‘Friday Night Lights’ – ‘On the Outside Looking In’: An epic of Epyck epicness?

Senior Television Writer
04.22.11 42 Comments


(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.)

“Friday Night Lights” season five continues, and I have a review of tonight’s episode coming up just as soon as I trade my pig for you…

“State.” -Coach

Once upon a time, “Friday Night Lights” was a show about the ultimate insiders. The Panthers were favorites to win State, and even after Jason Street’s injury had a lot of impressive talent. Though Coach Taylor was under pressure anytime he lost, he still had access to the best talent and facilities. Lyla was queen of Dillon High (despite somehow being a sophomore in the first season), Tim Riggins the guy everyone in town wanted to buy a drink for, etc.

With last year’s shift to East Dillon, “FNL” has become an outsider’s story, and that’s rarely been more overt than in an episode like this, with one story after another about characters who embody the title “On the Outside Looking In.”

The Lions want a better ranking (or a ranking, period), but don’t get it because East Dillon isn’t an establishment school. Tami wants to fit in with the East Dillon teachers but has to be pushed by Levi Burnwell into going to the happy hour. (And there, the achievement is less that she’s the life of the party than that she went at all.) Becky’s trying to fit in at the Riggins house, but Mindy wants no part of her or her short shorts. Julie feels very much alone at college. Jess feels left out of Vince’s life as a football player now that practice is back in session, and since she doesn’t want to be a traditional rally girl, whereas Vince’s actual rally girl tries to use the position to push Jess further outside.

Not all is despair, of course. Vince is being recruited by every top college football program in the country, despite having played only one season for an obscure 2-8 team(*). With that recruitment comes the promise of being able to take his mother out of their depressing life in the East Dillon projects. And in the interim, he gets to parlay his growing popularity into getting her a better job. Couple of really strong Michael B. Jordan scenes this week.  

(*) More implausible: Vince getting letters from Alabama, USC and the like given his incredibly thin resume, or Luke being named All-State after being the second-best player on said 2-8 team, and one who didn’t even play in every game?

And – in the first goosebump-inducing moment(**) of the season so far – Eric decides his team has enough talent, and guts, that he can challenge them with a single word on the whiteboard.

(**) Though the goosebumps may have come in part from how much it echoes the scene in “Major League” where Jake Taylor declares that the only way to deal with an owner who wants the team to lose is to “win the whole f—ing thing.”

And knowing the way this show works (and that there’s no sixth season to worry about) I expect to see Eric’s prediction come true – to at least see the Lions play at State, if not win like the first Saracen Panthers team did. And that might be a nice final underdog moment for the series.

Some other thoughts:

• Speaking outsiders trying to get in, Becky was an outsider to the narrative for most of season four, interacting only with Tim and, briefly, Luke and Tami. (And even there, the abortion story quickly became more about Tami than her.) Now she’s living with Billy and Mindy, and she’s more integrated into the high school scenes as she volunteers to be a rally girl. I’m actually a little disappointed that Luke traded his pig to get her away from Tinker, because I want more Tinker, and because I thought it would be interesting to have Becky being attached to a non-love interest.

• Also, given the struggles of the family farm, how exactly did Luke explain the loss of a pig to his folks? And was I the only one waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Cafferty to come out and find the young lady who aborted their grandchild escorting their drunken son home?

• As I asked last week, what happened to Jess’ role as captain of the fledgling East Dillon cheer squad? That was her way of feeling connected to the team, and we haven’t gotten an explanation for why she’s not doing it.

• Liked the little contrast of Billy and then Eric dealing with Hastings taking his helmet off. Billy demands respect without having earned it, whereas Eric simply gets it because of how he carries himself.

• The “FNL” season that didn’t really happen estalished that Julie wasn’t immune to the charms of a young and handsome teacher type, so almost from the moment the TA was introduced, I began trying to calculate the over on when she’s going to hook up with him.

• While Landry gets to go to a real school in Rice, Julie becomes another alum of the Dillon school system going to a fictional college in Burleson University, presumably in Burleson, TX. Kind of surprising she’d want to stay in Texas, given how eager she was to get away, but it definitely makes it easier for her to come back and visit frequently. Right now, though, her scenes feel as awkwardly-inserted as a bunch of the pre-“The Son” Saracen stories from last year.

• Like the show’s directors and editors, I just love looking little Gracie, here seen asking for some mac ‘n cheese.

• I’m again surprised that at no point in the subplot about Luke’s hit on the Kroft quarterback did anyone bring up Jason Street’s crippling injury. I thought for sure someone on that panel would have tried throwing that back in Eric’s face to get him to shut up, even though neither hit was actually illegal.

• Still not really digging Tami’s interactions with the East Dillon teachers (she’s not that naive), but I liked how she’s slowly but surely getting through to Epyck, and I loved Connie Britton’s delivery of, “Oh, no. That is our daughter’s bed. Are you crazy?”

What did everybody else think?

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