‘Friday Night Lights’ – ‘Swerve’: Is this the little girl I carried?

Senior Television Writer
05.20.11 45 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.)

A review of tonight’s “Friday Night Lights” coming up just as soon as rhinestones make me look trashy…

“I don’t know that girl in there.” -Eric

The two main plots in “Swerve” spin out of previous storylines I haven’t loved: Julie’s affair with her sleazy married TA, and Vince’s life of crime in season four. But where I still find the Kennard stuff problematic, the Julie plot finally began to work when it became much less about Julie’s mistake than about Eric and Tami’s reaction to it.

Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton were their usual fantastic selves – stories where Coach and Mrs. Coach are worried about Coach Jr. tend to bring out the best in both performers – and what I particularly liked about this story was the progression of it. Julie tries her stupid plan with the car crash, then confesses to Tami, and at first Tami is in the supportive, concerned mother mode. And then it dawns on Eric that Julie crashed the car on purpose, and things begin to spiral, particularly once Julie tries to use the slapping incident as an excuse for running away from a college experience she wasn’t enjoying in the first place. Though Eric and Tami have their flaws, they have always been about personal responsibility first and foremost, and to realize that this is what their daughter has grown up to be shook them to the core – to the point where Eric walked out on one practice and then nearly missed the start of a game. That is not something that our Coach does, but that’s how bad this is. It was startling how much more relaxed and happy Eric seemed when he showed up in the locker room and heard Billy’s speech calling for the opponents’ blood – even though Eric hasn’t been crazy about the renegade style of play that the Lions have begun to adopt, the football field is still the one part of his life that makes sense(*), and the idea of delivering some pain to others probably sounds appealing to him at that moment.

(*) On the other hand, Eric’s line to the team before they walk under the bleachers – “Who you are on that field tonight is who you’re gonna be for the rest of your lives” – sounds like the kind of thing he desperately wants to believe, given what’s happening at home with Julie. Because if football doesn’t, in fact, mold boys into fine men, then what the hell does make sense in Eric’s life?

Chandler was also terrific in that final scene in Gracie’s room, just sitting on the bed and looking at his younger daughter, who’s all potential and no disappointment, wondering if there’s anything he can or should do differently than he did with Julie, and not responding at all to Julie’s apologetic “I didn’t mean to disappoint you” from the hall.

So even if the TA stuff was just a contrivance to get Julie out of her own depressing quasi spin-off and back to Dillon, the end result is working out well so far.

The return of Kennard, on the other hand? Not nearly as big a fan.

Crime is just not an area that “Friday Night Lights” has ever handled well, even if we leave Lance’s 19-state killing spree out of the discussion. It’s just not what the show is about, there’s never the attention to detail or verisimilitude that comes from the stories about football or family or religion or any of the show’s other subjects, and they always stick out like a sore thumb (or like a certain freckle-faced murderer-turned-punter) in the same way that, say, cop shows often feel odd when the characters visit a hospital (or vice versa). I know that Vince came to the team due to a life of crime, that his mom is a recovering addict, his dad an ex-con drug dealer, etc., but… I watched Michael B. Jordan on “The Wire,” you know? I can tell the difference between an authentic-seeming, intimidating drug dealer character versus a guy who’s supposed to be scary in the midst of a high school football drama. And several of Kennard’s scenes, particularly when he threatened Jess by the dumpster, just seemed silly to me.

Similarly, had “The Wire” season four attempted a subplot in which Carver tried to rehabilitate Namond by having him go out for a rec league team… well, bad example, because “The Wire” did nearly everything well. But my point is, “Friday Night Lights” has things it does spectacularly well, better than any other show on television, and so when it turns to a kind of story that other shows do much, much better, those stick out like a sore thumb. I thought the ending of the Kennard storyline last year rang false and it would have been too easy for Vince if that was really the end of it, but on the other hand, “FNL” has shown a willingness to ignore problematic storylines in the past (Landry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Santiago, the Street/Lyla/Riggins near-threesome), and I’d have rather seen this one behind us.

I’ll see where it goes, though. Ornette delivering the beat-down on Kennard shows us just who and what Vince’s dad used to be, and suggests a level of danger and unpredictability that could cause big problems as this recruitment story moves along. On the other hand, I don’t see a guy like Kennard dropping this after the beating; if anything, I would expect him to get another gun and come after Ornette, or Vince, or both. And that I don’t really want to see.

Still, if the payoff to Julie and the TA has shown me anything this week, it’s that the “FNL” writers and actors are good enough that they can find a way to make me care about stories I’ve grown to utterly hate, so I’ll give it a bit more time.

Some other thoughts:

• The Luke/TMU thing still doesn’t work for me, unfortunately. If Vince is as tight with Luke as he is, and if he’s the hot prospect everybody says he is, why on earth would TMU risk screwing over his buddy, particularly when the buddy is a good enough high school player that he made All-State on a 2-8 team? I think the more interesting story would have been for TMU to really want to give Luke a scholarship, which he then realizes is essentially a lure for Vince, and then he has to decide how he feels about it and whether his pride will outweigh his desire to get out of Dillon and into a good school.

• But that story did give us that hilarious scene with drunk Billy and drunk Luke trying out their war cries in the Rigins backyard (complete with a randomly-placed toilet). In general, I like that Billy is turning out to be more than a joke as an assistant coach; note that the more senior guys all deferred to him to give the fire-and-brimstone speech when Coach was a no-show, no doubt because they saw how he fired up the special teams during the Kingdom road trip. And he’s also still making payments on Tim’s ranch property somehow – that garage must be a goldmine, and the government must have somehow looked the other way about how Tim paid for it – and choking up whenever he thinks of his noble, beautiful brother stuck in the hoosegow.

• Mindy Riggins, purveyor of maternal wisdom, continues to be a comic gem in her attempts to get Becky and Luke to have sex. Here’s my question: in the scene in the Landing Strip dressing room, there were at least two or three different shots of Becky eyeing the pile of bills Mindy had just collected on stage. Just an example of the show’s loose filming/editing style, or are we headed for an I Was A Teenage Stripper storyline?

• Also wondering if the Julie/Buddy Jr. scene is foreshadowing anything – not a relationship, obviously, but some sort of friendship built on being the disappointing offspring improbably back in the town they thought they’d escaped.

• Nice team-bonding/comedy moment: Eric is about to chew everybody out over the arm-branding incident from last week, only they all greet him by placing his magazine cover over their faces. (And even Jess is idly reading one on the sidelines.)

What did everybody else think?

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