(I originally posted this review back when “Friday Night Lights”Â 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, IÂ 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 host a morale-building barbecue…
“Don’t feel like celebrating tonight.” -Coach Crowley
Early in “Perfect Record,” Coach gives our old friend Jason Street a list of all the perfect things in his life, and while we know he’s embellishing at least the Julie part of it, that speech – and the one Vince gives Jess about how swell things are going with Ornette – is the sort a character delivers right before his life starts to turn into something very imperfect.
So, yes, the Lions are undefeated, Eric is a magazine cover subject, is being pursued for college coaching jobs (head coach this time), and in a little over a year he’s brought the East DIllon football culture back from the dead. He has the beautiful wife, the daughters, and a backyard big enough to host a 300-person barbecue.
And so, yes, Vince is being pursued by half the college football powers in America, his mother is both sober and happy, his daddy is back home and looking out for his son again, he has the beautiful, football-loving girlfriend and a half a town that worships him.
But bad times are coming, clearly, and the trouble starts right here as the Lions are rolling over the once-mighty West Dillon Panthers – and most of the badness comes out of the same things that have been so good for a while.
Though the Lions are proud and powerful, they’re also embracing a style of cocky, head-hunting football that isn’t the sort of thing Eric Taylor has ever wanted to represent, nor some of his assistants.(*) We knew Vince came to the team because of his criminal record, but it turns out that several key players – even gentle, joking Tinker, who sounds not at all like himself when he taunts the defeated Panthers at game’s end – have also been arrested a time or three. And the better the Lions do as an outlaw outfit, the bigger the bullseye gets on all of his players.
(*) I thought the moment where Crowley told blood-thirsty Billy that he didn’t want to hear from him would have been great if Crowley hadn’t joined in with the rest of the coaching staff in being giddy about the Kingdom win while Eric was feeling uncomfortable about the dirty play.
And then there’s the matter of the man playing the devil on Vince’s shoulder to Eric’s angel. What I like about the writing of Ornette is that he sees himself as a hero in this story – and so does Vince. He’s not trying to sabotage his son’s football career, but rather believes he’s protecting him, the same way he did when young Vince climbed the big tree in Carroll Park. (And Vince’s reaction to that story shows just how desperate he is for his father to be his father again. A very lovely scene between Michael B. Jordan and Cress Williams.) He looks at Eric and sees some white outsider who doesn’t really know or care about his son – who’s stifling his creativity and chance to impress scouts – when we know that Eric knows a hell of a lot more about the college game, and the trouble Vince could get in for recruiting violations, than Ornette does. When Ornette was in prison, Eric was the closest thing Vince had to a father, and though they’ve never become as close as Eric was with Street, Vince is still being asked to choose between father figures – and until or unless Ornette screws up in a way that 17-year-old Vince can understand, no way is Eric Taylor winning that fight.
In addition to the Carroll Park story, I really liked Eric and Ornette’s conversation at the team barbecue, where Ornette finally drops the pretense that he’s going to let Eric call the shots. Ornette claims to remember their conversation at the Kingdom hotel differently than we do, and Eric – in that polite-but-barbed way that Kyle Chandler always plays so well – asks, “Would you do me the honor of informing me how you do remember it?” Fantastic, tense showdown moment.
Though I imagine Jason Katims will give most of the characters some kind of happy ending by the time we reach episode 13 – maybe some scholarships for Vince and Luke, either a college job for Eric or him embracing a life in high school, Julie figuring out her destiny, etc. – it feels like the path to those happy endings is going to be a difficult one. And the tougher life in Dillon gets, the better “Friday Night Lights” tends to be.
Some other thoughts:
â€¢ Holy cow was Connie Britton good in the scene where Tami realized she was talking to Derek. You could almost see the bile rising in her throat even as she kept herself from telling the jerk off. It’s interesting, though, that she insists on not reporting him to the administration, which would lead to bad news for Derek. Even if Tami feels Julie needs to take responsibility for her end of things, shouldn’t the next Julie be protected from this sleaze?
â€¢ I wasn’t expecting to see Scott Porter back until around the finale, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a lot of Jason Street in this one. A few random thoughts: first, Porter looked every bit his age (just as he does on “The Good Wife”), and I guess the show is finally embracing that and just acting like a 22-year-old kid with a GED would be a full-fledged sports agent. Second, I like that even though he’s loyal to Eric, he’s also still loyal to Panthers football. It would have rang false if every single Panthers alum immediately started wearing the red, white and black, and Street was a star on the Panthers even before Eric was the head coach. Third, the photos on NBC’s press site for this episode included a shot of Jason and Buddy eating together at the barbecue, which I imagine was a scene that wound up on the cutting room floor. A shame, given their history. And fourth, Street’s married to the waitress. Nice.Â
â€¢ What happened to the McCoys and Wade Aikman? Joe’s not running the booster meeting, the only Panthers star that’s talked about is the big receiver who gets laid out by Luke, and the only coach we see on the sidelines is Mac. Is the idea supposed to be that the McCoys left town in a hurry after the humiliating defeat to the Lions, and took their pet coach with them? Or are we to assume that all three are still there, and none of them just wound up on camera? Because whatever his attitude problem was, JD was sold as the kind of QB talent who’d be able to put more than 7 points on the board, even against the fierce Luke-led Lions defense.
â€¢ The Luke/Becky subplot was pretty predictable, but Billy’s presence within it was amusing, and the training methods (fender-benching!) seemed very much like the sorts of things Mickey made Rocky Balboa do. (I was surprised he didn’t make Luke chase a chicken.) I’m hoping that there’s some kind of payoff to Luke shining on a night when so many scouts were in the stands to watch Vince.
â€¢ Loved the scene where Tami falls asleep in Eric’s arms as he pays her various whispered compliments and kisses her after each one. That’s a man who knows how to treat his special lady right.
What did everybody else think?