In the eleventh episode of the first season of Friday Night Lights, Matt’s father returns home, Jason tries to rekindle a romance with Lyla, and Landry is stuck tutoring a highly reluctant Tim. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Friday Night Lights.
Y’all, I can tell this is going to be one of my favorite shows I’ve ever covered for this site, I swear. Holy shit, this is consistently incredible, thought-provoking, and emotionally devastating. I’M IN LOVE. So let’s get to it.
Landry is adorable. Misguided and ridiculous at times (and his band’s name sucks, but come on, whose first band has a fantastic name?), but I enjoy him. There’s some obvious comedy when Tami matches him up with Tim as a tutor, but I was thankful that the show didn’t always play this for laughs. At the heart of this, the show brings up yet another aspect of high school sports culture: the “passes” that students get from their teachers so that they can still play. We see this manifested in the argument that Tami and Eric have in their driveway. Tami is certain that this culture exists, and has evidence that at least one of her husband’s players has been using other people to get his work done; Eric is flabbergasted and, frankly, peeved that she would dare even suggest such a thing. But it is the truth, and I’m so happy to see the writers consistently put Tami’s concerns in the forefront of the plot. Coach Taylor outright admits that his wife is right. To Tim’s face.
I know for a fact that this happened in my own high school for dudes on the football and baseball teams. (Interestingly enough, I cannot think of a single anecdotal example of a girl being passed to keep her on cheer or any other sport, for that matter. HMMM. I WONDER WHY THAT IS.) We had a teacher who taught a lower-level math class that football and baseball players were secretly recommended to take because he would purposely design tests for just those people that were easier than what he gave the rest of the class. I AM NOT EVEN MAKING THIS UP. Like, half the class would get a normal test, and the other half would get his easier one. He was still teaching the last time I checked! And look, I don’t want to make this a reductive scenario. I don’t personally think high school is the be-all and end-all of a person’s life, and there are a myriad of reasons why a person wouldn’t perform well at school. You’ve got to take into account class status, race, access, geography, funding, personal shit going on at home, and a billion other things! So I’m not here to put forth this idea that everyone should have an identical education with no exceptions, either. Specifically, though, my high school had a different set of standards for those who were good at the acceptable sports.
Oh god, I remember when a bunch of teachers banded together to try and get a rule passed that you were not allowed to have water bottles in the classroom because they were… distracting? People had to pee too often, and then that meant they were probably breaking rules. Which is paranoid in and of itself, but that’s not my point. I did cross country and track, and that meant I had to stay hydrated throughout the day. I grew up in a desert climate, so we routinely practiced in 90- to 100-degree weather. Six days a week. The same went for track! And our practices were fucking brutal, y’all. We were running like sixty miles a week at the height of training, and at the end of summer, we’d be hitting 75-80 miles. Running. That meant we’d have to drink a hell of a lot of water during the day.
So you can imagine our distaste for this new proposed policy. No water at all throughout the day? When our coaches protested, I kid you not, they were told that the teachers could not make special exceptions for sports teams. Less than a week later, all teachers were told that sixth period football students must be allowed out of class twenty minutes before the final bell rang so that they could get dressed for football. I’m not fucking with you. That is how blatant this exceptional treatment was!
So watching this unfold on the show is a revelation, y’all. I have never seen so many personal things that I’ve experienced or witness occur on a fictional television show. It’s unheard of for me! (Wait, let me just add in that The Wire also falls in that category. PS: Watch The Wire.)
Landry has my respect, then, for taking the time to try and help Tim in a genuine way. Dude, I read things aloud for a living, and I can’t even fathom what it must have been like to read Of Mice and Men out loud to Tim. Oh god, AND THEN HE UNDERSTOOD THE TRAGIC IRONY OF THE ENDING. See, Tim? There is something to be gleaned from literature. Granted, it shouldn’t be up to Landry to find a way to connect with Tim. I think there’s a serious problem with the way that some teachers teach, you know? Still, I was proud of Tim for doing his own work, for taking Tami and Eric seriously, and for being nice enough to show up for Landry’s band’s first show. Good going, Tim.
You know, when Landry started shouting about how Tim had to know a personal connection to the story of two friends whose dream was crushed, I was initially thinking that Tim’s oral report would reference his relationship with Jason. However, I realized that the use of Of Mice and Men was meant more as a nod to what Jason and Lyla are going through. In the pilot, both characters are presented as the typical high school heroes, the walking stereotype of two people who have completely bought into the American dream through high school football. What we’ve seen since then is how both of their dreams have been crushed since Jason’s accident, so that means they’re now the meta-center of this narrative. Jason and Lyla are not just trying to learn how to navigate their own relationship with one another, though that’s certainly a huge part of “Nevermind.” They have to learn how to deal with the roles they were once cast into. How can Jason exist in a world where he was worshipped as the star quarterback when he’s now confined to a wheelchair? What is Lyla’s life like now that her hope of marrying her high school sweetheart has faded away?
I am just floored at the way this show is handling these characters. By all rights, that first episode set these two up as active players in a football soap opera, the archetypical hero and heroine of the piece. Instead, the writers have centered them in a completely different way, and it’s both refreshing and entertaining. Again, we watch as the two of them try to do good. Lyla is honest and upfront about the fact that she is absolutely willing to have sex with Jason, that his disability does not make him less attractive to her. Which, first of all, bravo. Yet another aspect of this show that I enjoy! And while Jason starts off “Nevermind” throwing a temper tantrum to his mother (who does not deserve such a thing), his characterization becomes far more nuanced and understanding than where it started off. He is frustrated with his life, but he turns to people like Herc and Lyla to work out the complicated issues in his head. Herc is great here, a brilliant friend who is willing to tell Jason the truth he needs to hear, no matter how uncomfortable. But he’s not overly critical either. He actually encourages Jason to figure out how his body works post-accident, and that’s goddamn awesome.
I like that this episode ends on such a positive note for the two of them. Lyla and Jason seem ready to go in two directions. Their romantic relationship might be over, or it might be starting anew. Whichever option they choose, they’re finally back on the same ground, at least for the time being. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily be surprised if things become chaotic and dramatic again. It’s a complicated, fragile predicament, you know? Love and all the emotional turmoil that comes with it isn’t easy to deal with. Still, I felt good about these two, and that was a nice thing to experience.
Matt and Dad
It hurts watching this. I have had a very intimate experience with what Matt goes through in “Nevermind,” and it’s one that can be difficult to describe for those who don’t know what this is like. But, as I mentioned in the video for this episode, there’s a very unique way that a parent can undermine and damage their child with their behavior. I was raised to respect and honor my elders. That was partially from my dad’s Japanese/Hawaiian background, and partially from my mom’s belief that it was impossible for her to be wrong. Now, this was something I didn’t question ever for many, many years, and I admit that it spawned this strange reverential fear of my mother. So when I became aware that the things she said to me, to my brother, or out loud in general were kind of awful – insulting, belittling, followed by godawful amounts of racism and homophobia – my brain couldn’t handle this. I love my mother and she raised me well, generally speaking. Most of who I am can be attributed to her. But that also goes for the negative. My sense of self-doubt and self-hatred. My disgust with bigotry. My inability to see myself as a worthy human being. My mom hurt me, relentlessly so, with the things she’d say to me. So watching Matt in “Nevermind” was a bizarre experience, because that sort of fear and disappointment was being spelled out for me on the screen.
Matt’s dad probably thought nothing of it to insinuate that he didn’t think his son had leadership abilities in him, but that comment was just one chip at Matt’s self-esteem, and it was one of many. The last time we saw Matt’s dad, he did something very similar. These things add up over time! But in Matt’s case, his heroic view of his father is continually eroded away when he sees how his dad treats his own mother. It’s appalling, really, but in Matt’s eyes, it’s terrifying. His own father doesn’t possess the emotional complexity to deal with an aging parents. He isn’t patient. He isn’t understanding. In fact, he immediately detaches himself from the situation, and that scared me. How can he expect his son to go to school, do his schoolwork, work enough hours to pay rent, AND take care of his ailing grandmother?
So I wasn’t surprised that Matt performed poorly during his game. After his father had openly suggested moving them all to Oklahoma without even asking Matt how he felt about it, I didn’t expect Matt to do well. But that very public argument post-game? That wasn’t something I anticipated, especially since Matt isn’t the kind of person who normally gets that angry or does so in public. It made sense for his character, though, because he’d been pushed to this horrifying spot in his life. His dad appeared to care so little for him that he didn’t think much of moving everyone to another state. It didn’t help that he also came off as rather eager to return to war. Again, the things parents do to their children has a lasting affect on them, and Matt was finally pushed too far.
I guess that I’m biased in my empathy of Matt. One of the reasons I liked Buffy so much, especially “Family” in season five, is that it posited that parents could be wrong, that sometimes we have to form our own families. I have a personal stake in that kind of storytelling! I mean, I really genuinely do love and adore my mother, but that doesn’t mean my love for her isn’t complicated. It’s a giant mess, and it’s my giant mess to deal with. I just really loved that in the instant that the Taylors saw Matt’s life falling apart, they immediately swept them up into their arms and their house. That instant sort of sympathy and love is fucking beautiful, y’all. I had to rely on that specific sort of experience in order to survive my junior and senior years of high school. All these people opened their doors for me, out of the goodness of their heart, recognizing that I’d ran away from home so that I could find some peace and love in the world, and it just touches me that this show is giving me that, too.
Y’all, I AM SO IN LOVE WITH FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
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Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
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