Cynical fans of Friday Night Lights may argue that the title of season two’s second episode describes the writers’ actions as well as the characters’: Exiling Coach Taylor to Austin, sticking Landry on the team, bringing the stalker back, having Landry kill him…all bad ideas. On the other hand, if FNL is going to do stories like this, they’re being done about as well as they possibly could be.
Coach and Tami spend the entire episode apart, and the glimpse we get of his neo-bachelor life in Austin isn’t exactly comforting. When Tami advises him to succeed by making himself indispensable, she’s describing his role at home. Making himself indispensable at TMU certainly isn’t an option, as Coach’s story line with Antwone illustrates that the college game operates under completely different rules than those he’s accustomed to. Back home, where only a small percentage of the players will make it to college ball, let alone the NFL, football is “preparation for the rest of your life,” per a slogan on the wall of the Panther locker room. In Austin, it’s how guys like Antwone stay in shape as they bide their time waiting for an eventual payday while the coaches are lazy babysitters distracted by their own agendas. When Coach’s boss says “you must have been a hell of a high school coach,” I think Coach Taylor realizes that his main role in Austin is going to be delivering the same speech to the same board over and over again, vouching on behalf of players who’ll revert to divahood as soon as the hearing is over, making Coach lose a little more of his soul every time.
Coach might not have come to this realization were he escorting a player less smart than Antwone, who’s quick to call him out on the idiocy of wasting his time with the TMU team wen he has a newborn daughter who needs his attention. Coach and Tami’s shared stubbornness brings out the best in each other when they’re together, but apart, neither can see the forest for the trees. Glenn, the science teacher pinch-hitting for Tami, is a great foil for her feisty nature, but when while we initially take her side when Glenn drops by and makes a snarky remark about her messy house, things change when she visits Glenn at the school: We see her through his eyes, and only by getting an outside perspective on Tami do we realize how ridiculously overextended she is. Walking however many miles with a newborn when it’s 105 out is just not something a sane person does, though she does a heck of a job of trying to rationalize it.
Of all the characters on FNL, no one is a bigger poster child for the overextended than Matt Saracen, who this week is both callously dumped by Julie and made increasingly aware that his skills will be underused on the gridiron so long as Coach MacGregor is running the Panthers. Matt gets some nominal relief in the form of Carlotta the nurse, whose arrival results in scenes that make Matt’s grandmother once again come off as a benign version of Livia Soprano. Carlotta’s presence is something that could go either way—on the one hand, it frees Matt from endlessly repeating his season one story arc ad infinitum, and it also provides the show with a much-needed continuing Latino presence. On the other, there’s something undeniably sitcom-ish about the whole setup, and that doesn’t fit very well with the series’s established tone (I’m also less than enthused about the prospect of her turning into a love interest for Matt). Next week’s episode provides some reassurance that the writers know what they’re doing with her, but no-one can be blamed for having reservations based on “Bad Ideas”.
The Tyra/Landry scenes, I’m pleased to report, are about as good as they could be—which is to say, they don’t redeem the storyline (not yet), but neither are they an embarrassment. Landry’s one scene with his father is brief, but it’s enough to give us a pretty good snapshot of their relationship: Landry isn’t Bobby Hill, nor is his father Hank, but Officer Clarke clearly doesn’t understand Landry completely, and the vibe between them can’t help but evoke the loving but awkward relationship between Arlen’s top propane salesman and his only son. It’s inevitable that Landry’s father will get sucked into the vortex of last week’s events, and what we see of their relationship this week and next continues to make me cautiously optimistic that the writers will successfully navigate the characters out of the mess they’re in (though the earlier it happens in the season, the better). As far as things that might complicate a potential ongoing relationship between Landry and Tyra are concerned, I’ll take a pudgy C-list rally girl over a dead stalker any day of the week.
Although Landry’s admission of being well and truly in love with Tyra seems awfully late in coming given how much time they seem to have spent hanging out between seasons, I’m glad he was quick to show some backbone when she accused him of not being sufficiently manly under the circumstances. It led to the most effective scene the storyline has yet yielded, in which she says she wishes she’d killed the stalker herself and Landry says she should be glad she didn’t. The writers are at least making an honest effort to address the kind of guilt that someone with Landry’s innate nobility would feel under the circumstances, and the scene also raises the possibility that the moral quandary might prove to Landry and Tyra that they aren’t right for each other, which—if that’s the case—might have taken them much longer for them to realize had the stalker not died. I’m not trying to defend the dead stalker storyline, mind you, but rather saying that if it has to be done at all, I’m just glad it’s being treaded with due with moral seriousness and relative complexity.
As far as Jason’s interest in experimental stem-cell surgery is concerned, the fact that the notion occurs to him in an episode with the particular title that this one has is something that pretty much speaks for itself. I’d be pretty worried about the potential storyline if I wasn’t reasonably confident that his interest in such an obvious quack treatment is a red herring.
The final major story line in this weeks’s episode, and the most heart-rending, belongs to Buddy Garrity, who finds himself suffering the consequences of at least two decades’ worth of bad ideas. Buddy’s drunken reenactment of his glory days as a Panther is an incredibly sad scene which shows just how misguided he is: Buddy obviously thought he’d be OK without his family as long as he had the Panthers, but this week he learned that he needs the team a hell of a lot more than they need him. His drunken collapse at the pep rally provided a handy (and relatively organic) excuse for Riggins and Lyta to share a moment, in addition to raising the possibility that Buddy is what Tim could become if he’s not careful. I expect Tim and Buddy to be redeemed in tandem over the course of the season, but I don’t expect it to happen without complications. It seems more than likely that Coach Taylor’s return to the helm of the Panthers is going to be linked to Buddy’s attempts to reestablish himself as Mr. Panther Football; the big question, then, is whether any bargain Coach makes in the process will turn out to be a Faustian one.
Andrew Johnston is the television critic for Time Out New York.