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Friday Night Lights (#110 of 34)

What’s Happened to Us? Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

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What’s Happened to Us?: Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies
What’s Happened to Us?: Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

The cover of Jeanine Basinger’s I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies features Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart in a still from Made for Each Other (1939) and, boy, is it gorgeous. Each star with their ambiguous facial expressions, sensual proximity, and debonair dress, the image speaks to an embodiment of classical Hollywood and its underlying ethos of subtle subversion masquerading as affirmation. In fact, much of Basinger’s new book consistently functions in this manner, as one cannot help but be enveloped by the 139 stills and illustrations that so vividly render the period, almost to the extent that Basinger’s prose becomes secondary. Although Basinger claims that her aim—defining historical parameters for explicating depictions of marriage in the cinema—must necessarily revolve around content, the physiological qualities of this particular period of Hollywood cinema holds more resonance than the narratives proper. Discounting a romanticized view of the period runs the risk of stripping away its seductive nature and its ability to transform the domestic; after all, isn’t this a primary motivation for watching a film about two human beings in love? To have the resonance of daily human contact and interaction transcended through cinematic time and space?

If this initially seems a roundabout way to discuss Basinger’s book, it’s because her treatment of the subject is too straightforward for more provocative taste. Rather than historicizing with a revisionist eye, Basinger takes a more traditional historical approach, placing film after film within different or overlapping taxonomies. Much like fellow film historian David Bordwell, her writing is strong, the vision clear, but the parade through periods and themes of filmmaking is more soporific than enlivening, since the categorizations read as matter of fact, instead of being motivated by reaching audacious ends.

DOC NYC 2011: Undefeated and Kumaré

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DOC NYC 2011: <em>Undefeated</em> and <em>Kumaré</em>
DOC NYC 2011: <em>Undefeated</em> and <em>Kumaré</em>

Undefeated is yet another depiction of working-class America that posits sports—football, in this case—as a ticket out of the inner-city cycle of poverty and violence. That Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s film is set in Memphis and not in, say, Texas, as in Friday Night Lights, to which Undefeated owes a spiritual debt, barely makes a difference; this film pretty much molds the Cinderella season of the Manassas Tigers—a hapless high school football team that had not played one playoff game in its 110-year history before this 2009 season—into a standard underdog sports-movie formula, complete with the expected asides into the personal lives of its tough-minded coach, Bill Courtney, and a handful of its players, all of them seniors wondering what awaits them after high school.

As a result, the film doesn’t really contain much in the way of genuine surprises. Its only noteworthy bit of tweaking comes toward the end, in the way Lindsay and Martin subtly turn the fates of their main characters into the film’s real emotional climax, leaving the outcome of the Tigers’ championship game feeling almost like an afterthought. Undefeated ultimately isn’t so much about the championship season itself as it is about the way some of the team members change and grow as it progresses. Courtney himself voices the film’s overarching point of view when he instills in his players his philosophy that football doesn’t build character as much as it reveals character. Perhaps most dramatic in that regard is the emotional growth of Chavis, the team’s junior linebacker who returns to the team during the 2009 season after having spent 15 months in a youth penitentiary. Will his hot-headedness derail not only the team’s chances at making the playoffs, but also his own immediate and long-term futures? It’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they’re able to build as much suspense as they do out of this kind of intimate focus as they do with the larger focus on the games themselves.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 13, “Tomorrow Blues”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Tomorrow Blues”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Tomorrow Blues”

With a show about high school football players, you would think there would only be a few finale-worthy situations to facilitate the inevitable decisions and events that will either propel the show to the next season or fittingly end its run. State championships, prom, or, of course, graduation all seem tried-and-true, however “Tomorrow Blues” uses the Billy Riggins/Mindy Collette wedding as the episode’s gathering point. It still seems a little bit convenient and cliched, but I’m okay with it, as they’ve been talking about this wedding since the season premiere. For this finale, Friday Night Lights uses the celebration as a catalyst for decisions—some wise, some rash—and adds that small town touch that we’ve come to love from the show. It’s not as much of an all-time great like last week’s “Underdogs,” but the Season 3 finale stands strongly as a capper to the season.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 12, “Underdogs”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Underdogs”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Underdogs”

I’ve been wanting to write about this episode for months. “Underdogs” is the kind of hour of television that defines shows like Friday Night Lights, taking old ideas and making them better, making them new. There’s a passion in this episode that shines through in every scene. There’s a quiet wisdom, almost atmospheric in its presence. And there’s emotion—oh, is there emotion—that brings life to each situation, that makes every conflict relatable. “Underdogs” isn’t a season finale, but it sure has the strength and care of one. I just can’t get over how much I’ve fallen in love with this episode.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 11, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

“It’s gonna blow, don’t ya know.” It’s a phrase that a Dallas sports radio host was fond of saying back when the polarizing Terrell Owens joined the Cowboys. Since very early on in Season 3 of Friday Night Lights, the phrase has been looping in my head. For nearly the duration of the season, Joe McCoy’s fuse has been burning, and it was only a matter of time until the man did something drastic. “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” was written by Bridget Carpenter, Patrick Massett, and John Zinman; the only other Friday Night Lights episode crediting three writers was the Season 1 finale, “State.” It seems fitting that these specific three would write this episode, as they’re responsible for scripting some of the more McCoy-centric stories this season such as “How the Other Half Live” and “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy.” With the Texas High School Football State Championship just a game away, the show’s writers, along with the episode’s director, Michael Waxman, and the actors playing the McCoys (D.W. Moffett, Janine Turner, and Jeremy Sumpter) are tasked with bringing this festering problem to a climax at the most inopportune moment.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 10, “The Giving Tree”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “The Giving Tree”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “The Giving Tree”

With the end of season three quickly approaching, college is on the mind of several Friday Night Lights characters. Matt is contemplating leaving his grandmother to pursue new dreams, Tim is the first Riggins going to college, and Lyla feels that Vanderbilt is guaranteed for her future, but Tyra, after dismissing her academics to be with her then-boyfriend Cash, now faces a mountain of tests that must be faced in order to even sniff college. In “The Giving Tree,” the futures of several students are either given or taken away by the actions of other people, which is an idea that I like on paper, but as executed, the episode itself ends up being neither particularly good nor bad, just mostly uninspired.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 9, “Game of the Week”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Game of the Week”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 9, “Game of the Week”

As the episode’s title suggests, the Panthers’ first playoff game of this season has been selected by the national media as the high school football Game of the Week. As the NBC trucks roll in and the lights, cameras, and microphones are pulled out, the spotlight shines brightly on Dillon High. They’ve got a wunderkind at quarterback, their former starting QB practicing at wide receiver, a fearless booze hound in the backfield, a talented (and expensive) coach working as an interim assistant, and a head coach who is almost inexplicably on the hot seat. Sounds to me like the cameras came to the right place.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 8, “New York, New York”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “New York, New York”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “New York, New York”

Whenever a character makes the trek from a small country town to the Big Apple, you know something important’s going to happen. Jason Street and Tim Riggins seem to realize this as well. While celebrating the success of their house-flipping project, Jason reveals his intentions to go to New York, get a job as a sports agent, and win back his gal and son. “Why would you want to leave Texas?” Tim asks. “Because it’s not about Texas anymore. It’s about Erin and Noah.” “New York, New York” is Jason’s right of passage. He’s proven himself worthy, now he must voyage across the land and complete his trials. If he fights hard enough, he’ll earn the life he craves so badly.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 7, “Keeping Up Appearances”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Keeping Up Appearances”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 7, “Keeping Up Appearances”

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.

Friday Night Lights Recap Season 3, Episode 6, “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy”

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Friday Night Lights Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy”

Before J.D. ever steps onto the field as QB1, he faces his first challenge: winning the locker room over. Easier said than done. To start off, this team was used to playing with Matt Saracen as their quarterback, so while the players aren’t hostile towards J.D., I’m sure a small sense of loyalty will subconsciously hinder the transition process. Next, let’s size up McCoy: he’s 15, scrawny, rich, pampered, is never allowed to even think about anything other than football, and he’s got a freak-show of a father (Coach’s words, not mine). You really think all of those high schoolers in the locker room are ready to accept and respect that? They all want to play and win games, but J.D.’s simply too sheltered to be considered cool or “one of the guys.” This is why they haze J.D. more than the others and why they insist on degradingly calling him “Naked Gun” after duping him into streaking across town. It’s also why Coach Taylor approaches Tim, the team’s captain and natural leader, to ask him to do whatever it takes to make J.D. feel a part of the team and to get the rest of the fold to accept their new quarterback.

In “It Ain’t Easy Being J.D. McCoy,” Coach wakes Tim up to a few realities. Being a team leader means more than winning games on the field; it also means making sure that you’re leaving the team in good hands. As a senior, Tim’s not going to be wearing a Panther uniform for much longer, and he needs to begin the work of passing the torch. This boy is idolized and respected by his teammates, so if he goes out on a limb to vouch for J.D., others will follow.