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Friday Night Lights: "How The Other Half Lives"


Friday Night Lights

"How The Other Half Lives"

Season 3 , Episode 3

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[For those just tuning in: I first covered Friday Night Lights here at TV Club when it ran on DirecTV back in the fall. I'm rerunning those posts as it runs on NBC to a much larger audience. I'll be checking the comments regularly, as will FNL fans Scott Tobias and Noel Murray. A further wrinkle: My satellite crapped out on me shortly before the season finale so I'll be covering that as it airs on NBC. —Keith]
[Note 2: Word is starting to spread that DirecTV has expressed interest in a fourth season of FNL. I left this season wanting more, so I consider that good news.]

"For a show that prides itself on being very authentic and real life, all it was [last season] was murder and sex, which you can see on pretty much every show on TV." –Zach Gilford talking about Friday Night Lights to The Los Angeles Times

No murder tonight and if anyone had sex it happened between scenes. Even Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach Taylor (or should we start calling her Principal Taylor out of respect?) couldn't redirect their usual day-to-day friction into passion. They failed to see eye-to-eye on anything–the barbecue, her changing position within the community–and ended the episode with a public humiliation to match their private defeat. This was an episode in which nobody got what he or she wanted.

Not that they didn't try. In another scene that Gaius Charles should consider sending to every casting agent he can think of, Smash laments the problem of what to do when you've done everything you're supposed to do and it's still not enough. For Smash that might mean taking a job at the Alamo Freeze. And while that decision almost seems like a plot device to keep Smash active and in the picture for another week, I believed that he really would take the position, or at least strongly consider it. It can't be fun to watch your mom take on more work and a $10,000 a year raise is tough to pass by, even if I'm pretty sure that $10,000 over what he's making now still would never allow him to buy a house like the McCoys.

Speaking of which: Yeesh. We end up at the McCoy's house for the big football barbecue after Mrs. McCoy (Janine Turner) angles hosting duties away from Tami without Tami even realizing she was being played. Was her presence at the meat counter too writerly a coincidence? Maybe, but I like to imagine Turner's character lying in wait to lay her seductive talk about music programs and new books on the vulnerable new Principal.

Still, the McCoy home shocks only in its scope. Everything else about it is thoroughly predictable from what we've seen up to this point, right down to the shrine to J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter) that J.D. himself awkwardly catches Saracen and Julie in mid-mock. His attitude and comment about his bronzed diaper is telling: I'm not sure that J.D. is as into J.D. as everyone else.

That plot seems to be on the verge of reaching a head. In that L.A. Times piece I link to above, Gilford talks a bit about his character, likening him to the Chicago Bears' Kyle Orton (which to me sounds like an insult to Saracen, but I don't think Gilford meant it that way):
He wasn't God's gift to football, but he worked hard and was serviceable. He's a good quarterback, but he's not the kind of guy who you think, 'He's going to win the game for us.' I'm from Chicago, so I kind of liken him a bit to Kyle Orton, someone who works hard and probably won't lose a game for you, but is no Brett Favre.

But tonight he kind of was Brett Favre, or at least a hardscrabble high school version. He did everything right only to be let down by his defense (also kind of Favre-ian, for at least a couple of seasons there) then lose it all in a final play where his luck turned against him. It was a noble loss, but it still clearly stung. (No small compensation: He and Julie seem to be headed for a reunion that put their in-retrospect-pretty-contrived break-up behind them.)

Finally, there's the Riggins boys and their copper wire-stealing exploits. Billy's inability to stay away from fringe characters is bound to take him, and possibly Tim, nowhere good. But if it spares him the humiliation of having wedding vows taken verbatim from Finding Nemo, maybe that's okay. (Poor Lyla: She thought she was laughing with them when really she was laughing at them. Or maybe she was just laughing at them then tried to cover.)

For an episode that trafficked heavily in disappointment, this week didn't deliver much disappointment. Its many scenes of characters coming up short were all nicely done and if much of the episode felt like a set-up for bigger developments to come, it also served as a reminder that Friday Night Lights does small moments better than just about any other show.

Grade: A-