Friday Night Lights is good — no, excellent — at a number of things. Among them: lens flares, honest emotional development, and reducing us to quivering, sobbing puddles on the couch. So it feels churlish to point out any flaws in this final season, no matter how slight — especially when the flaws themselves are often in service to the show’s strengths. Our potentially vexing question for the faithful: Might it be possible that Coach and Mrs. Coach are too good at their jobs? And is their inherent goodness, delightful wisdom, and incipient sainthood robbing season five of, well, drama?
Think of all the best moments in the history of Friday Night Lights: Tyra’s letter, Matt Saracen at his father’s funeral, Smash’s indelible farewell smile,
Landry Clarke living to kill again. All of them were the result of the sort of intense catharsis that this show above all others excels at — not happy endings necessarily, but the sort of gasping, soul-cleansing sentiment only possible after a truthful and heartfelt confrontation. The power of these moments is undeniable. But is it also possible that, with time clicking away, the show is short-cutting its way to more of them?
Let’s examine the evidence presented by “The Right Hand of the Father,” shall we? Last week we met Maura, a wonderfully bitchy flame-haired foil to Jess and a legitimately troublemaking addition to the cast. This week opens with fallout from her behavior at the pregame kegger: A well-viewed YouTube clip titled “Drunk Puppet Girl” shows her doing her best Lindsay Lohan–in-the–ChateauMarmont–driveway imitation. There is some short-term fallout: Tami brings in noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to lecture the East Dillon ladies about alcohol safety and elicits yawns. (This leads to the first full-fledged eruption of Mount Tami in the show’s history. She’s great at being angry! Connie Britton should unleash the dragon more often!) Maura, in a very true and recognizable way, seems intractable: She likes her infamy, her burgeoning reputation. But when Tami catches Maura enjoying a nooner with a mulleted dork in a supply closet, she finally hits the right notes (“Now is the time to choose your future”) and Maura seemingly drops the snark. To which we say: Is that it? Sure it’s awesome seeing Tami be her usually incredible self, but we’d like to see more of a challenge. It’s not like the woeful Lions beat the dominant Panthers last season or anything, right? (What’s that? They did? On a — what now? Miracle field goal by who?)
A similar situation unfolds with Vince this week as his long-absent father is paroled from Huntsville and, thanks to a wildly generous Regina, moves right back in as if nothing has changed. This disruption hits at the heart of Vince — his pride, his vulnerability — and it gives Michael B. Jordan a number of strong opportunities to flex his
jaw acting muscles as he confronts the teasing and assumed authority of a man he barely knows. Even better, it leads to a bravura scene with Kyle Chandler where Vince, ostensibly chafing at Coach’s new, post-puppet-video code of conduct (suits on gamedays, flyers at the supermarket), actually breaks down and confesses his hurt to his surrogate father figure. “I’m proud of you,” Coach says and in Jordan’s eyes we can read the entire history of these two characters. It’s powerful, moving, and true. And then Vince goes out and single-handedly wins a football game with his arm (tossing outrageous frozen ropes to the suddenly football-savvy Hastings), his legs (literally leaping over defenders in a single bound) and his intense laser eyes (staring down his dad on the sidelines). And then his father gets the message, packs up his suitcase, and basically tells Vince every single thing Vince has ever wanted to hear: that he’s a man now, that he has his father’s pride and respect. Don’t get us wrong — this was an excellent scene. But was it too easy, too soon? We never actually heard Maura repent her ways and the manner in which Vince’s dad said he’d be “around” gave us chills — so there’s a chance that these story lines weren’t wrapped up as neatly as they appeared to be. But our gentle criticism remains: Friday Night Lights is so good at introducing these flawed, bent nails. But the Taylors have proven to be equally good at banging them back into place: The Lions are 3–0 and the only players paying a price for their treatment of Maura were extras. Even Tinker is dancing the Dougie in the endzone! Look, we want tearful resolutions as much as the next emotional cripple, but we’re also happy waiting a little bit longer for them. Especially this season.
Of course there was more to this week than the trials and tribulations of St. Coach and Mrs. St. Coach, so let’s run ‘em down like Luke Cafferty after an errant sow:
Buddy’s back! After a season on the margins — he’s with the Panthers! No, he’s a Spanish-language radio D.J.! — it’s nice to see the producers bring our favorite hunk of cornbread back into the main action, even if the way they choose to do it is suspect. Just a few years after nearly going bankrupt at the Landing Strip, Buddy is now flush enough to open a juke joint — and invite Gary Clarke Jr. all the way from Austin to christen it! To this we say: Sure! Why not? Plus, troubled Buddy Jr. is en route back from his hippie exile in California. What with Coach around we estimate at least 35 minutes of tough love before Buddy Jr. is swapping “marijuana” for inspirational homilies and working as the Lions’ water boy. Book it.
Speaking of conveniently forgetful transitions, there’s Jess. Last year, she was the head cheerleader at East Dillon. This year? She’s so disconnected from the Lions that she has to be squeezed into the nasty, staph-infected locker room as the new equipment manager. The great Alan Sepinwall has been banging the drum about this for weeks and we’re with him: It’s fine to gerrymander characters to get them in closer proximity to one another (when this doesn’t happen we’re left with phantom story lines like last year’s Riggins-Becky soap opera) and it’s working with smaller moves like “Coach Billy Riggins” — but it’s a stretch when it affects central character traits. Jess is a good sport about it all, but dancing used to be her football — she’s still popping and locking in the credits, for pete’s sake! Now football is her football.
Speaking of dangling-chad plotlines, we’ve got Julie Taylor at college living out her own version of The Dud Avocado. Starring in the role of the Dud is the Emo T.A. who is all about wearing a rumpled blazer and having a conveniently on-sabbatical wife and making intense, personal connections (read: sex) with 18-year-old freshmen who have no other friends. We think we speak for everyone, even we Julie Taylor fans, when we say: We’re 100 percent confident this will end well or at least be a learning experience for all involved! Just kidding. What we’re actually saying is: Blurrrrgh. Some points given, though, for Julie’s enrollment at what is evidently the University of Caligula (A&M). What’s up with Professor Colonel Sanders’ “salons” for “interesting” students? Which are held at his sprawling mansion with unlimited pinot greege for underclassmen? And where can we apply?