Most TV shows hit a few rough patches within a 20-24 episode season. This lull can happen right before or after the season’s halfway point, but most often around the “teen” episodes. Some shows choose to instead go with fewer episodes per season, partially to eliminate the “fluff” that shows up when you’re trying to stretch your plot over the course of a couple of dozen episodes. So you would think that Season 3 of Friday Night Lights, with only 13 episodes to fill, would be able to avoid these issues altogether. You’d be wrong. Despite having some of the more interesting situations and developments of the season, “Keeping Up Appearances” contains way too much filler to be effective. And it was all just so darn cutesy that I began to cringe after every “aww, how sweet” moment.
Landry spends his days doing the whole “Emo thing” over the loss of Tyra, but Devon, his cute new female band-mate, comes along and tries to cheer him up with an extremely summer camp-ish rendition of “She Don’t Use Jelly” by The Flaming Lips. Aww, how sweet. She gives Landry a kiss on the head. After receiving practically all the right signals, he decides to give Devon a real kiss when he drops her off from band practice. The kiss is returned, and the boy is so elated that he seeks out Tyra and thanks her for breaking up with him, because it allowed him to get over her and find a girl that’s right for him. Well, Landry, one kiss does not a girlfriend make. When he tries to ask Devon out on a bit of a date, she stops him and informs him that she’s a lesbian. “I’m gay. I like girls, not boys,” she says, just to make sure he gets it. She even goes so far as to thank Landry because their kiss confirmed to her that she has no interest in guys. All of a sudden, Landry’s looking like a 21st century George Costanza (who, if you’ll remember, confirmed for several women that they were lesbians).
Landry doesn’t stay down for too long after Principal Tami comes by (looking much more attractive than any principal I ever had) and reassures him that he’s going to move on to better things than what Dillon holds. Successful men like that get whoever they want. So the next time Landry sees Devon at band practice, things are no longer weird between the two, and he even promises to keep her sexuality a secret. Just to drive home the point, though, the band starts playing, and Landry begins singing “She Don’t Use Jelly” by the Flaming Lips. Aww, how sweet.
In case you forgot, Buddy Garrity has two other kids that followed their mother to California to be with her hippie tofu-eating husband (there’s nothing wrong with tofu, my friends). Well, said kids are back in Texas for a visit, and oh, how things change. The young boy doesn’t like football anymore, he likes soccer—a global sport. Both kids are glued to their electronic devices, and the young girl, Tabitha, seems hell-bent on giving vegans a bad name. Buddy takes them camping where they continue to behave like spoiled brats (Lyla’s words, not mine), causing their father to toss some quality meat into the woods out of frustration. He later confesses to Lyla that he’s lost his younger kids, and he believes that he deserves what he’s getting. That’s too bad and all, but honestly, I had a hard time feeling for Buddy, simply because we barely know these kids. We haven’t seen them in ages, and now they’re just a couple of snot-nosed punks (sorry, I’ve always wanted to use that one). The impact is lost because I’m thinking, “Who would want these kids?” However, Minka Kelly salvages the scene with a great, quiet moment in which she reminds her dad that he still hasn’t lost her. The silence and the looks between the two bring back some of that lost impact.
The story doesn’t end there. Friday night, the Garrity clan heads out to see the Panthers do battle, and by gosh, Buddy’s kids actually start coming around! They’re reluctant at first, but no one can resist the magic of Dillon football. By the end of the game, the kids are cheering and laughing, and hey, Tabitha the Vegan even asks for some dairy ice cream. Aww, how sweet.
Speaking of Dillon Panther football, it seems that there’s a bit of a troublemaker on the team. Jamarcus, a character who annoyingly pops up out of nowhere (much like a new castaway will ascend from the extras in Lost), has had a few run-ins with Tami, and to make matters worst, it’s revealed that he forged his parents’ signatures and lied to them to join Coach Taylor’s team. These parents don’t share the same passion for football with the rest of Dillon; they find it to be a waste, and something that merely serves to stroke Jamarcus’s massive ego. Eric and Tami persuade the parents to witness one game, just to “give it a shot.” So they do, and I’ll be darned if Jamarcus’s parents don’t start coming around as well and enjoying the magic of Dillon football. Aww, how sweet.
I realize how snarky I’m being, but it’s to emphasize just how trite so much of this episode ends up being. There was too much misused potential in all of these stories. They were steered to neat, easy to swallow conclusions instead of exploring more interesting paths.
The episode begins with one of the most intriguing dilemmas I’ve seen all season from Friday Night Lights. Eric and Tami visit the McCoys for dinner, an occasion that Eric dreads; Joe’s overbearing nature toward J.D. is worrisome, to say the least. Yet, as the adults finish their meal, the young quarterback comes home and his basic, casual interaction with his dad doesn’t support the overbearing father picture of Joe that Eric had painted. Instead, he sees a father and a son who love each other and who like each other. When Coach confronts Joe about the incident at the church (forcing his son to confess to his coach that he got drunk), the father is apologetic and genuine when he says it won’t happen again. I imagine that this must put a kink in Eric’s thinking.
But before long, Mr. Hyde is back in full force. Not only is Joe excessively critical of his son during practice, he even pulls the boy from the session to give him his own critique. Things only get worse on Friday night when J.D. begins playing poorly (partially due to his maniac of a father screaming instructions and berating him from the stands). At halftime, Joe stalks the clubhouse, waiting for his boy. He again pulls him aside and gets forceful in his instructions. When Coach intervenes, Joe claims that it’s a family matter. Eric manages to say the right things to Joe to avoid any more conflict, but now his starting quarterback is shaken up.
Eric takes him into his office and begins telling him how his own father had lofty expectations that he as a child could never live up to. J.D. interrupts him to say that Joe only wants what’s best for him. He just wants him to succeed. In a way, Eric is speechless at this. The boy genuinely loves his dad, and because of this, he’s been conditioned to believe that if his father ever gets overbearing or forceful, it’s just because he wants his boy to succeed. Sadly, J.D. has been, in a sense, almost brainwashed to believe this, and it prevents him from seeing what’s really going on. Finally, to instill some confidence back in the boy, Coach tells him to call the plays from the field—no looking at daddy, no looking at coach. The plan works and the Panthers clinch the playoffs, but not before Joe McCoy sulks out of the stadium. Earlier at dinner, Joe told Eric that he believed the two of them would make a great team, but I get the feeling that he’s now feeling much differently about that statement.
Billy Riggins has talked for quite some time about how success for Tim is success for both of them. “We’re going places,” he’ll say. I honestly feel that when he approaches Jason in private about Tim’s recruitment letters, asking Jason for help and advice on how to get his brother into a college, he’s only thinking of Tim. Jason, to my surprise, shows a bit of jealousy at seeing one of those recruitment letters. He downplays them, talking about how much of a standard letter that is, and how he received hundreds of those when he was in high school. If only for a moment, he’s belittling Billy for placing significance in those letters. The moment passes, and I was glad that it did. The show plays the jealousy angle so intelligently by letting the moment arrive without fanfare, and letting it pass in the same manner.
Jason tells Billy that the first order of business is to put together a highlight reel for Tim with some “testimonials” peppered in. Soon enough, Jason’s following Tim around with a camcorder and getting interviews. In the meantime, the house renovation has finally been completed. “Look what two idiots and a couple of cripples can do,” Jason applauds, comparing the success to the Special Olympics. Now all they have to do is sell the home, which is easier said than done, considering that Jason wants them to sell it themselves and he wants to bump up the price.
Okay, I think we can all agree that this storyline is astoundingly unrealistic. Four guys, two of whom are restricted to wheelchairs, none of whom have any experience, manage to renovate a sizable house in just a couple of weeks? Even with Tim going to school and football practice, and the others presumably heading to jobs at some point or another? I suppose that’s where suspension of disbelief comes in, this being a TV show and all.
But for me the disbelief continued as the foursome held an open house. Here are a couple of kids and goofballs trying to sell a very expensive home, and people are taking them seriously? I would think that at least one of these people would recognize Tim Riggins and walk out of the house right then, based on his reputation alone. But no, the house is getting legitimate consideration, no thanks to Herc and Jason, who end up getting into a tussle in the backyard. Jason’s price raising is met with a dissenting voice or two who feel that placing an even higher price in this economy is suicide. However, Jason uses his son, Noah, as his reasoning. The boy is on the other side of the country because Jason can’t even afford to put him in daycare. He needs a bigger payoff from this risk if he’s going to win Erin and Noah back. Not to mention that Billy’s about the get married and Tim is trying to get into college. Those are some legitimate points if you consider that the initial payoff of $30,000-$40,000 was going to have to be split 4 ways. Hiking the price almost doubles their nest egg.
Eventually, all the work and scheming works out when they finally get an offer on the house. Like I mentioned when this plotline began, we knew this was how it would end up. There’s no way that Friday Night Lights would bring the character of Jason Street back for a brief, guest stint, just to have him fail. Like with Smash Williams, Jason’s plot is merely a way to answer some lingering questions and ultimately reassure us that the boy is going to be okay. Knowing this doesn’t rob the plot of all enjoyment, but it sure deadens some of the potential impact. In Jason and Lyla’s final scene (one of the better scenes of this story, and a great scene altogether that exemplifies how much Scott Porter and Minka Kelly have grown as actors), we start to feel some of that reassurance, but I don’t think we’re all the way there yet. When Jason tells Lyla that, once the money clears, he’s heading up to the Northeast to win back Erin and Noah and get a job as a sports agent (after meeting the World’s Friendliest Agent at the Panthers game), it doesn’t feel like the end of the story. Sure, it would be a great ending point for this subplot, one that would leave a little bit to the imagination, but I think, based on the way Smash’s plot played out, that this is the penultimate point of Jason’s story. It’s the equivalent of Smash finding out that he’s got a tryout at A&M. It’s great, and you can kind of fill in the rest from there, but again, to get some closure on both these storylines, Friday Night Lights will give us a little bit more. I suspect next week we’ll get our last look at Jason Street.