“Extended Families” (season one, episode 18; originally aired 2/28/2007)
”Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” (season one, episode 19; originally aired 3/21/2007)
In the run-up to the season finale of Friday Night Lights, the show downshifts a little into character drama—high-school character drama, at that. “Extended Families” starts with the final minutes of the Panthers qualifying for the State semifinals, and doesn’t go back to a football game for a whole two episodes. It makes sense—in these 22- or 23-episode long seasons, there’s often a lull right before the finale. With State around the corner, we are looking at a whole lot of football in the next few episodes. But it’s a tonal shift for the show, and it doesn’t always totally work.
In the past, I’ve talked about Friday Night Lights’ episodic structures, and today’s two episodes offer a totally different take on the form: Two episodes where football doesn’t sweep in to connect the disparate threads of Dillon into one coherent narrative. “Extended Families” in particular lets all of the different storylines present spin on their own, creating isolated bubbles that can be appreciated on their own.
This gives me an opportunity to write about something I’ve been meaning to—Friday Night Lights’ music direction. The show is known for its incredible music choices; it’s also a show that somewhat famously had to re-score several scenes because the music rights expired after two years. So the DVD and Netflix versions of the show have music that weren’t in the original run, and you can tell. Compare the ending montage of “Extended Families,” which is scored to a lovely acoustic guitar track by David Usher—Hope (Tell Everyone)”—to the pivotal moment where the Panthers boys practice football under Jason’s guidance and then watch the sun come up, in “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.” The latter is scored with the same Explosions In The Sky track that runs over the episode’s credits, with perhaps a few variations. My assumption in these scenes (a hard-to-verify assumption) is that the Explosions In The Sky credits sound cue is a tell, one that indicates another song used to exist there.
There is something mildly terrible about knowing the original soundtrack to the show is lost, especially because in this rewatch, I’ve noticed how wonderful and apt the music selection is. A lot of shows have wonderful music that doesn’t always mesh into the story’s tone or atmosphere—or sometimes is a little too on the nose with its indie-pop choices. Friday Night Lights does not have that problem. It would not have occurred to me, watching the show, that the series’ music choices are particularly hip, though they are. Instead what comes through is the sentiment: the spread-out beauty of West Central Texas; the barrenness of the land, which is sometimes brown, sometimes yellow, rarely green; the low squat houses and the strip malls. Much of the story of Dillon is tragedy mingled with comedy, and the music gets at that by offering both pleasantness and depth.
It’s weird to watch two episodes without football—it feels a little like the show doesn’t have a unique voice, when it can’t hash things out on the football field. Of the moments that stuck out to me in these two episodes, one actually is on a football field, though it’s just drunken practice. I don’t know what “Stay tall” means, or rather, what it means in terms of football, but Jason finding a way to re-engage with football is a beautiful moment.
If the episode is going to be a few different plotlines running in their own little tracks, it makes sense that these two episodes would be big on Jason and Lyla drama—ever since they got back together, they’ve been in their own bubble, anyway. Of everything that has happened with them in the past season, “Extended Families” and “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” offers an arc that may be the most universally relatable—that push-pull between a couple that can’t quite decide if they should be together, but can’t quite let go, either. The arc might seem illogical—Jason passionately declares that nothing is “bigger” than their relationship, before they have sex (for what appears to be the first time since his accident, because he fist-pumps and says “Victory!”). Then about 18 hours later, he makes out (or more?) with the cute tattoo artist that started all the trouble in the first place. But logic doesn’t often come into play when someone’s cheating, and Lyla and Jason in particular seem to have been on autopilot in their relationship for so long that Street’s accident is forcing them out of a comfortable spot.
It’s interesting that this storyline for Lyla dovetails with another, bigger one—her mother kicking her father out of the house, in front of God and everyone, so that he shows up at the Taylors’ house to terrify Julie when she wakes up in the morning and tries to go to the bathroom. The two relationships are shadows of each other: Both are struggling with infidelity; both men are ex-football players; both are built on the foundation of the values in Dillon, whether that’s the logic that the captain of the cheerleading squad dates the quarterback or that cheating is tolerable as long as it’s kept quiet and under wraps.
To Lyla Garrity’s eternal credit, she has had enough. Neither of her parents interest me too much, though Buddy is a constant source of comic relief, and Street is often self-absorbed and selfish (which, he has a right to be). Lyla stands out in these two episodes, as she often unexpectedly does, by declaring that she has had enough—both by calling out Jason for making cheating a tit-for-tat scenario and by destroying a few of her father’s cars and his dealership’s sales office during the father-daughter dance. I don’t often give Minka Kelly much credit for her acting, but her performance when Lyla’s drinking with the team in Austin is essentially perfect bitchy-possessive-girlfriend behavior, and I love her for it. It’s a moment where you can see the mean girl Lyla can be—the mean girl that Tyra sees in her, probably—the person she prevents herself from being.
Tyra also wrangles with her one present parent a bunch this week, in a storyline that is near-lifted from one of Jason Katims’ earlier jobs—My So-Called Life’s “Other People’s Mothers,” one of the best episodes of the show (one that literally made me cry and call my mother). Tami’s arc with Julie is nearly as powerful, and her reaching out to Tyra is the perfect ending to it. But Angela Collette’s story doesn’t quite work here. It’s just a little too stiff, and the payoff is a little unearned. The subtext of Angela’s anxiety is what she perceives as a man-shaped hole in her life, and in Tyra’s; that’s why being at the Taylors’ house, with that involved father, so embarrassed her, and that’s why being with Buddy meant so much to her. So of course she apologizes and drags Tyra to the father-daughter dance for a reconciliation. But I never wholly bought it, at least in part because so much of it goes unsaid.
Still, at least its inclusion makes sense, and the story flies because of Tyra, who Adrianne Palicki continues to play with so much charisma. That story parallels the story of Julie gaining her independence from her family, which takes up a lot of screentime in these two episodes. Generally, Friday Night Lights gets the family dynamics of the Taylors down perfectly, and this episode is rich with moments that are both hilarious and tragic, like the show itself. Their interactions with Buddy and with the Collettes underscore how functional and happy and loving they are, even when they’re fighting.
Meanwhile, though not exactly bad, Smash’s storyline with Waverly’s bipolar episode and Riggins’ story where he wanders into an affair with the single mother across the way both feel like they might as well not exist, because they’re disconnected from everything else. Smash and Waverly don’t have the same chemistry on screen that Matt and Julie do, so it’s hard to be too invested in their relationship. And from the lens of 2014, there are so many shows that have done the bipolar disorder thing well (Black Box and Homeland are two recent examples) that Waverly’s manic episode is not that surprising or impressive. And Riggins with Jackie? I just don’t know. It looks like it’s been ripped from a romance novel and/or a Lifetime movie—right down to Riggins wiping grease off his hands because he’s been man-working on his manly car with his manly hands.
Though not bad, I think these two episodes hold seeds for some of the flaws of season two—there’s a sense of non-urgency, a spinning of wheels, that I remember from that season. And of course, Eric and Tami considering the move to Austin is going to define the next several months of this family’s lives.
Three more episodes until the finale.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose:
- The Family Coach: I love Coach and Mrs. Coach, but the way they handled telling Julie that they were considering moving was pretty terrible. I would have been pissed, too. However: Moving to Austin would have been awesome, because Austin is incredible. Or as Coach vaguely frames it, “arty.” Also, according to him, ballet dancers are called “ballet-ers.”
- Gotta love how Matt Saracen deferentially calls Mrs. Coach “ma’am” every seven to 12 words, on cue.
- Tami to Tyra, about her new schedule: “Oh no, darling, I’m serious as a heart attack.” “This is very aggressive. This is the way we do.”
- “Why don’t I just stick pins in my eyes?” “Well, I think that’s a terrible idea.”
- “Hey, I heard everything your mother said. You listen to her. She’s always right.”
- Sonia doesn’t understand football: What was that incredible thing that Jason got Matt to do at the end? Is there more to it than a very long pass?