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'Friday Night Lights': The principal's husband

October 15, 2008 |  9:01 pm

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"Friday Night Lights" wasted no time getting to the game in this week, the third chapter in the series' 13-episode third season. References to a spread offense were tossed about in the opening moments, but this wasn't an episode about the finite details of a football bout.

Instead, "Friday Night Lights" deftly showed the ways in football can tear people apart, and bring others together. Never mind different approaches to coaching, as "Friday Night Lights" has always been more for those who subscribe to the sports-as-a-metaphor-for-life theory. When Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has to make personnel decisions this week, it becomes a question of whether or not he's letting his gut get in the way of what's best for the team.

The answer isn't clear, as nothing ever is in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. But Taylor's managing arguably results in what passes for a tragic moment in Dillon -- a loss by the Panthers of Dillon High. It's the first lost shown this season, and it has the townspeople placing "for sale" signs on the Taylor home.

While a Dillon Panthers loss has massive repercussions in Dillon, this week's "Friday Night Lights" was more about power than it was a fumble in the end zone by Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford). And the coach feels he's losing it on all fronts.

Dillon High's football boosters have had enough, and are perhaps justifiably upset that Taylor is refusing to start freshman phenom J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter) in the place of serviceable senior Saracen. Meanwhile, the always supportive and grounded Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) is being stressed to the max in her new role as Dillon High principal, and opts to forgo hosting the annual football team party.

At first, it seems to be a minor decision. But when Tami hands off hosting duties to the McCoy family and the multi-million dollar home -- "a mausoleum," says Eric -- that houses them, it's a sudden sign of weakness on the part of the Taylor family. Or so Eric believes.

"You're being played," says Eric to his wife, who fears being indebted to the rich. He senses that Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett) has the Dillon High football boosters slowly starting to circle around his throat, getting on him a little more each week for not putting his son in the game.

Who are the boosters going to listen to? After all, they're trying to install an expensive new JumboTron on the Dillon High football field, and a man with a check, and a bounty of free cigars and booze, has just rode on into town.

And what was a moment ago a television show about high school football has suddenly turned into an essay on the American caste system, and how it subtly influences our thoughts and actions. Whereas Tami was relieved to no longer have to worry about the expense of the party, Eric now fears a loss of trust from his players,and a ceding of power to the football boosters and the funds that drive them.

When Tami reminds Eric that he promised her that next year they could hand the party off as it is, he reminds her that he's weak in an argument. "Next year I said we could do it somewhere else, and I was pretty much just telling you what you wanted to hear," he snaps.

He's seen enough of the McCoy family, and he's suspicious of Joe's attempts to woo him with chocolate fountains and free fancy liquor, as well as his ploy to win over the Panthers with free smoothies. He's not interested in giving anyone any favors, and he's also having his coaching ability directly undermined, as Joe has paid thousands to give his son his own personal quarterback tutor.

It's impressed the coach's staff, certainly. At least one coach is fearing that his manager's decision is about to cost him his job.

Granted, there's a lot to like in Saracen. He's a hard-worker who's exceeded all expectations, and the fact that he's having to take care of his grandmother makes it hard to root against him. But as pal Landry (Jesse Plemons) says, "You don't have an angle. He's young. He's new. He's hip."

And he has an army of people with cash behind him.

Best line: As Eric deals with the town questioning his coaching abilities, he loses sight of the fact that his wife now has a new job, and isn't available to back up his every move.  As noted before, "Friday Night Lights" has always nailed the difficulty in maintaining an adult relationship. "You know who I miss? I miss the coach's wife," he says. Rather than get angry, Tami does him one better. "You know who I can't wait to meet? The principal's husband."

If I were a sportswriter ... rather than someone who just sent sportswriters angry e-mails (this only applies if those who write about the Cubs), I may have to take the coach to task here. McCoy may be a freshman, but it's made clear he's the better match-up against the Panthers' opponent this week. While it's sometimes easy to forget we're writing about teenager players in this show, the coach does remind us that McCoy looks like he hit puberty about a month ago, and he's sticking with his veteran guy. "I know Matt Saracen," he says to J.D.'s dad. "I don't know your son." Maybe, but that sounds like a man who's playing with his heart rather than against those on the field, and more times than not, that's the wrong call.

Grass is always greener: If anything comes from Saracen's fumble, it's that Saracen's humbling looks to be bringing him back together with the coach's daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden). Meanwhile ...

The Tim/Lyla break-up watch: Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) chooses committing crimes with his brother rather than meeting up with Lyla (Minka Kelly) at the football party. And thus far, at least, she appears to be sticking with him. It's nice to see Tim struggle in his quest to be a better man, and Lyla torture herself with her own expectations of a relationship, but they were stronger apart. The season may be only three episodes old, but when it comes to the Tim/Lyla relationship, it's already starting to feel like little more than slight variations on a theme.

Related: 'Friday Night Lights': Zach Gilford on the future of Matt Saracen, the series

-- Todd Martens

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