Friday Night Lights (S03E03): “How the Other Half Lives”
If Friday Night Lights doesn’t get renewed for another season, it won’t have been for quality reasons. This season came crashing out of the gates with a revamped and rejuvenated show and continues to maintain its steady course in “How the Other Half Lives”. The Panther’s may have lost their fictional game, but the episode is a win with the exception of a few very minor weak spots.
In football, tough calls have to be made on the fly, but the people of Dillon are all finding those hard choices playing out off the field in this episode. Coach Taylor is being made to choose between a boy he knows and one he doesn’t; a boy with crazy-mad drive and spirit and a boy with years of silver spoon-fed talent. Smash has to face his future and decide whether to go for his dreams by playing football at TMU or supporting his family by taking a promotion at the Alamo Freeze. And then Tim is finding his loyalty split between his brother and Lyla, and realizing having to choose between blood and love isn’t easy.
What makes Eric’s decision work so well is the way that the writer’s have decided to portray JD and the McCoys. Mr. and Mrs McCoy are the villains of the season, with their fake smiles and deep pockets, but their son may not be an apple from their tree even if they’ve slapped a coat of glossy, red paint on him. When Matt and Julie find JD’s “shrine” in his home at the big Panther party (hosted at the McCoy’s home rather than the Taylors, after the planning proves too stressful for principal Taylor), JD finds them and makes a little joke at his own expense about showing them his gold plated diaper. The coach probably says it best when accosted by Buddy, Mr. McCoy and others: He knows who Matt is, both as a person and as a player, but he knows very little about the very young JD, and though it doesn’t mean the kid isn’t good or that he doesn’t have all kinds of potential, he’s going to stick with his guy, Matt. This whole setup could make room for JD as an upcoming character, possibly to replace seniors like Matt, who could become a very likable addition to the cast. He just doesn’t seem like another VooDoo, meant only to serve as an antagonist, and outside of his headache inducing parents could be a really good character with a lot of baggage to bring to the pile.
Smash had a great arc going this season, but this episode tarnishes his send-off in a way. He gets offered a regional manager position at the chain of Dairy Queen-ish restaurants and spends the entire episode making up his mind whether to take it and make money for his family or to follow his dreams. The problem is that he already had a similar dilemma and worked through it with the help of Coach Taylor, who bent over backwards for him. Sure, his mother sets him straight at the end by telling him he’s not going to throw away what they all worked so hard for and to let her support her children, but it just doesn’t seem like he would have realistically been anywhere near as torn over this decision. For Brian maybe it would have been difficult, but with his returned mojo as Smash, it should have been an easy one. Hopefully next week will really wrap up his story in a satisfying manner, and this episode will prove to only be a minor misstep for his character.
In Riggin’s world, Lyla wants him to prove her friends and family wrong about him and his brother wants him to help give him his second chance, which happens to come in the form of copper wire. Twice in the episode Tim lets Lyla down, and both times his family is to blame. First he convinces her to come hang out with him, his brother, and his fiancee and her mom and Tyra, but when Lyla laughs out loud at the wedding vows ripped straight from Finding Nemo, Tim doesn’t rescue her as he promised. She’s left alone with the women when Tim leaves to help his brother and it’s war between upper crust, slightly higher-than-though Lyla and the trailer yard (though Tyra plays moderator to an extent). Even though Lyla had no bad intentions, her upbringing puts her in such a different world than Tyra’s family that their differences seem so fundamental that getting along is a near futile undertaking. For the record and in Lyla’s defense, I might have burst out laughing at those vows, too.
The next time Tim chooses family over frakking is when he’s a no show to the Panther party, leaving Lyla waiting all evening for him. Instead he’s out at an abandoned factory stealing copper wire and dodging attack dogs and police cars. It’s hard to condone what either Riggins brother is doing, but the idea of family always coming first and the fact that Tim is willing to help his bro’ out is a little bit stupid, but also kind of honorable and loyal. Except that he’s also letting someone else down at the same time–someone who has been vouching for the “real” Tim that no one else sees all season, and giving them all the more reason to tell Lyla “I told you so…” She begs Tim not to make a fool of her, and he’s either going to have to balance his priorities better or choose a side. For the sake of his future, Lyla is the safe bet, free of drug deals and shady robberies, but it’s also doubtful he’ll be shaking off the bonds to his brother with the theme of family being as strong as it is in FNL. Truthfully, neither of his choices are the most interesting stories of the season, and I’d be happy if he just blew Lyla and his brother off and found some other hijincks to get into instead.
Tim and Lyla’s storyline as well as the ordeal with Eric and the McCoys highlights the underlying clashing of different classes going on this season and point back to the title of this episode. You’ve got Lyla and Tim trying in different ways to go outside their comfort zone by Tim dressing himself up and Lyla dressing down, but both are having a time of it. It shows that maybe it’s not such a good idea to become someone else to try and swim with another group of fishes. You can put a nice blazer on Tim or a Tweetie Bird T-Shirt on Lyla, but at the end of the day they are who they are, and their whole relationship is seemingly hinging on this idea that one or both of them just change. But perhaps they’re starting to realize they can be who they are–screw the haters!–and figure out who they are together rather than who they should be. Coach Taylor is feeling the class issue in his own way when his moderate wealth is overshadowed by the big and rich McCoy family. Not only are they breathing down his neck to get JD more playing time, but they’re getting to his wife and somehow getting her to hand over his party (the one he has at his house each year) to them. The party itself is a grand spectacle, but Eric can’t enjoy a moment of it. It’s like a large scale cigar or bottle of fine whiskey–a bribe leaving him feeling indebted to the McCoys, which is the last place he wants to be in. Too bad Tami can’t quite see how fake their gestures are or how one-sided their goals are and every action leading to that ultimate ideal: Jd being QB1 of the Panthers.
At the end, Coach Taylor says he misses the Coach’s wife and Tami says she wants to meet the Principal’s, husband, but it’s unclear where the middle ground is for them to meet at. This will surely continue to be an issue this season, and should be interesting–especially knowing that they can endure any number of hardships and still remain a strong couple when it’s all over. It’s still the best and most real feeling marriage on TV now and, in my opinion, ever.
Oh, and almost forgot! Matt and Julie are incredibly adorable together and have this chemistry together that just works. Them as friends (or more) is so much better then tham hating or avoiding each other, and they both had me smiling pretty much every scene they were in together. I didn’t touch much on Matt and his continued struggle with the pressures being put on him from the crowd eyeing JD McCoy to take over his title, but when he plays one of the best games of his career only to lose it in the last second because of a loose grip on a ball, Julie is there to comfort him and talk about anything (except football). It’s a sweet end to a tough few episodes for Matt, and it’s probably only going to get worse for him both on and off the field, so it’s good that he has that support from Julie back. And they should definitely include more Landry and Matt scenes, because Landry is awesome and thus far very udnerused int he season. Maybe the writer’s are afraid of what happened last season when they expanded his role on the show?