It's funny that you mentioned the "Devil Town" scene because when you first asked what hooked me, the word that popped into my head was "montages." And that's a great one, but the first that really hit me in the gut came near the end of the pilot.
I wasn't at all sure about the first episode outside of that montage. The Jason Street-paralysis plot struck me as exactly the sort of overblown, gimmicky hook that The Wire would have eschewed. We both played football in high school (you at a much higher level) and the reality is that most games go by without a dramatic happening. If you're good, you win a lot of games pretty easily, and the superstar often glides around without being touched, much less shattered.
But that montage, set to the same music as the opening credits, if I recall correctly, was so poetic. It captured the town's investment in the team -- that weird mix of innocence, insanity, desperation, euphoria, pride, squandered dreams, etc., that you mentioned in your post. I didn't encounter that here in Baltimore but my first newspaper job had me covering the town of Salem, Va., in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Salem had one high school and the team contended for a state championship almost every year. The young boys in town dreamed of playing for Salem as much as Virginia Tech. The young girls started wearing their Salem windbreakers before they hit puberty. It was intense, in ways both wonderful and frightening, and Friday Night Lights took me right back to Salem with that montage.
So I watched the second episode and pretty soon, the character work pulled me all the way in. Not only do I wish Eric Taylor had coached me in school, I wish I could hire him as some kind of life coach now. Especially if his wife (a covert contender for sexiest woman on the show) came around sometimes. I've been married 10 years and they are the best representation of a successful couple I've ever seen on television. They share a deep affection and ability to make fun of one another in ways only life partners can. But they can also be pigheaded and reactionary without jeopardizing their underlying bond. It's really beautiful work.
So many of the characters took on a pleasing complexity. We saw Jason's evolution from a guy paralyzed in body and life to an adult who could apply his old football leadership skills to work and family. We saw Smash flirt with the devil on his shoulder but never forfeit the basic charm and decency he learned from his mother. I could go on. I love Landry's Christian garage band, Matt's awkwardness, Buddy's follies (his recent strip club fight broke me up completely) and well, I better stop.
Tell me more about your love of Coach Taylor (neck and neck with Sandy Cohen as my favorite dad and husband in television history) and steer us to the inevitable conversation about the respective hotness of Lyla, Tyra and Julie.
Totally agree about the power of little moments between Eric and Tami. For example, I loved his tone when steering her away from buying a new house this season. He danced the line between indulging her dream and being the realist and never stopped sounding like a real person. The writing for those characters is good, but the actors deserve a ton of credit for mastering tone, facial expressions and physical chemistry. I think watching them carried me through a lot of the disappointments of Season 2.
Look, it's pretty clear what happened to that season. They didn't have a clear plan for what they wanted to say past Season 1. They barely got renewed. So in a grab for greater popularity, they pumped up the melodrama, especially with the ridiculous Tyra murder angle. The writers and producers showed commendable understanding of what would seem true to the show throughout Season 1. But the murder storyline was a brazen misstep and piled on top of that, you had the awkwardness of them getting Coach Taylor back to Dillon. It just didn't work and given that Season 1 had been such a self-sufficient narrative, I believed FNL was only tarnishing itself by going on.
But they gradually won me back. I don't remember the individual Season 2 episodes as well, but a lot of the Smash stuff remained compelling as did the maturation of Julie Taylor. This season has offered near-total redemption, with moving conclusions to the Smash and Street storylines, the ongoing complexity of the Taylor family, the collapse of Buddy and the J.D. storyline (Coach Taylor's mixture of toughness, wariness and grudging politeness to the overzealous father has been spot-on.)
Now, on to the ladies. I don't know if you've seen the movie PCU. But there is this space cadet college senior who's doing his thesis on Gene Hackman and Michael Caine movies. So he spends the whole movie watching television, waiting for said movies. Finally, a flick featuring both Caine and Hackman comes on and he has his eureka moment, screaming, "I can finally stop watching TV!" That was how I felt when Lyla and Julie were standing together before the same bathroom mirror in a recent episode.
And here's what I decided. Lyla is clearly the most beautiful woman on the show. We were watching recently and Caroline (my wife) noted that her storylines have been boring this year. "Yeah, but she's really hot," I replied.
Caroline waited for a second and said, "Yeah, she is." So if Lyla's hotness is enough to justify her existence to my wife, well, that's something. Here's my problem, however. She's too gorgeous to be a high school senior stuck in small-town Texas. She looks like a starlet who's dating Derek Jeter, and nothing about Minka Kelly's performance makes me forget that.
I don't know why you're pussyfooting around Julie Taylor's desirability. She's the perfect attainable-but-not-really high school hottie. You know there are dorks all over Dillon High secretly lusting after Julie Taylor. She's smart and nice, so she seems like a real possibility to the kind of guys who know that Lyla Garrity exists only in the realm of fairies and elves. The kicker is that Julie is way too hot to date those guys. But the fact that they feel they could ask her out is enough to make her hotter than Lyla in reality.
After that disturbing trip into my high school psyche, I'll toss a relatively benign question back to you. If the show continues past this season, where will it go? Who will last? And for the record, if Tim manages a fourth season with the Panthers, I'm done.
Midway through the first episode of the second season, when Gracie Taylor was born and Wilco's "Muzzle of Bees" provided the backing track, Eric and Tami exchanged a look and I thought "Well that pretty much seals it. This is the greatest show ever. Never in my life did I think I'd hear "Muzzle of Bees" on network television." And of course, by the end of the episode, after Landry and Tyra decided to throw the attempted rapist's dead body in the river, I felt completely betrayed, like someone had stolen the last 10 pages of an FNL script and swapped them with an episode of Law and Order.
Where the second season really went astray, though, was that it drifted too far away from the football field. The first season had its share of storylines that, in retrospect, stretched the bounds of believability -- I think the Panthers won their last seven games on last-second plays, and Tim's Mrs. Robinson dalliance with the hot neighbor was a bit much -- but the fact that the universe was always grounded in the week-to-week doings of the football team gave it a specific focus. The second season lacked that, starting with the fact that we were supposed to buy into the fact that Tim Riggins was BFFs with the star quarterback, even though it turns out he was a sophomore. (Didn't Jason Street have any friends his own age? Cripes, no wonder Buddy was mad when Lyla and Jason said they were getting engaged. Turns out she was like 15.) By the time they put the silly murder storyline to bed, got Coach Taylor back in Dillon and started to focus on football again, the writer's strike doomed the entire thing. The low point, I think, was the episode where Tim saved Julie from a tornado.
What would make me stick around for Season 4? I'm probably in the minority, but I'd like to see the show shift its focus to a whole new group of Dillon kids. I'd love to see Riggins and Saracen go to college, Lyla leave for Vanderbilt, and Tyra start working shifts at the Landing Strip. (Or whatever fate awaits her.) The writing on this show is so good that I could easily see myself getting invested in another group of football players. JD McCoy is a decent start -- the dynamic between athletic prodigy and crazy father could make for a two-season arch -- but I want to get to know an offensive lineman or a linebacker on next year's Panther squad and follow his story. I want to see a Terrell Owens-esque receiver in a hot tub full of Rally Girls. (By the way, can we get another powder puff football game? Thanks.) As long as the show remains anchored by Eric and Tami Taylor, and even Buddy Garrity, I think it can succeed. I think if Riggins hung around Dillon to drink beer and Saracen became an assistant coach, it would mirror where so many teen dramas go wrong. They hang on to characters for too long instead of trying to reinvent and in this case, have the team, and the high school, remain the focus of the show.
I wonder what Slamming Sammy Meade thinks of all this,
Wow, yeah, the tornado. I really had blocked out a lot of Season 2. You raise a good point about getting away from the football, but I have mixed feelings on that subject, because the game scenes have always strained credulity. The most recent episode was a perfect example with JD's Joe Montana scramble in the muck. I mean, really, if you had Riggins, wouldn't you just slam him off tackle and call it a night? Has Riggins ever been tackled by one guy in the history of the show? But no, every game has to be like the state final in Hoosiers.
You know I've complained as much as anyone about the characters not aging, so I'm right there with you in wanting some newbies to be integrated. I wouldn't mind if Riggins screws up his scholarship and becomes a background character as he follows his brother into useless semi-depravity. I also wouldn't mind if Lyla gets stuck in Dillon because of Buddy's irresponsibility. Those strike me as the sorts of things that actually happen to kids in small towns, or anywhere really.
I'm intrigued by the redistricting plot, because the intra-town rivalry was a compelling subplot in Buzz Bissinger's classic book. And JD's dad as Marv Marinovich has potential as well. They've regained my trust with this character-driven Season 3, so no matter where they go with the plot, I'll go with them.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose,
OK fine, I'll admit it before we get out of here, Julie Taylor has become a stone-cold hottie, and I'm not going to apologize for it. I actually thought the scene where she came into the house and looked in the mirror, shortly after losing her V-card by the lake with Matt, was one of the truly tender moments of the entire series. And her scene with her mom, where they both realized this meant she couldn't be daddy's little girl anymore, was really touching.
Since we've spent plenty of time talking about the ladies of this show, I'd be remiss if I let us close without mentioning my favorite one of all: Corrina Williams, or as she's known in our house, Mamma Smash. I absolutely adore that woman (played by Liz Mikel), and believe she's stolen every scene she's ever been in. As thrilling as it was earlier this season to see Smash juke and cut around Texas A&M defenders (inspired by one of Coach Taylor's greatest speeches in the history of the show) it was even more satisfying when he told his mama he was going to college to play ball.
All the way to state (and hopefully beyond),