It took me a while to pinpoint what it was about this episode that rubbed me the wrong way, but I finally did. Watching the events unfold in “Tami Knows Best,” too much of it seemed contrived. The writers knew where they wanted to end up and they manufactured ways to get there. The problem is, instead of polishing and reworking those scenes, they just left them at that. The moments they did focus on were fantastic; they were emotionally genuine and true to each character. The journey it took to get there just felt wrong.
Tyra and Tami’s situation is a prime example. I could tell that the focal scene for their story was their final one, with Tami expressing her disappointment when Tyra stoops to the lowest common denominator to win the student body election. The scene’s emotion, especially from Tyra, was very sincere, and I found it somewhat heartbreaking for Tyra to have lost the respect of the person she looks up to the most. Even though Tami sounded a bit too much like Eric (purposefully or not), the moment was true to the characters. But everything leading up to it—Tyra getting strippers to dance around while she passes campaign flyers—felt so gimmicky. I’m not so sure that Tyra would stoop that low, at least not so blatantly. This feels like the Tyra of the first season (who, with Billy Riggins, once threw an after-game party that involved strippers as well). Plus, it all seemed to happen so fast, especially after her big resolution in the season premiere. If Tyra were to sink to a lower level to get ahead, I imagine it would be more subtle, more gradual.
I complained a bit last week that some of the Tim/Lyla situation felt manufactured just so we could get a desired resolution, and I’m afraid that continues this week. The dinner scene with Tim, Lyla, Buddy, and the McCoys was absolutely painful. Not uncomfortable, which is what they were aiming for, but poorly executed and acted. The scene that follows, with Tim accusing Lyla of trying to turn him into someone “classy enough” for her, comes out of nowhere. The reasoning behind the argument is flimsy, creating conflict for the sake of conflict. Again, it all leads to a scene that I did enjoy (Tim, pant-less, drinking beer as Lyla comes by to bring him a cheeseburger), but why take the phony route to a sweet, genuine moment?
Coach is training Smash hard to get him prepared for any possible tryout that may pop up. The former star is having trouble adjusting to the healed knee, and we learn that part of the struggle comes from fear. Fear of what? I’m not quite sure. Getting hurt again, not being good enough anymore—something like that. It didn’t all make sense, which is why Smash’s early moments in the episode frustrated me. The scene where Riggins knocks Smash down during practice, resulting in a Smash hissy fit, felt so forced. Even after the player’s explanation, it still doesn’t make much sense to me.
Smash has never been scared of playing ball. Now, for some reason, he is. He has a theory that he was only great because he was a Panther, because the team needed him to be. He was part of something bigger than himself. Now he’s just a guy training on his old high school field. Brian has had an epiphany that some 10 year NFL veterans haven’t even had: it’s not about him. One man can’t win a championship. Take a look at this year’s Dallas Cowboys. Started out as Super Bowl favorites with one of the largest collections of talents in recent memory, and where’d they end up? Missing the playoffs, because they weren’t a team. Terrell Owens, Tony Romo, Roy Williams—they’re big names who are nothing without a team. Smash has realized that teamwork and teammates are what made him great. So what happens when there’s no team on the field, just Brian? I love this insight, but at the same time, isn’t it a bit mature for a guy who just graduated high school? I don’t know if we’ve seen this kind of wisdom out of this character before, and it still doesn’t explain his tantrum.
At first, I thought that we were seeing a bit of a change in Matt. In the past, he seemed to care for his grandmother almost without reservation; he wanted to be the one to watch out for her. This week we see him no less concerned for her, but also expressing desires to go to college and be his own person without having to worry about Lorraine. I soon realized that we saw a bit of this side of Matt when his father briefly came back home from Iraq. To Matt, it seemed like an opportunity to finally relinquish his role as caretaker, and he only takes it back when he realizes that his father is somewhat of an inept nanny. And it’s not like Matt can count on his mother (Kim Dickens of Lost and Deadwood) to help him out, since when he shows up at her door, he has to introduce himself with, “It’s me, Matt. Your son.” The boy did get the emancipated minor papers signed so he could care for his slowly deteriorating grandmother, but you wonder what kind of decision he’s going to have to make when he wants to leave for college.
Matt and Julie getting friendly again worries me, not because I don’t enjoy their scenes, or because I find the relationship contrived, because I don’t. I only worry that the writers of Friday Night Lights may not be able to find new ground to cover if the two get back together. The first season had them dealing with sexual issues, Matt’s newfound popularity with the girls at school, his responsibility to his grandmother, and much more. I’m curious: if they hook up again, will the writers retread some of the old stuff? Or worse, will we end up with a perfectly pleasant relationship that provides no challenges? It’s what stops The Office from being a better show; Jim and Pam are together, and now they’re an absolute bore thanks to a lack of conflict. You feel that the writers had to get the two together, but at the same time, they might have done so too quickly. I fear the same thing for Matt and Julie. The seeds are being planted to bring them back together, and while the emotional viewer in me wants to see that happen (Julie is downright adorable, and a great catch when she’s not being a rebellious brat), the critic in me fears that such an event could kill any dramatic tension. We do know that Matt desires to leave Dillon and go to college, but I don’t know yet if that will provide enough conflict to keep things interesting.
Speaking of conflict, I’m quite enjoying “Tami vs. The JumboTron.” With the local press trying to pit the principal against her husband, she’s finally asking Eric what he really thinks about her decision to take the JumboTron funds and put them towards academics. He avoids answering her when he can, but she’s starting to wonder if they truly are on opposing sides. Coach Taylor himself is preoccupied with football matters (after another blowout win, all anyone can say to him is, “So when do we get to see that McCoy kid again?”), so he decides to explain to Tami a harsh truth: if Buddy and the boosters want that JumboTron, they’re going to get it. Period.
If there was any doubt of that, Buddy and Mayor Rodell pay Tami a threatening, Godfather-esque visit. I was glad to see Tami standing strong against them, but Rodell and Garrity do make a very important point: the funds were raised in good faith that the money was going to a scoreboard. Tami tells her husband that she feels her decision was risky and courageous. “This is how change is made,” she says. Her point is that if the boosters have that much cash to toss around, they should let a teeny-tiny bit of it spill over to academic endeavors, to which Eric retorts, “Baby, there’s a big difference between ’teeny-tiny’ and ’JumboTron.’” It looks like the situation is just going to keep escalating after the funds were frozen by the superintendent, pending a formal hearing.
I guess what bothers me about “Tami Knows Best” is that the forced moments and scenes I’ve mentioned manage to taint the really honest ones. It has me walking away from the episode wanting to feel good, but unable to shake a certain vibe. That’s why I enjoyed the last scene of the episode so much; it was an untainted, enjoyable, genuine conversation between Matt and Julie. Sure, it’s there to move the relationship forward, but other than that, it’s almost superfluous—in a good way. Last week’s episode had a lot to pack in, but as people have pointed out, one of the most endearing things about Friday Night Lights is when the show allows itself to linger on scenes where people just talk, look, and stutter, and overlap. After a week of playing catch-up, this final scene is a step back that direction.
Some miscellaneous notes:
• I can’t get enough of Landry. He’s barely been in the season so far, and only as a partner to Tyra (although they’ve broken up), but almost every scene he’s in is gold. Lines like “A vote for Tyra is a vote for ... hotness,” or even the delivery of “May I help you with something, Matt?” when he’s awoken in the middle of the night confirm that the show doesn’t need to resort to scenes about smoothies to be funny. Also consider Billy’s throwaway line when he finds Tim’s letter from Oklahoma: “I’m digging through the couch looking for change, I find this?”
• I’m wondering how Matt tracked down his mother. She hasn’t seen him in so long that she doesn’t recognize him when he shows up. So how and when did Matt learn where she lives? Also, since she’s been gone so long, does she count as a legal guardian who’s able to sign the emancipation papers? My understanding is that Matt’s legal guardian is his father or his grandmother. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the law, but I wonder if his mother is even qualified to sign those papers.
• It felt good to see Smash in full pads, finally back in his element on the football field. What felt even better was seeing Corrina (Mama Smash). Her scene was brief, but any episode with her is that much better. The decision to hear the Williams family’s reaction to the A&M news rather than see it was a little unusual for a TV show, but it gave the scene a powerful punch.
• Lastly: anyone else forget that Tyra and Tim used to be a couple?
Jonathan Pacheco is a current web developer and future freelance writer. He blogs and reviews films at Bohemian Cinema.