(I originally posted this review back when “Friday Night Lights” was doing its exclusive DirecTV run. The comments from that period have been preserved. For the sake of people who are watching the episodes as they air on NBC, I will ask anyone commenting from this point forward to only discuss plot events up to the episode in question. Do not discuss, or even allude to, anything that has yet to air on NBC. Thank you.)
A review of tonight’s “Friday Night Lights” coming up just as soon as I hand-wash your man-bra…
“How can I help you, son?” -Buddy
A lot of people need saving in “Keep Looking,” and a lot of people want to save them, but they either don’t know how or have to make a big compromise in order to do it.
Buddy has taken in the out-of-control Buddy Jr.(*) but has no idea how to get through to the kid and ultimately has to hope that the Garrity football gene is so powerful that Coach can fix him. Tami is still struggling to reach Epyck, and in the meantime is doing a lot of horse-trading to bring new teachers into the homework club. Mindy realizes how bad Becky has it at home, and even invites her to move back into Casa Riggins on a semi-permanent basis as a result. And Vince realizes that his grudge against his father is really only hurting his mom, and decides to let dad back into his life for Regina’s sake.
(*) Massive, massive kudos to the casting department for replacing the original Buddy Jr. with Jeff Rosick. No disrespect to the previous actor, who was never asked to do much, but the resemblance between Rosick and Brad Leland is just uncanny.
Because of that thematic unity, because of the performances – particularly by extended members of the “FNL” family in Brad Leland and Stacey Oristano – and because we only spent a few minutes on Julie and the TA, “Keep Looking” felt like the strongest chapter of what’s so far been an uneven final season of “FNL.”
Certainly, the Vince story remains the highlight, as Michael B. Jordan is able to shoulder whatever he’s given. And the episode’s closing moments gave us an added wrinkle, as Luke’s big and exciting trip to TMU turns out to be some kind of ploy(**) to get the TMU coaches into a room with Vince and no one else. Even though Vince is only a junior, this is the last year of the show, and the last chance to really deal with the college recruitment process. Street got paralyzed, Smash had to walk his way onto A&M after an injury, Saracen quit football after high school, and Riggins’ own recruitment story lasted all of five seconds. So there’s a lot of potential there to see the kind of temptations facing a kid like Vince who’s never had anything, and who wants so much to do the right thing, and also to create tension between Vince and Luke, who’s just as desperate to get the hell out of town.
(**) I don’t know much about the rules of high school recruiting, so I asked Chris Littmann from The Sporting News, whose “Keep Looking” review is here, and he in turn asked one of their high school recruiting experts, and he seemed to think there was nothing illegal about what happened there. Still, the way that sequence was filmed (particularly with the door closing after Vince entered into a roomful of TMU coaches), we were clearly meant to view this as something shady – or at least dishonest to poor Luke.
But beyond the Vince stuff, I found “Keep Looking” a good example of what ensemble shows often do late in their runs, where they start turning over big chunks of screen time to former bit players. Mindy was originally only here as Tyra’s sister, and then as Tim’s sister-in-law. But Tyra and Tim are gone, and she and Billy have gotten a bump up in importance, and I liked seeing her mama bear instincts overcome her distrust of the cute little high schooler living under their roof. We know from early Tyra stories that life at the Collette house was no picnic, and Mindy was no doubt witness to an ugly scene or three like the one Becky had to endure when she went home, and sad as it is, Casa Riggins probably is the best place for Becky right now, with that smiling picture of Tim watching over all of them until the real version gets out of prison and has to be taken care of by them.
Buddy’s been more prominent throughout the series than Mindy, but usually only in stories about the football team, or on occasion as Lyla’s father. This Buddy Jr. story feels like the writers trying for a do-over on the Santiago plot they abandoned after The Season That Didn’t Happen, and Leland was very good at showing Buddy’s frustration and impotence at not being able to get through to Buddy Jr.
Not everything’s clicking – again, there’s the Julia/TA affair, the Becky/Luke scene both ignores the big problem his family will have with her and also had him quoting a terrible subplot from “Studio 60” when he said “I’m coming for you,” and the only part of the Vince/Jess fight story I enjoyed was Kyle Chandler’s hilarious “exit, stage left” reaction to walking in on the middle of their earliest argument – but the season is starting to feel like it’s taking shape.
What did everybody else think?