'Friday Night Lights' Season 5, Episode 4: 'Keep Looking'
As "Friday Night Lights" moves into the meat of its final, 13-episode season, this week's Show Tracker will take a slightly different format. Below is a look at some of this season's major storylines, and what has -- and hasn't -- been working.
Becky's domestic troubles: Story developments like the one that greeted Madison Burge's Becky give "Friday Night Lights" fans near-unconditional faith in writers, cast and producers to work their way out of any potentially tired plot. So far this season, viewers have seen Becky hurt, wounded and unwanted just about everywhere she goes. Even when she's with her peers and seemingly leading a dance-planning committee, all of Becky's ideas are tossed aside for "Texas Luau."
It was an unexpected "Friday Night Lights" veteran who came to the rescue: Stacey Oristano's Mindy Collette. For much of five seasons, Mindy has been on the periphery, keeping Derek Phillips' Billy Riggins in check or offering some comic relief. Seeing the stripper-turned-housewife fight off her baby fat with some aggressive Jazzercise-like moves, all while giving Becky the cold shoulder, was an amusingly colorful snapshot of suburban life.
As was the heart-to-heart Becky and Mindy would have when Mindy broke the news that her boss at the Landing Strip believed her behind was too large to be granted any night shifts. Working the day shift, Mindy said, would mean dancing to farmers, and "farmers are the worst tippers." It was Becky who rose to the occasion with some negotiating advice, and in one of the most oddly sentimental scenes in the show's history, reminded Mindy that her regular customers "probably miss you." A visibly touched Mindy responded with a weary "thank you."
So when Mindy saw Becky being dumped back into a hairy domestic situation, Mindy flashed the traits that will make this struggling stripper a fine mother. She not only agreed to take Becky in, but did so with some wit and perspective. "She needs a role model," Mindy said. "I think unfortunately in this situation, we are the role models."
Here comes little Buddy: The growth and change of Brad Leland's Buddy Garrity has been one of the biggest accomplishments of "Friday Night Lights," and the return this week of Little Buddy, portrayed this season by Jeff Rosick, gives Buddy a brand new project. First, it's worth noting how closely Rosick resembles Leland, and his baggy shorts and scruffy hair go a long ways toward making him embody the slacker, pot-smoking loser of the Garrity family.
Additionally, it's always nice when Buddy can flash a little Texas pride, as he does when Little Buddy expresses disdain for "seitan," a meat substitute he's sampled while living in California. "Nature already has meat," Buddy responds. "It's called a cow."
We see Little Buddy fumbling around and screwing up, and viewers get the sense that Little Buddy wants to improve his life, but just can't help himself. Buddy believes he has the answer: Football.
When Kyle Chandler's Eric Taylor questions whether Little Buddy can play, Buddy shrugs it off. "Of course he can play. He's a Garrity." Going forward, it will be curious to see if Little Buddy struggles on the football field rather than tapping into some superhero Garrity genes. The disappointment in Buddy, and the further havoc it could wreak on Little Buddy, would no doubt be tragic, but Dillon, Texas, isn't where you go for happy endings.
Yet this plot seemed to climax a bit last week, when Vince heard his father out and showed signs of being on the path of attempting to forgive him. Not that everything should be hunky-dory, but Vince's rants in this episode seemed tacked-on. It's been a joy, however, to watch Jordan, and he spins what could have been a melodramatic speech into something more gripping. But for as close as Vince is to his mother, it seems time that he would start putting up with his father, if only to keep from disappointing her. Or perhaps with so few episodes left, one is eager for that transition to take place, as it will give Jordan more subtleties to explore.
Perfect, however, was his conversation with Coach Taylor, when the latter asked to be introduced to Vince's father. Vince was quick, and curt. "How about I don't, Coach?" Overall, the introduction of Vince's father has been a welcome one, and it has allowed Jordan to show off his star appeal.
The college recruitment game: Yes. More of this, please. Though most "Friday Night Lights" fans refuse to speak of Season 2, it did give us one of the show's more complex and thoughtful story lines, and that was the attempts by colleges to woo Gaius Charles' Brian "Smash" Williams.
Earlier this season, we already saw that Vince was in high demand. This week, we learn that Matt Lauria's Luke is the object of desire of the fictional TMU. To win Luke's heart, the student is given six passes to a TMU football game, and a tour of the facilities.
Though college recruitment may not sound like a sexy storyline, that's precisely why these developments are exciting. Covering the politics of such a world is a challenge to writers and audience, and now with Vince and Luke both looking beyond Dillon, hopefully tensions and ethical blunders are on the horizon, and there were hints, albeit briefly, that Vince and Luke may be jockeying for the same positions.
Best scene: Coach looking at Vince and Jess (Jurnee Smollett) fighting, pausing, smirking, shaking his head, and walking away. Making Jess an equipment manager may have been a quick shortcut to injecting a female presence into the football scenes, but it should be a fun dynamic to explore. I miss the frustration Jess had toward her rally-girl and cheerleading peers, but as Coach Taylor gets to know Jess and learns of her football expertise, it should inspire, at the very least, some choice conversations between Eric and Connie Britton's Tami Taylor.
Epyck's after-school special. There was no sign of Emily Rios' Epyck last week, and a show of hands, please, from those who missed the new character. Tami was an out-and-out stud last week, but Epyck brings out the worst in her. One sight of Epyck, and Tami is pleading that "We can help these kids." It's like Epyck has magical powers that render Tami weak. Eventually, one is waiting for the Coolio song to kick in.
Granted, we don't see much of Epyck, and the story hasn't been given a chance yet to breathe. She's first seen this week at Tami's homework club, yet viewers learn nothing new about her. When asked why she's having a hard time, Epyck taps her inner 5-year-old and says, "I'm not having a hard time. Math is boring." A boy mocks her, a book is thrown and a fight ensues.
There was one redeeming moment with the Epyck storyline, and that was Coach Taylor asking Tami, "What kind of name is Epyck? It sounds like something people come up with when they're drunk." In fact, Tami and Eric have are comfortably sharp this season, and their dinner-table talks have a homey, effortless feel to them. A full hour of Dinner With Tami & Eric would be a winning episode.
Julie and the TA: The romantic misadventures of Julie Taylor didn't receive much air time this week. Thankfully, less than five minutes were devoted to this mini-daytime soap within "Friday Night Lights," where Aimee Teegarden's Julie and Gil McKinney's Derek Bishop get to pout, stammer and dance around a complete lack of chemistry.
There's little more here than romantic cliches. Cue an awkward moment, follow it with an evening knock-on-the-door and bring it to an end with a kiss that interrupts the person who's speaking. It's nice that Teegarden's Julie is sticking around in Season 5, but instead of giving her a whole campus to explore, she's stuck with a married older man and dialogue aimed for an emotional response rather than anything that's grounded in reality.
Surely there are Vince story lines more deserving than this, or even more time getting to know Lynn Blackburn's Laurel would have been a better course of action. Or what about Russell DeGrazier's Coach Stan? Perhaps some of the football players will have something to say when learning about his closeted homosexuality? Writers have scripted a rich world for the characters to explore, and the most offensive aspect of the Julie/Gil subplot is that it's keeping us from doing so.
"Friday Night Lights" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's 101 Network.
Photo: Connie Taylor as Tami Taylor, Jeff Rosick as Buddy Garrity Jr. and Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity. Credit: Bill Records / NBC/DirecTV