Tami’s an intelligent woman, but she also carries a bit of innocence, a trait that has aided her in her quest to help others, specifically as a guidance counselor. When the jaded people of Dillon deem someone to be a hopeless case, Tami has been the one to step in and have faith in that someone. Her belief in the good of others makes her a very trusting figure, which, in turn, enables others to trust her. But if she’s not careful, someone with Tami’s inherent trust can get herself into trouble by placing that trust in the wrong person. Such is the case in “How the Other Half Live,” where Tami befriends a very friendly woman who just happens to be J.D. McCoy’s mother. When Eric confronts his wife about the dangers of this friendship, Tami defends it. She insists that she’s not being played by the McCoys, but from what I can tell, that’s exactly what’s happening. To use the words of Bill Parcells, “Consider yourself sucked.”
It’s not that the McCoys are malicious, but they’re powerful people who get what they want, even if it calls for a little manipulation. I’ll forgive Tami for this lapse in judgment because she was stressed and nearly at a breaking point. But it was obvious that Katie McCoy was saying all the right things—she’d love to help the school with actual money, offering to take the hosting duties of the annual Panther Barbecue off the Taylors’ hands .... Eric sees right through this because it’s what he’s been afraid of all along. First come the gifts (Cuban cigars and bottles of whiskey), then the McCoys are doing big favors for them. Next thing you know, Eric and his wife are indebted to this family. It could put a lot of pressure on Coach to make a decision he’s hesitant to make, and he’d then be making it unethically.
Not that coach doesn’t have enough pressure on him already. At this barbecue, now taking place at the McCoys’ mansion, Eric tries to escape the never-ending questions from Joe, Buddy, and the boosters, only to be trapped by them in a billiards room. It’s here that we get another hint why Coach doesn’t want to play J.D. It’s more than mere loyalty to Matt Saracen. First, Eric knows Matt. He knows him as a player, and he knows him personally. He hasn’t gotten to know this McCoy boy, and he’d take the time to do so if everyone would stop shoving the kid down the his throat. But another reason is pointed out through Kyle Chandler’s perfect delivery of Eric’s backhanded compliment, “I admit that your son is an incredible 15-year-old.” J.D.’s only recently hit puberty, which means he’s still growing and changing. So not only is he practically a baby compared to some of those kids on the field, but who knows what he’s really growing into?
This scene finally gives us a formal introduction to J.D.’s personal quarterback coach, Wade Aikmen (a blatant cross between Wade Wilson and Troy Aikman who also reminds me of the current Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator, Jason Garrett). This is part of what makes J.D. so scary to someone like Matt; not only does the freshman have plenty of natural talent, but he’s got a father with the time and means to get his son the best training. Aikmen has been flown down from Dallas and is being paid handsomely every week to train a 15-year-old backup high school quarterback. If I’m Matt, I’m sleeping with one eye open.
What I like about the Matt vs. J.D. plot is that, while we’ve done the whole “quarterback controversy” thing before, it still feels fresh. Season One had Matt fighting for the starting job against “Voodoo” Tatum, but the arc only lasted a few episodes, and it was clear from the beginning that “Voodoo” was the bad guy in the situation. He walked around with an ever-present scowl, he disrespected his coaches and teammates, and he did whatever it took to pad his statistics. We knew that, while “Voodoo” had more football talent than Matt, he wasn’t the right quarterback for that Panther team.
It’s a little different with J.D. McCoy. While we still know that we’re supposed to root for Matt in this situation, the writers are smart enough to not paint J.D. as another villain. The kid is just trying to play football. His father is the one muscling him into games, but J.D. has been very respectful, training and doing his job as a backup QB (there’s even a shot of him on the sideline with infamous backup QB clipboard during the Friday night game). We get a glimpse of another side of him at the party when he catches Matt and Julie in his trophy room, making fun of him behind his back. Instead of getting defensive, making snide comments, or rushing out after a silent glare, J.D. actually pokes fun at himself, claiming his parents bronzed his first dirty diaper. He knows how people look at him, and he knows he has a dad who probably needs to back off a little bit. J.D. is very different from “Voodoo” Tatum, and that scene looks like a setup for a much longer quarterback conflict than the one we saw in the first season.
In all this, Matt gets little support from Landry (who insists that Matt needs an “angle” if he wants to beat the “media machine J.D. McCoy”), so the quarterback turns once again to Julie for support and relief. It’s during Matt’s lunchtime rant that we get the best line of the episode: “Meantime, I got some freshman named Joe Doyle breathing down my neck…” Because of the duo’s history together, I’ve noticed Julie being more aggressive in her pursuit of Matt than I can ever remember. Not only does she tell him that he’s cute when he rants, but when he asks, “Are you gonna eat your tacos?” she comes back with, “I didn’t come over here to eat tacos.” Oddly, though, the rest of their scenes together didn’t seem to have the magic that they had last week, and I’m not totally sure why.
I was surprised when Smash showed up this episode. Somehow I had forgotten about this guy. His tryout at A&M is still another week away, but this week he’s faced with the news that his mother has taken on a second job to be able to pay for A&M or whatever school he ends up at. This shakes the boy a little, who went through high school telling his mother that he would be the one buying her a new house. Coincidentally, one of his bosses at the Alamo Freeze decides to offer Smash a regional manager position that includes a pay raise and a company car. Smash has always been proud, so one might say that his pride would never let him give up on his football dream to get a cushy position at the Alamo Freeze. Then again, his pride also doesn’t allow him to sit back and let his mother work through 2 jobs to pay for his schooling, especially when he had promised her a better life. While this story was brief, I liked the selflessness it brought out of Smash as well as the dedication and fire we saw from his mother. It’s a sweet little subplot, but somehow it felt like it didn’t belong in an episode already packed with stories. Maybe it’s there to bridge Brian’s story from last week to next week (when, I assume, he’ll have that tryout), but the episode would have been stronger without it (despite my love for all things Mama Smash).
So far this season I’ve been critical of how Tim and Lyla’s relationship has been handled, so it was a relief to see some compelling scenes this week, specifically from Lyla. We’re also treated to a better side of her father Buddy; he doesn’t display so much of a disapproving attitude toward Tim as he does a loving attitude towards Lyla. All he’s got in his life anymore is football and his baby girl; knowing Buddy, he’ll do whatever it takes to protect both. I loved his scenes with his daughter, especially when he admits that he actually likes Tim, but knows too many bad things about him to be able to sit back and let Lyla get hurt. There’s always something poignant about a dad showing love, chivalry, and protection towards his daughter, so when Buddy approaches Lyla at the Panther party, asking her if he needs to give her a ride home (and doing his best not to humiliate her), her response made the heartwarming moment heartbreaking as well.
Which leads to the scene that brings weight to her relationship with Tim. She conveys a desperation that we didn’t see before. Everyone has warned her about getting involved with Tim, and a few weeks ago, she herself had a hard time taking him seriously. But she sees something in Tim that no one else sees, and that’s what she points to and holds onto. When she pleads, “Please don’t make a fool out of me,” I think (and hope) that she finally gets through to him.
If there ever was a time that the Riggins boy needed a wake-up call, it’d be right now, after being suckered into another boneheaded scheme by his brother. Billy, concerned about having money to pay for his wedding and provide a decent life for his bride, resorts to shady methods. I probably wasn’t the only one groaning when he ropes Tim into being his wingman on a mission to steal copper wire from an abandoned power plant. For some reason, I feel like we’ve been down a similar road when the brothers had their run-ins with the crazy drug-dealer of Season Two. The shot near the end of the episode seems to indicate that we haven’t seen the last of this subplot, and I worry that it will wear out its welcome very quickly. Most of all, I thought Tim was beyond falling for something like this. Tim, consider yourself sucked.
Some miscellaneous notes:
• I noticed that Friday Night Lights had a different rhythm this week. Conversations would play out, and then the scene would end with a punchline, and it happened throughout much of the episode: Tim’s words after kissing Lyla in the library, Tami’s “She’s nice” line regarding Katie McCoy, Julie’s “Awkward…” after J.D.’s attempt at humor, and the sliding over of Landry’s tray after Matt and Julie’s lunch scene together.
• There’s a lot of talk about the Spread Offense this week. It’s great for slinging the ball around, which is what J.D. is used to doing. Matt is used to a more traditional pro-style offense. Many prominent colleges have gone to the spread, and it’s worked well for Oklahoma, Texas, and the National Champion Florida Gators. According to Wade Aikmen, most high schools in the Panther’s division have also gone Spread. At the NFL level, the Spread has had some recent success (2007’s record-shattering New England Patriots and 2008’s Miami Dolphins, with their Wildcat variation), but traditionally, it’s not been as effective or widespread. The consequence is that it forces a Spread quarterback into a more traditional style of offense, and he can’t flourish. A great example of this is the decline of Vince Young.
• Maybe I should have warned everyone before hand, but living in North Texas and being a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, you’ll see the team’s name brought up many times during these recaps. Please don’t hold it against me.
Jonathan Pacheco is a current web developer and future freelance writer. He blogs and reviews films at Bohemian Cinema.