Friday Night Lights: “Game of the Week”

When Friday Night Lights is at its best, football is the hub around which each story revolves. Some are obviously and tightly coupled, such as the QB controversy or Matt standing tall under the weight of hit after hit to go back for one more play, one more yard. Some seem detached, like Mindy and Billy acting out the behaviors they’ll repeat for the next 30 years. But in the good episodes, every story – every *person* – is impacted by Panther Football. Tonight was one of those episodes.

It’s the first round of the playoffs and Dillon’s hosting Arnett Mead. An unnecessary and underutilized complication has a “major sports network” pick this as their high school game of the week. Reporters, producers, camera crews, and mobile satellite units descend on Dillon…and all we get out of it is some nervous no-name wide receivers bumbling through the first half and scholar-athlete Landry ((He puts the ‘scholar’ in scholar-athlete.)) primping ((He also puts the ‘imp’ in primping.)) for an interview. Oh, and Buddy was watching a recording of the game on his big screen TV the next morning.

Now, back in the day *my* high school’s games got broadcast locally. So I can’t believe the big-time coverage was supposed to be an excuse for Grandma Saracen and Matt’s mom to be watching at home instead of the stadium. Could it? It’s not like they did much else with that thread. Interview Landry and televise the game in Dillon. I’m pretty sure a local station could have done all that.

Regardless, this was the big game. The first round of the playoffs, and the first time Matt would be the team’s savior from a position other than QB. Whining about being sore from getting hit in practice, ((I will concede as QB he didn’t get hit but on game day.)) Matt nonetheless came through in the pinch. Of course, this requires us to forget *everything* we know about him. Forget the sly smile he gave in season one looking at his bruises the morning after his first full game. Forget the kid who put his body on the line, saying “I always got one more,” just a few weeks back. Forget that Matt Saracen doesn’t whine about physical ailments, only metaphysical ones.

Okay, I’m talking myself into disliking this episode, when I loved it just a short while ago. Let me take a breath and regroup.


Football brought Lorraine and Matt’s mother together. Football and their love for Matt, of course. Grandma’s dementia is better or worse depending on the day ((and the needs of the writers)) and it’s understandable Matt’s mother was unaware of the paranoia that comes with it. We’ve seen traces of it before, and tonight it snikked out like a switchblade when Lorraine realized Matt and his mother had been talking about *her* behind her back. That put a temporary kibosh on talk of college, but after the football-mediated reconciliation, Matt’s future is looking a bit brighter.

Football tore Lyla and Tim apart (and gave us one perfect scene with Lyla and Mindy; more on that in a bit) and put them back together again. Lyla is still trying to remake Tim in Jason Street’s image and finding the raw materials to be unwieldy and too soft. She can’t get him to stay in shape long enough to fire him in the kiln of college ((I’m sorry. I’ll turn in my metaphor license now.)) and finally abandons him on the side of the road. But not to worry, the recruiter from mighty San Antonio State stays in town despite Tim flaking out of a meeting. Tim’s in. He filled out paperwork and everything.

Football even affected Tyra. Without resorting to an Afterschool Special story about Cash and his “cowboy candy”, the writers managed to show Tyra the guy we’ve seen all along. Loser. What a shock. He’s got a gambling problem, a temper problem, a drug addiction, a baby and baby momma. A perfect catch.

After finally seeing those signs, Tyra saw the sign we all wish she’d seen weeks ago. In big red letters, it read, “EXIT”. Her first call: to Landry. She doesn’t know Landry’s “girlfriend” isn’t, remember? She thinks Landry’s off the table. So her pain is magnified when he has to go to his interview. The only good guy she ever let into her life, out of reach.

Her second call: Tami. With impeccable timing, she interrupts Coach and Tami’s romantic birthday tryst to get a ride. She doesn’t call her sister, of course. And she dare not call Landry again. She calls her surrogate mother. ((Interesting that of all the kids on the show, only two really seem to act toward Eric or Tami as a surrogate parent. Tyra sees Tami that way, when she’s not being an idiot. And Matt looks up to Coach like that.))

While it took little screen time tonight, football was central to everything. That’s when FNL shines.

Other thoughts:

  • I thought tonight might be the night, I really did. First, Mindy and Lyla hanging out? That’s step one. Then…Mindy teaching Lyla how to cut loose and dance, that’s step two. With that floorlamp right next to her, I thought the dream of Minka Kelly pole dancing might finally come to be. Oh well. There’s still time.
  • In the lowest scoring game in Dillon Panther history (at least in my recollection,) the Panthers slipped past the Arnett Mead Tigers 10-7. No thanks to Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dillon receiver corps.
  • I don’t actually think Tim doesn’t want to go to college. I think Tim was afraid he wouldn’t be wanted. When the recruiter – still hanging around – tells Tim he’s his number one priority, Taylor Kitsch’s eyes really lit up.
  • “This is mom’s favorite man-hater breakup music.” “And it makes me want to dance.” “Yeah, it gets a lot of play time around here.”
  • Who else was surprised Coach didn’t jack Cash up against a wall? He may not like Tyra, but there’s still honor and chivalry and such in this world, right?
  • “You were right and I was wrong.” Not working? Then it’s time to start counting out the reasons. Lyla lasted to number 5.

What did everyone else think?