Friday Night Lights (S03E02): “Tami Knows Best”

Grade: A

It almost seems as if season two of Friday Night Lights was the product of network pressures and of a show trying too hard to bring up the ratings and prove its worth in order to be renewed by going out of its comfort zone and, thus, straying from what it did best. This feeling comes two episodes into the third season, where the show many of us fell hard for is back in its prime and not letting outside anxieties rule the show’s direction. The crazy drama of last year did not feel like the next step forward for FNL, but last weeks premier and tonight’s “Tami Knows Best” feel like the next stage in evolution for this show. Perhaps the writers and producers examined their own mantra, because this episode is full of heart, though my eyes were definitely not always clear.

It’s Tami vs. football again this week,  which boils down to pretty much everyone except her family. Buddy and the rest of the Booster club go on the offense to get their jumbo tron, but give Tami a chance to admit she made a big mistake by reallocating the funds. She won’t budge and chooses instead to stick it to them all in one of the episode’s best moments. However, as awesome as her tirade against the religion of football was and how education should come first, there’s still the question of whether it’s right of her to take money that was raised for a specific thing only to have it taken away and used in a different way. Personally, I’m taking Tami’s side, but I do appreciate the shades of gray they’ve plopped into this story. Unfortunately, the people of Dillon aren’t seeing her decision in such a positive way. Last episode, everyone was squawking about needing new text books and more teachers, but this week they’ve gotten that and are instead causing a ruckus over not getting their over sized football TV. Tami’s feeling pretty lost right about now, and even her husband can’t give much comfort as he tries to stick to middle ground to avoid the whole stink causing a strain on their relationship (perhaps sparked by a nasty article in the paper that turned what Tami said into a story about her new job causing marital strife). What’s most interesting is that the mayor and other influential members of the community seem to put so much more passion into football than the needs of the community and its youth, and whether Tami’s decision was right or wrong, you can’t fault her for what she’s done. She’s coming from a pure place, whereas the rest of the angered people play off as totally selfish. Guess the town really is a bit of a devil town, as the song suggests, where football is clearly the religion of choice. And god certainly comes before education, I suppose, only it’s a pigskin being bowed down to.

Principal Taylor not only has to deal with the entire community hating her and avoiding eye-contact, but with Tyra and her so-called campaign for student body president. As Tyra sits around trying to think up slogans, upset after a poster of her face was vandalized and that douche of a vice principal again told her she had almost no chances of winning, she suddenly has the realization that she can use her sex appeal to her advantage. Mistake number one, though, is that she gets that advice from her dear mother and sister, who only last episode she was vowing to never end up like. She gets some of her sisters co-workers, aka strippers, to help her rally outside the high school, signing fliers in a tight shirt and short-shorts and essentially promising sex, sex and more sex if she’s elected. The whole thing gets shut down by the vice-principal who wants to suspend her, but Tami comes to Tyra’s defense. Mistake number two: After being saved by Mrs. C, Tyra takes to the stage and gives a speech that demeans not only herself but those like Tami who backed her up. She uses foul language and assures her peers that no one will get laid at prom if they elect her rival, who wants to throw the prom in their gym. The crowd goes wild, except for a disgusted Tami, who goes all mama on her later. Tami has been a kind of mother figure for Tyra, who’s been like a big sister for Julie, and so her tough love this episode doesn’t seem cruel, but once again coming from the best place. As Tyra slumps out of her office, looking horrified either at what Tami said or at what she’s done or both, the look on Tami’s face speaks of just how hard it was for her to do that, but that it was the right thing to do if it gets Tyra back on the path to respecting herself and not tarnishing everything she’s worked for by using her physical assets quite literally to get ahead.

Smash moves closer to his dreams and the end of his story, and it’s a beautiful thing. The coach won’t give up on him, even when he starts doubting himself again and finally voices some of his fears. It’s heavy stuff when this cocky guy on top fo the world breaks down and reveals his inner fears: How he’s scared out on the field for the first time, not because of his knee but because he’s not a part of something bigger–not part of The Panthers–and he feels like no one needs him anymore. He wants to feel that people need him again, otherwise he just can’t muster up much confidence. Brian’s alter-ego, Smash, has faded away and he’s the most vulnerable he’s ever been. Smash talked a big game, about going off to schools and partying and meeting beautiful women, but in truth he was happiest and most at home right where he was in Dillon.  Seeing this, Coach Taylor summons Smash to the field and greets him with all of the Dillon Panthers, fully decked out in their game day gear, and allows Smash to feel part of something greater once again. It’s a heart stuck in your throat moment, made only better when Eric gets a call from Texas ANM about a walk on position for Smash. I love Smash and his families subdued reaction to the news, which erupts into an all out celebration as soon as the coach walks out of the house. And, the cherry on top is Eric’s sly smile, which understates just how happy he is for the kid, whom he worked so hard to make sure succeeded.

Last week was pretty light on the Matt, but he gets probably the biggest and most touching story of the episode, which balances out nicely the overburdened, but resilient Matt from season one and the near-defeated Matt from season two. His grandmother’s dementia is getting worse, and his only two options are two send her to a home (and isn’t going to do that) or become an emancipated minor, which as he puts it is just fancy lingo for a kid who can take care of old people. The only problem with all this is that he needs his dad signature, but his dad is in Iraq. With no other options, Matt borrows Landry’s car and takes a drive to see his mother. If she was ever mentioned before, I missed it, but I’m pretty sure this was a late addition seeing as Zach Gilford fessed up that he thought Saracen’s mom was dead until they dropped this storyline on him. Matt really steps up and takes one even more responsibilities like very few seventeen year olds would, but he has some moments of weakness, the first of which brings him back into contact with his ex, Julie. Out back of the Applebees, he’s kicking around boxes in frustration over his Gramma refusing to take her meds (they make her skin too dry) when Julie walks out and stumbles upon him. She’s working there now after the events of last episode, trying to save money for a car, and gone is the awkward tension between them. There is some awkwardness, but it’s evident that Julie has grown and matured and is much more enjoyable because of that. They joke around a a little and part ways, but Matt picks her up from work a few nights later after visiting his mom and something of that old spark they had relights. You can see it in their eyes, when they look at each other: They haven’t moved on totally, and a reunion is most likely being set up for them.

Finally, we had the further adventures of Tim and Lyla, who’s trying her best to dress him up to impress her dad and his friends, who doubt that he’s the right guy for a girl like her. Tim so doesn’t fit in with the snooty country club crowd and it shows, but he is trying. Unfortunately, as in the past when he’s made an honest effort, someone is there to remind him of his status–that someone being Buddy this time. He more or less threatens Tim before the big dinner with the McCoys, which sets him on edge and leads to a fight with Lyla later on. He goes home, defeated, and finds Tyra waiting there for her sister and his brother to finish humping. The way he drops his pants, grabs a beer, and plops on the couch beside Tyra shows that they’re nothing more than friends now–there’s not even a hunt of sexual tension between them–and they’re better friends because of how their relationship has evolved. Part of that comes from where they’ve come from and gone through compared to some of the other characters. Both have people telling them they can’t do this or that and telling them the limit of what they can amount to, and both seem to have trouble sometimes blocking that out and not taking it to heart. Tyra has Tami guiding her, but Tim really doesn’t have anyone, unless you count Lyla. Speaking of which, Lyla, feeling bad about earlier, drops by with some burgers and finds Tim in his underwear with Tyra, but she only seems worried for a moment before she realizes everything is innocent, and for once it seems someone really does believe in Tim and trust him. That said, I still think Lyla’s influence on Tim could end up having adverse effects on his character. I like him the way he is and hope they don’t try to “domesticate” him. On the other hand, him being with Lyla makes her more bearable, though she is still one of the weaker characters for my money (but very nice to look at).

Mentoring proves to be a big part of what this hour is all about, with Tami and Tyra, Eric and Smash, and Matt. In all three cases, we have kids that are having trouble believing in themselves, but who have mentors that believe in them more than they do themselves. They’re there to assure them they’re not alone and to love them, sometimes with a hug and sometimes with a slap on the wrist, but always coming from their heart and desire to see these kids do great things. With Matt it’s a little different, as the burdens all fall on him. But when his gramma breaks down and tells him just how much she loves him and just what he means to her, it’s enough to justify for him all the hardship he’s been through because of her situation.

P.S. There seems to already have been more football games and football related stories than a lot of last year. It’s a welcome change.

P.P.S Funniest night of the line was hands down the exchange between Tim and Lyla as they’re going into the McCoys, where he admits to doing some http://www.com research on them. Lyla says, “I didn’t know you Google” to which Tim replies “I’m not retarded. I Google” Priceless.

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