Friday Night Lights feels more and more like a spin-off from the first three seasons — not necessarily a bad thing, just very different. (Well — really nothing can compare to season 1.) In episode three, “The Right Hand of the Father,” the most interesting and complex character line iss about Vince. His dad, released from five years in prison, moves back home, much to Vince’s displeasure. Michael Jordan (also on Parenthood!) can convey so much emotion in just his face and body, no words are needed to get across confusion, curiosity, hurt and defensiveness. He doesn’t know his dad, nor does he trust him other than to mess up again and hurt his mom. Vince bans him from coming to watch the game, even though he manages to sneak in and see Vince — “Superman” — win the game. The Lions are 3-0!
I half expected Vince to wind up, sleeping bag in hand, at the Taylor’s, like old … sniff … Tim. Eric has put the leadership mantle on Vince’s shoulders, both on and off the field. In an effort to improve their public image, Eric bans team jerseys on game days, mandating coats and ties (to huge groans), plus community service that involves the entire team descending on a bunch of old shoppers in a parking lot, like an unseemly gang, and unsuccessfully forcing fliers on them. Eric also has a man-to-man with Vince, who breaks down and tells him about the dad-con sitch at home and that his dad never taught him to be better. “Strive to be better,” Eric clarifies. Strive.
He and Tami discover that a video of the rally party’s “drunken puppet” incident has gotten 2,000 views online. (Hey! They have the interwebs in Dillon!) And, the players are re-enacting it in the locker room. The Taylors share the task of trying to educate their respective boys and girls about the dangers of getting drunk, even as they wink at one another, because for sure as kids they did similar hijinks. (The “puppet,” Mara, happens to resemble Tami, which underscores this.) Tami is, for once, shrill and preachy rather than best friend-chatty as she quiets the girls’ assembly for a boring guest speaker. And never more apparent is the inequity between the boys, as hallowed high school football players, and the girls, as accessories — puppets.
Jess does thank Tami afterward, saying she learned something, and Tami recommends she become the Lions’ equipment manager to get her involved with football somehow. (The fact that Billy Riggins was holding this job seems an apt metaphor for generational change. And where was he?) But when Jess begins by collecting the team’s dirty uniforms, Vince is definitely not on board, both from a dignity standpoint and having Jess in a locker room full of naked, aggressive guys. And in terms of continuity, how does Jess have time? Wasn’t she more responsible than ever for her brothers with their dad now in the city?
In contrast to Vince, the least interesting character (that still gets a plot line, because this week neither Becky nor Luke had much of one) has become Julie, off at college and getting poor grades even after sleeping with her TA, who is grading her, which just doesn’t seem like something she would do. (Wait — the same storyline was just on Gossip Girl. This is not a good sign for FNL.) Then again, in direct parallel to her parents battling Drunken Puppetgate back home, we see Jules slammin’ back the wine at a professor’s “salon” (that is, cocktail party) to process the news that her paramour TA is, in fact, married. Albeit unhappily, and after six months apart from his wife, as if that’s a deal breaker somehow. I’d rather they end this Julie thing rather than drag on this dull, forced bit.
Hey! Buddy has a bar now! Buddy’s Bar & Grill! How perfect is that. Apparently he’s not in the car biz any longer, as perfect as that profession seemed for him. But this is far more ripe a vocation for FNL’s purposes, providing that oh-so-essential group gathering and social lubricant imbibing place. Plus, he’s instituted a new tradition: Every game-winning ball gets enshrined on metal shelves. Buddy gets a call from ex Pam — little Buddy is having trouble in granola land, and after consulting with Sensei Eric, Big Buddy wants him to move back to Dillon. One and a three-quarters men, anybody? All this Garrity-ness made me actually miss Lyla. And don’t get me started on Tim, Tyra, Landry and Matt.
And so, Vince and Jess have the richest stories right now, but this season does feel evermore like a spin-off. Friday Night Light?
(Image courtesy of NBC)