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Friday Night Lights: "Tami Knows Best"


Friday Night Lights

"Tami Knows Best"

Season 3 , Episode 2

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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]

Fun fact: The great JumboTron controversy now tearing Dillon apart is something of a misnomer. Technically speaking, a JumboTron can only be made by Sony, which pioneered the technology in the '80s. And Sony's been out of the JumboTron business since 2001. JumboTron has become the Kleenex-like name for stadium-friendly screen technology.

With that out of the way, can we agree that the JumboTron subplot feels a little by-the-book for this show? On one side we have a town that values athletics over academics. On the other, the valiant-but-possibly-naïve new Principal Tami. For a show that loves nuance, this sets up a fairly black and white conflict. Which isn't to say that it's not played with great nuance by Connie Britton and Brad Leland, whose Buddy Garrity has become the SpokesBooster for the pro-JumboTron contingent. It's a pleasure to watch Leland assert himself in the least assertive way possible as Britton digs in. I'm just looking for something new here.

Leland also has to play the part of the disapproving dad this week as he starts to cope with the fact that Riggins isn't going away any time soon. That leads to an uncomfortable dinner with Buddy, Lyla, Riggins, and Super Quarterback's dad (D.W. Moffett) and mom. (Janine Turner of Northern Exposure fame, who lives in Texas plays the latter; the last I saw of her was when this showed up at the office.)

Did anyone else have to look up "squab"? That's clearly something not to order rare, and for sheer gross-out factor alone, I'm glad the episode cut directly to the aftermath of that disastrous dinner, particularly when it led into the episode's best scene as Riggins unselfconsciously relaxes sans pants with Tyra. They may not want each other anymore, but they clearly get each other.

They're also both characters who need to figure out what their next step will be. She's trying a bit too hard to push forward quickly. He's not trying at all, since even the good news of a letter of interest from Oklahoma could mean an end to the low-impact paradise of football, booze, and sex he's carved out for himself. As for Tyra, she gets a chance to redefine herself in the very public forum of a school election and fails by succeeding. I thought the device of bringing in local strippers–this show is getting the most out of The Landing Strip this season, isn't it?–rang a little sitcommy, but Tami's subsequent "You sunk to the lowest common denominator speech" rang true. (It also synchs up nicely with my feelings about the election moment we're in as I write this. Those of you reading this when NBC airs it in 2009, please tell me that sinking to the lowest common denominator ended up not working out so well on the national level.) Tyra's all ambition without direction right now, and she's falling back on her good looks without realizing that the same impressive genetic material hasn't let her mom or sister escape make their way out of the rut Dillon creates for most women.

Speaking of women, we meet Saracen's mom, if only long enough for her to sign his emancipation papers. Is this all we're going to learn of the story? In some ways it feels like enough. What more do we need to know about Saracen's feelings than the look he gives his mother when she accuses his dad of abandoning him. At least it hasn't scarred him so badly that he can't resume being friends, for now at least, with Julie who, despite last season's turmoil, he clearly still sees as a Cadillac of a girl in spite of her Celica dreams.

Finally: Smash. I'd complain of the contrivance of having the whole team show up to help him practice but it worked for me. It's been a pleasure to watch Gaius Charles find the right notes of vulnerability and doubt with undertones of his character's old confidence in these two episodes. We're nearing the end of his story, but he'll definitely be missed.

So will his relationship with Coach Taylor, which as emerged as one of the most interesting, and understated pairings on the show and an example of how the strength of these characters helps patches over some dramatic rough spots. I spent most of this episode thinking it was good with patches of shakiness, but when we landed on the shot of Kyle Chandler listening to the Williams family celebrate his longshot chance at Texas A&M;, I remembered why I look forward to this show each week.

Grade: B

Stray observations

— Looks like I was wrong about Applebees being out. It was all over this episode and now employs Julie. Looks like riblets and spinach and artichoke dip are still on the menu.

— Did anyone else stick around for the deleted scene? That would have made the dinner seem less abrupt..

— You know who never gets enough credit? Louanne Stephens, who plays Saracen's grandmother with a heartbreaking credibility.

— Also worth a mention, especially now that her role is probably drawing to an end, too: Liz Mikel, who brings to the part of Smash's mom a formidable mix of strength, maternal concern, and oft-tested faith.

— Line of the night: "No, it means I get to take care of old people."