TV Club

Week 1: J.D.’s Overnight Transformation Into Ben Roethlisberger

Friday Night Lights Promotional image. Click image to expand.
Friday Night Lights

I’m so with you, Emily. I saw Tami do that little hands-up twirl she does in the opening montage, and my heart went aflutter. Same with that shot of Riggins soaked with rain. I mean, I know the man is too old to be anywhere near that Panthers team bus (unless, of course, he gets drunk in a future episode and falls asleep inside it). But for me, he’ll forever be No. 33.

Funny you should mention Treme. It looks like we’ll be getting a little infusion of David Simon’s first masterpiece, The Wire, with the new crew of East Dillon thugs who are immune to coach Taylor’s authority (“the element,” as one lady in the raucous principal’s meeting called them). Vince, the rough jewel among them, is played by Michael B. Jordan, who once played—Wire obsessives, this is your trivia moment—Wallace.

Visually, the episode did a great job of setting up the disparity between West Dillon and East Dillon High. The shots of West Dillon were long view and drenched with color—rich blue uniforms and a sheen off the cheerleader’s golden hair. Then they’d cut abruptly to East Dillon, shooting from odd, confusing angles. The colors were harsh (black, white, red graffiti). The noises were awful—stretches of tense silence, that dirge before the first game, Becky’s creaky national anthem or, early on, a trapped raccoon chirruping menacingly from inside a locker.

So far, so good. But then, as a plot twist, you’re right, Emily, the good guy/bad guy element of this rivalry could get heavy-handed. The overnight transformation of J.D., who always had a little sweetness in him, into Ben Roethlisberger was somewhat jarring. And often when Hollywood gives a white person teaching authority over kids from the hood the results are likely to make you gag. (Just for the record, Preciousdid no better with an African-American lesbian teacher.) That said, the episode did a pretty good job of cutting against the potential smarm. The important moment for me came at a practice. Coach Taylor was starting to give the players his trademark inspirational talk when one of them, the troublemaker, leaned over to Landry and said, “He talk like that dude from the infomercial.” Seconds later, a fight broke out, and soon much of the team abandoned coach Taylor.

The message was, “don’t cue the coach speech just yet; the emotional crescendo will be a long time coming.” Words did not heal anything in this episode; instead, they were used as a weapon. Both J.D. and his father employed “just kidding” in an especially cruel way (J.D. when he told Matt he was sorry Matt had stuck around in Dillon because he’d wanted to steal Julie this year). Riggins, having dropped out of college, even managed to provoke a fight by talking about paint colors. “It’s mustard,” said Billy. “It’s puke,” said Tim, and then they went at it. The constant fighting served something of the same role it does in The Hurt Locker. When they can’t or don’t want to talk, one way men communicate their emotions is by fighting.

We sort of know how this will all turn out—somehow, in some way, the East Dillon Lions will triumph. But it all seems so dark and hopeless right now, so violent, that we are curious to stick around and find out exactly how. Just getting over the shame of having forfeited will take them a couple of episodes.

As for what happens to the girls, Emily, I want to add one more to the mix. Julie does suddenly seem subject to forces outside her control. But Becky is the one who will draw me in. She is such a fabulous combination of vulnerable, grating, and charismatic. I want to know more: Will she sleep with Riggins? Rescue Riggins? Steal away Matty? Fall apart? Become the next Faith Hill? Also, is it legal in Texas not to blow dry that hair?

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