Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Friday Night Lights - 'It's Different For Girls' (1x10)

After watching the first nine episodes of the show in a couple of days, it was tough to wait the week for this new one. The show is so easy to watch in multi-episode chunks, it's tough to scale back to just one a week, and I'm not sure of the schedule, but there probably won't even be another new one until late January. That's tough, but at least the show got a full season pickup, and a new timeslot could help get some more viewers.

This episode focuses on Lyla and the cruelty she faces as a result of her dalliance with Tim. The classroom commentary on the difference between male "fertilizers" and female "seed growers" was a bit on the nose, but generally, the story was handled well. The website is definitely something that would happen in real life, and, as the title says, the difference between the treatment Lyla received and the treatment Tim received is very telling. I don't get why women are usually the ones who are first to call someone a slut, why should you care so much about what someone does? Obviously men do it too, and it's just cruel that our society has those values.

I think her turnaround was a bit too quick, but that's one of the necessities of episodic television. Stories need to fit themselves into these 45 minute chunks, and even though in real life what would happen is things would just gradually quiet down, here we need some kind of dramatic punctuation to the story. Her assertion of confidence at the competition provides that punch to the end of the story. It's tricky to balance the need to keep something realistic, and lasting, without making it feel prolonged. Lately, Battlestar Galactica has gone way too far towards the set up and resolve in one episode, at least this storyline was built up over a few episodes before it go the spotlight. That's one of the great things about serialized television, the ability to let stuff simmer then come to the surface. My main issue with recent BSG is that there's no simmering, everything occurs in standalone episodes.

The resolution itself is fantastic for all the conflicting emotions. Tim, having realized the error of his ways too late, is now helping out both Jason and Lyla, inadvertantly driving the two of them back together. The moment where he sees Jason in the stands is wonderful, it's not dwelt upon, but we know exaclty what he feels. That's well done visual storytelling, one shot conveying a wealth of emotions, particularly the juxtaposition of Tim's realization that he will never have a chance with her with Jason's rediscovering of his feelings about her. I complained before that this storyline had a bit of a soapy feel, but this episode didn't at all, it was much more restrained and realistic.

On his own, Jason continues to have a lot of interesting stuff. Most TV dramas have set storylines that they draw on, but I've never seen anything like this extended spinal injury recovery storyline. The scene with the lawyer is great, the Streets realizing that they could make some easy money off this, while Jason struggles with the moral consequences of suing the coach. The race with the kid is well done too. Though I hope he stays in touch with the rehab crew now that he's back at home. I'm assuming they'll show up in the future at some wheelchair sports.

The other major storyline dealt with Coach Taylor's continuing struggle with his daughter dating Matt. There's a lot of funny stuff here, particularly him continually referring to Landry as Lance, as well as him miscorrecting Matt ("It's Julie and me. Common mistake.") I don't think anything reaches the level of the Members Only exchange from the last episode, but it's still great. It's particularly fun to watch Matt turned into a pawn for Julie and Eric's familial conflict. He just seems befuddled most of the time, as he struggles to stay on good terms with both of them. The blanket scene is another classic, perfectly exemplifying Coach Taylor's ridiculousness when it comes to dealing with Matt and Julie.

Elsewhere, Smash continues to drift closer to some kind of breakdown. I'm not sure wheter they'll go for the obvious, he gets caught and suspended storyline, or for the more subtle, he decides to quit and finds his game suffering, tempting him back to the steroids. Both have great dramatic potential, but I would go for the latter, forcing the character to suffer in silence and again deal with the fact that he just might not be good enough. For someone so totally confident in himself, that's the most painful thing to experience.

The show continues to work great visually. The texture of the image is unique in television and the camera movement/zooms do a great job of drawing our attention to specific, important parts of the frame. The cheerleading competition is a great example of visual storytelling, giving us everything we need to know with glances. I don't think there's one line of dialogue in the final sequence, but we still understand what every character is feeling.

More generally, I think having Tami work as a guidance counselor was a great plot choice. Having all the characters clustered in the same place can make things feel incestuous or claustrophobic, as in Buffy season seven. But, it works here because it allows us to see two adult viewpoints on the goings on at the school, and in contrasting Tami and Eric's thoughts on what's happening, we get a more nuanced picture of the school environment. I'm not sure if people actually do go and break down and cry at the guidance counselor's office, when I was in high school, the guidance counselor was pretty much exclusively about getting you into college, but maybe it's different elsewhere. In this case, Lyla was at a breaking point, looking for someone to unload her emotions on, and Tami offered her that chance. But, having this kind of thing happen too often could push things into melodrama.

I think it'll be interesting if the show goes into a third or fourth season, when this generation of kids moves on, but the adult figures stay behind. Tim isn't likely to make it out of the town, so he could stay on the show, and it's not that tough to keep the rest of the cast close, but will we see the introduction of a whole new generation of players? I'm not sure if the show will make it that long, but it's a problem that a show like Freaks and Geeks never had to resolve. This one is even more complex because we're not invested in the characters, we're invested in the 'team,' and how interesting will the team be if all the players leave? Obviously I hope the show keeps going for many seasons, but it's going to be tricky to work it out. I've always felt that there was a lot of potential drama in showing high schoolers going off to college and building new social systems, while still maintaining the old ones. The issue then becomes you wind up with a massive amount of characters, and not enough time to spotlight them all.

But that's down the line, for now the show is rolling along, and this was a fantastic episode. This is easily the best new show of the season.


Anonymous said...

Nice writeup. I'm with you on the quick turnaround. I had a bigger problem with the over the top rude behavior toward Lyla at school. The website I can see happening, but random guys walking by her and pounding on her locker... cmon. Any idea who does the intro music? Trying to find it.

Patrick said...

It might be Explosions in the Sky, I know they did the soundtrack for the movie and a lot of their songs are in the series. But, I'm not sure, there is a composer listed in the credits, W.G. Snuffy Walden, so it might be him.