was played by Ludacris? I imagine it would have gone something like this…

Rick: We came to get our man back.

Luda: I be that ni**a named Luda, A.K.A. L-O-V-A L-O-V-A, f**k that s**t, ni**a what you wan say one time, Southside let’s ride. And if you love what you do, do what you feel. Then I know you gonna mark my words. Y’all drop s**t like birds. Then it’s about the time for yo ass to get served. Just lay it on down. Just lay it on down, while we relax to the tight raps and the phat tracks that that ni**a Timbaland put down.

He was great in Crash. No reason he couldn’t work the same magic here. Anyway. ISSUE THE SECOND. I understand Rick is a tough guy who needs to show his mettle in front of the gang, but can we please stay away from these gruff platitudes about having blood on your hands? Who talks like that? I guess it should also be noted that “Vatos” was written by Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic. Taking that into account, I feel like the episode would have worked much better in that format. At least it would have given Kirkman a reason to parse down some of the dialogue. It would have made things a lot tighter.

ISSUE THE THIRD. Jim’s “Aha!” moment at the end of the episode. That’s why he was digging all those holes; to bury all the dead people! This one is kind of a cop-out on my part, because I don’t have a really good excuse for why I took issue with it. It just seemed like the show was trying to be a little edgy and ended up falling flat. It’s like in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ where every character has found an excuse to flip through a popular book that’s somehow thematically tied to the episode. After the fifth or sixth time, it was just like, alright already, we get it. So anyway, there’s that.

It wasn’t all bad, though. One thing the episode did unquestionably well: Killing off half of the survivors. It was necessary. Eventually the group is going to have to move on, and I don’t think it would have served the show very well to keep such a large group around. Although, on the other hand, there was always a pretty big group in ‘Lost.’ You just had a lot of background players who never had any lines. They just hung out, surfed and cooked ribs while Jack, Kate and Sawyer ran around the island, carrying out all their clandestine BS. Although here it seems that everyone is getting their own time to shine. The downside to that being, when a character doesn’t click, or feels like they’re falling a little flat, it’s that much more noticeable, stacked up against the other characters. Case in point, the Mexican guy and his family. After he compared Dale to a village priest, I knew it was time for him to go.

I really feel like the show is almost there. And I’m wondering if, with only a 6-episode first season, it’ll pull a ‘Parks & Recreation’ and really come together when it returns next year. We’ll have to see. We just found out today that Frank Darabont fired the show’s entire writing staff, so who knows how that will affect things next season. We’ll be waiting with baited breath, I’m sure. That, or ‘The Event’ will get really good and we’ll all start watching that instead.

THE RECONCILERS #1

I know, I know. We only do book reviews around these parts once every blue moon. And never, NEVER do we review comic books! All these things occurred to me as I was reading The Reconcilers, the latest from actor/writer/producer/superman Erik Jensen. But then I thought, if you don’t like it, you can LEAVE! But please don’t leave. We value our readers. Especially the girls.

The Reconcilers takes place in a dystopian future in which the world is ruled not by governments, but by corporations. This is kind of like a game of Fortunately/Unfortunately, because unfortunately, no governments means no corporate bailouts whenever a company runs into trouble (topical!). Fortunately, no governments means corporations are instead free to turn to all sorts of hardcore badassery to solve their problems. This is where the titular reconcilers come in. To settle their problems, a company keeps a team of gladiators on hand to compete in a bloody free-for-all that’s broadcast all over the world. The last man standing wins.

This is where we find ourselves when Maximillian Sokor, the grand poo-bah of Earth’s corporate fiefdoms, tries laying claim to the mother of all ore deposits discovered by Sean Hexhammer and the “ore jockeys” of Hansen Lunar Engineering. Not content to be pushed aside and have their find taken out from under them, Hexhammer and company challenge Sokor Industries to full and total reconciliation — which they’re almost certain to lose. And we’re off.

I’ll admit that I was a little iffy on this one when I first opened it up. Televised death matches are a trope of dystopian fiction I’ve never really been able to get on board with. And books like Hunger Games haven’t really done them any favors. But I have to say that I got hooked early in. The book’s secret weapon is its writing. Erik Jensen is one of those jack-of-all-trades bastards we love to hate. When he’s not on TV or producing plays, he’s writing comic books. You want to know what I’ve been up to? I rearranged my living room. It doesn’t even look good. Anyway, Jensen really makes these characters come to life. There are a lot of great little beats, off-hand remarks that really bring them up off the page, which already puts it above a lot of the stilted dialogue we read in today’s better comics. It’s also a story in which the stakes seem high right from the start. I’m not really sure what to atribute that to. It may be because this is our first time being shown this world, so there’s no feeling that this or that character is immune from having anything happen to them. It was enough to keep me guessing, which is really all I can ask for.

The book features some interesting character and technology designs, but other than that is probably best described as barebones, with maybe just a little bit of retro thrown into the mix. It’s not flashy, which I think is to be appreciated. I would say the words do all the talking, but there’s got to be a better way to write that sentence.

My copy says #1 on the cover, which oftentimes is followed by a #2. It’ll be interesting to see The Reconcilers develop into a series, as it works perfectly as a one-shot. But if subsequent stories are as well written, count me in. The book isn’t as hardcore as your Scalped or your 100 Bullets, but once you’re drawn in, you’re there until the end.

Glee, “Furt”: I popped the question in my building’s common-use hot tub. Boo-yah!

Were you tuning in with bated breath like me? Wondering if last week’s great Glee episode was an anomaly or the beginning of an upward swing? Does two not-bad episodes make for a hot streak? I don’t know, but I can say that this episode was a comedic and emotional success. Was it any more responsible in its message than the past few weeks? Not really, but I’ll save the boring proselytizing for the end.

Let’s talk about the fun stuff. The news anchor marrying his co-anchor and telling Sue, “You can’t tame the tiger – you’ve read my tattoos.” Good. Sue’s online dating profile, which lists, among her interests, “poking the elderly with pins.” Great. Finn questioning Kurt’s decision to release live doves at their parents’ wedding, and Kurt’s response – “That’s why we feed them glitter!” Excellent.

We had three main storylines going on here. First, Kurt’s dad and Finn’s mom are getting married, which means Finn is going to have to come to terms with Kurt’s homosexuality and having him as a brother. The second storyline – Kurt’s ongoing bullying at the hands of Karofsky,  feeds into this because the Glee gals decide to have their football team boyfriends go on the offensive in Kurt’s honor. Finn declines, citing his precarious position on the football team, and rival Sam gets all the glory.

Fun stuff first – that wedding was covered in gooey, dripping cheese, but dammit if I didn’t shed a tear… or two. It was fun and ridiculous and just right for the core of the Glee audience. And Schu’s performance of “Sway with Me” got me thinking…. Wouldn’t it be great if his performances were a treat? A rarity that only happened when the situation really called for it – like here? I’d like that so much better than feeling awkward every week as he steals the spotlight from the kids to serve his own selfish purposes.

Storyline three is Sue marrying… herself… in a weird, convoluted plot twist that really didn’t do it for me. Remember when Carrie did it in Sex and the City? Don’t scoff, guys, if you watch Glee, I’ll bet you’ve also watched at least a few episodes of SatC.  Anyway, it worked there. It didn’t here. And more than that, it didn’t seem all that necessary as a device to get her absentee Nazi-hunter mom (Carol Burnett) into town, so I’m still not sure what the point of the storyline was. Was it to resolve her mother issues? Or was it a self-affirming all-you-need-is-to-love-yourself self-wedding? I couldn’t tell you.

I’d be tarred and feathered if I so much as breathed a word against the legend Carol Burnett (especially by those guys who watch Glee and Sex and the City, ifyouknowwhatimean), so I’ll just tell you my favorite lines. “…the other mothers used to tell me that you’d never find anybody, but I said, no, no, no, no… she’s a perfectly okay child. She’ll grow into her looks. And you know what? I believe you still might.” “I was going to send you to Israel for your honeymoon – they love me there.”

Now on to the boring proselytizing. There’s too much wrong with the bullying storyline for it to be taken as seriously as it should be, and it honestly just reeks of Ryan Murphy (or one of the other writers) playing out some childhood trauma on screen.  I don’t understand how Karofsky gets away with bullying because no one saw it, but so do the Glee kids, who beat him up with an entire locker room watching. I don’t understand how Kurt’s dad gets away with threatening and assaulting a student. I don’t understand how he (and everyone else) seems to blame Finn for not sticking up for Kurt. I agree – Finn should’ve said something to Karofsky, but it’s not like he’s known about this for ages. He’s not the one responsible, and while it would’ve been the right thing to do for him to confront Karofsky, it wasn’t WRONG of him to have not done anything yet – especially given their relationship on the field.

I don’t understand how Sue gets away with what is – yes, you’re right, Kurt – bullying by calling him “lady” or any other nickname (whether he chooses it from a list of derogatory terms or not). I definitely don’t get why Kurt’s parents put up with it. I was thrilled that he finally reported the bullying and eventually the death threat because it did show, at least in the short term, that action would be taken. And finally, we get a real reason why Kurt should be apprehensive – when the school board reversed Karofsky’s expulsion, Kurt has a legitimate claim to say that the school is soft on bullying and to want to transfer to Dalton.

Which he does. All I can say is – CALLED IT! For now, Kurt is a Warbler, and I’m betting that while he might find his new digs and his new crew nice for awhile, he’s going to miss his Glee gang more than ever and find a reason to come back soon.

I hope this is the culmination of the Kurt-is-misunderstood-and-disadvantaged-because-of-his-sexuality, because Finn’s “You’re Amazing” performance at the wedding was just a little over the top for my tastes, and I’m tired of seeing Kurt portrayed as a victim. As long as we back away from this storyline and tone it down for a few episodes, I think we’ll be golden.

If I don’t try to make sense of the bullying storyline and just allow myself to get stupid on the pretty people and fun songs, this wasn’t a bad episode, but I’m not calling it a hot streak yet.  Next week’s sectionals competition should be interesting, though, so I’ll be staying tuned.

P.S. Something to think about – there was a subtle look during the wedding preparation conversation with Finn that built on her exclusion from the Glee-girls-with-football-boyfriends-meeting. Is Santana looking for love?

The Office, “WUPHF.com”: Bigboobz

I could relate to a lot in this episode. For starters, I frequently run my space heater and fan at the same time, at top speed. Don’ t judge me. What can I say? I’m hot-headed, and I’ve got cold feet! Ba-dum-bum-shhhh. Also, I’m not naming any names or companies, but let’s just say I have personally witnessed social media bandwagonry and what we’ll call “marketing without substance.” But the part about lacking motivation to work and the boss trying to convince you that you don’t do it just for the money? Nope. Don’t know anything about that. Definitely not.

/whistles nonchalantly and walks away with hands in pockets

Aaaaaannnnyyyhoo, so, Ryan has come up with WUPHF.com, a service that harasses you at all communication points when someone wants to send you a message – so, basically, what Facebook will be in about six months. He’s convinced most of his Dunder Mifflin coworkers to invest, and now he’s got enough cash for nine days and a strategy that amounts to “throw WUPHF-branded condoms out of a helicopter during spring break.” Michael is the prime patsy, of course, and is starting to plan for an investor ski weekend before he finds out that the company is broke and everyone wants their money back.

Meanwhile, Dwight has opened “HayPlace” in the parking lot, where he is rectifying a childhood injustice of not being named “Hay King” while Angela finds a new man right under his nose (Hey HRG! Good to see you on another floundering NBC show!) Other than finally seeing the Dwight/Angela storyline go somewhere, this plotline was pretty uneventful. Meanwhile, back in the Dunder Mifflin offices, Michael begins his sales pitch to the office

Michael: “SEX! Now that I have your attention….”
Stanley: “You don’t have our attention.”
Michael: “MONEY!”
Stanley, perking up: “I’m listening.”
Kevin: “You had me at sex.”

In early seasons, this would’ve been a pretty standard, high-humor exchange, but given where The Office is these days, this was downright milk-out-of-your-nose funny. It turns out, Stanley is already an investor, because he has a dream to live isolated at the top of an abandoned lighthouse (yet another thing I can relate to in this episode) that will then go into space (you lost me there).

Blah blah blah – Ryan’s a douche, Dwight’s a psychopath. Michaels’ an idiot. Blah blah blah. The investors meet and decide they want to sell, and Andy turns out to be surprisingly business savvy – maybe it’s that college degree (Where did he go to school again?) But as the majority investor, Michael refuses to sell, saying, “I’d rather go broke betting on my people.” It’s another one of those great, albeit brief, redemptive glimpses into Michael’s psyche.
In any event, it made me want to see something good happen to Michael – and I was even secretly hoping that WUPHF would be come a huge success, even if it meant success for weasely Ryan, if only to see Michael’s faith in people rewarded. Sadly, no. They sell, but Michael leaves us with a great, classic Office monologue:

The world sends people your way. Ryan came to me through a temp agency. Andy was transferred here. No idea where Creed came from. The point is you just have to play with the cards that you’re dealt. Jim – that guy is an ace. Dwight is my king up my sleeve. Phyllis is my old maid. Oscar is my queen. That’s easy. Give me a hard one – that’s what Oscar said. Toby is the instruction card you throw away. Pam is a solid seven. And yeah, you know what? Ryan is probably, like, a two. But sometimes twos can be wild, so watch out. And I am obviously the joker.

I thought we were going to see another callback to The Office’s good old days with an awesome Jim prank at the end – he had been cutting dialogue from Jo Bennett’s biography-on-tape, and I thought he was going to find a way to get his hard-earned commission from Gabe and Sabre. Disappointingly, it was just a prank on Gabe, and a pretty mild one at that, though I guess I can’t fault the writers for not wanting to turn Jim into an embezzler. I do wonder though if Jim might’ve found in Gabe a new target for his pranks … it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as sticking it to Dwight (that’s what she said?), and Gabe’s a pretty sympathetic (but still annoying) character, so it might not work. But, Office writers? A change (a change) would do you… would do you good (A change would do you good)

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.