With the VBM finally resolved—at least on legal grounds—at the end of the last episode, tonight’s hour was a chance to see what Friday Night Lights would be like without the weight (some might say, albatross) that the subplot put on the show. Critic Alan Sepinwall joked that he was hoping for something like the Armen Tanzarian episode of The Simpsons, which ended with a judge decreeing that the townspeople forget that Seymour Skinner was an imposter and just pretend the whole thing never happened. That Simpsons episode was a brilliant comment on the short-term-memory that allows long-term shows to keep hitting the reset button every week. But the magic of “There Goes The Neighborhood” is that it doesn’t forget the past entirely, yet still functions as one of the season’s most confident and satisfying episodes to date.
So let’s address the Landry-Tyra elephant in the room first: Now that Landry’s been cleared of criminal charges (though not necessarily of conscience), he and Tyra are free to explore their relationship more openly. No surprise that this is not good news for Landry, who will never transform into the sort of fatuous smooth-talker that Tyra tends to go for. He’s awkward and overly earnest, looking perpetually like a guy with clammy hands. I think it’s tempting to interpret Tyra’s chilliness as her being embarrassed for dating a kid below her social station. Certainly, Julie thinks so, the way she condescends to him over the rose/carnation issue. But Tyra’s true feelings are revealed in that beautiful scene in the bleachers at the Fall Formal: “You make me feel too much. It freaks me out.” And she’s right: The problem with Landry isn’t that he’s awkward, but that he’s heavy, and his sweaty devotion to her is too much to take. As a solid counter, Landry implies that Tyra’s pitiful sense of self-worth is to blame, and he offers up her drunk asshole date as Exhibit A.
In any case, I think the VBM puts an interesting residue on their scenes together. They forged a powerful bond under all that duress—and a lasting one too, whatever Tyra’s protestations—but it’s hard to get a distance from that situation and figure out if they can function as high school sweethearts. There’s way more history between them than between other teenage couples—hence Landry nearly laughing out loud over Julie’s comment about her relationship with Matt being “complicated”—and that’s burdensome, especially for Tyra. Who knows if the two of them would have gotten together without the VBM happening? But it did, and it has complicated their relationship in fascinating ways, even if it doesn't come up explicitly in conversation.
The main plotline had the chumps from neighboring Laribee High School invading Dillon after a tornado ripped through their town (and possibly destroyed a few double-wides in the process). This clever little development paid off in high comedy and some juicy melodrama, too. Of course, Coach Taylor’s act of “Christian charity” in letting the Laribee boys and their lunkheaded coach share the locker rooms and practice field was doomed to backfire. “Boys will be boys,” after all, so the natural tension between rival schools could only spill over—first, in frathouse locker room hijinks, and later in a rowdy lunchroom brawl. A lot of fun stuff here, from schoolyard taunts (I particularly liked the “Napoleon Dynamite” remark) to Eric’s strained effort to keep himself from unloading on the opposing coach. On the more dramatic side, we get another potent example of what makes Eric such an effective coach and surrogate father to his players: He’s completely intolerant of juvenile bullshit, yet willing to stand up for them (in this case, Riggins) when it’s necessary. Can’t wait for the big Dillon-Laribee showdown next week.
Speaking of Riggins, he makes himself right at home with the Taylors, which creates an electric dynamic: Julie and Tami’s younger sister Shelley are so lustful that they watch his morning workout regimen in lieu of TV; Tami isn’t happy about either of their wagging tongues (Shelley for being age-inappropriate, in the FNL tradition; Julie for being the “lit match” to his “can of gasoline”); and Eric is giddy that there’s another guy around who can fix the cable, play ping-pong at 5 a.m., and “even up the gender teams.” It’s really too bad that this arrangement has to end on an almost sitcom-like misunderstanding—and one that seems destined to continue even after Julie sobers up—because I loved the dynamic in the Taylor household this week. I’d also like to use this opportunity to apologize again for slagging Riggins (and Taylor Kitsch) earlier this season, since he’s evolved into a breakout character this year; it helps that he’s more funny and less of a brooder, which is why it’s worrisome to have him homeless and unloved again.
In other developments, the Garritys are officially a broken home now that Lila’s mother has decided to marry “the treehugger” and give Buddy the brush-off for good. There’s something really touching about Buddy’s Homer Simpson-like cluelessness: He’s never had a moment’s uncertainty about her, despite his cheating, yet he doesn’t realize that she’s not the same person he married after high school. You can just imagine her slow disappointment in watching the lithe championship football star she married turn into a flabby, inconsiderate blowhard who obsesses over his alma mater. But that doesn’t mean the big guy doesn’t care, either, and it was great (if cringe-inducing) to see the always-excellent Brad Leland make his blustery Hail-Mary bid for her heart. Being the Texas Car Salesman of the Year five years running just wasn’t enough this time around.
• Curse the NBC promotions department for giving up a big moment in next week’s episode—and then having the nerve to preface it by having the announcer say, “And you won’t believe what happens” before, you know, showing us what happens.
• Curse NBC also for its erratic press site, which doesn’t have a single photo for the next three episodes. I’ve gone with a smoldering Riggins portrait shot this week, but I may post one of Abe Vigoda next week just out of spite.
• Matt and Carlotta are still spicy in their brief appearance—mercifully brief, I should say—but are we ever going to see Matt and Landry share the same space again? Perhaps in some flashback explaining why these formerly inseparable best friends no longer have time for each other.
• So is Shelley right to blow up at Tami for thinking the worst of her? I know many people felt that Julie was in the right for yelling at her mother after she dressed down her journalism teacher. Was this another example of Tami being a bit self-righteous? Personally, I take the minority opinion that Tami was mostly in the right on both occasions, but I like that the show doesn’t treat her as infallible.
• Riggins grabbing a mid-afternoon beer from the Taylors’ refrigerator: Classic move.