This series, which will continue weekly through the month of September, follows four of our writers as they watch the first season of the classic TV series, Friday Night Lights. Two of them have never seen it—the other two are fanatics.
In episodes nine through twelve took us to Gatling, the birthplace of Brian “Smash” Williams, moved Landry (or Lance, if you’re any of the adults in the show) into the spotlight, and showed just how cruel teenage girls can be. Let’s jump in.
“Friday Night Writes” Schedule*
September 1: Episodes 1-4
September 8: Episodes 5-8
September 22: Episodes 9-12
September 29: Episodes 13-17
October 6: Episodes 18-22
*This schedule has been updated
Doyin Oyeniyi: Something that I didn’t predict was how much family relationships would be a part of this show, and particularly these last four episodes. There were a lot of interactions between parents and their kids. Coach and Julie’s tug-o-war over how she dates Matt (I think Julie’s winning). Matt’s dad comes home and is pretty lame. Even Buddy tries to be a good dad to Lyla when she’s getting bullied!
Emily McCullar: “It’s only a game. You’re my daughter.”
Doyin: I said he “tries.”
Abby Johnston: Are you still not sold on Buddy? That’s when I was totally sold on him.
Doyin: Oh, absolutely not.
Emily: He’s never left a game before, Doyin. That’s a big deal!
Doyin: He didn’t really say anything meaningful in that situation. Leaving the game to comfort your daughter after you see her getting bullied is the BARE MINIMUM.
Emily: I would argue that “it’s only a game, you’re my daughter” is about the most meaningful thing that could come out of Buddy Garrity.
Christian Wallace: True, unfortunately.
Abby: Right, I think we’re expecting a lot from a character that hasn’t really been developed yet though. Also, apparently I am a Buddy Garrity apologist?
Emily: Me too, Abby. LEAVE BUDDY GARRITY ALONE.
Christian: The bleachers scene was really the only time I’ve been fond of Buddy, so far.
Abby: Like if all of a sudden Buddy became the World’s Greatest Dad™, it would be unbelievable. I feel like they’re revealing him in layers. Like an onion.
Doyin: I doubt he will ever be World’s Greatest Dad. Responding to, “Hey Dad, I’m being bullied because I was unfaithful to my boyfriend,” with, “You’re my daughter” was weak. He didn’t actually say anything meaningful. But he was there, in his own way, so I will give him props for that.
Emily: Well, my point is that it was hugely meaningful in the context of who Buddy is, and since Lyla knows her dad, it would have been about the most supportive thing he could’ve provided her, given his obvious faults.
Christian: He revealed all new flavors of his jerkish self in the Gatling episode.
Emily: We need to talk about Gatling.
Doyin: Yeah, Buddy was ready with his comments about “those people” when it got to Gatling. And even the mayor was joking about not wanting to get shot in a drive-by. And honestly, the show did not help with the shot of the school bus driving through Gatling. They were literally just showing us black people walking by or hanging out on the street, but it looked so dark, like they were going through a war zone! Do better.
Christian: Yeah, there were some cringey comments made for sure. Only Tami seemed at all bothered by them (which, by the way, she’s still one of the best parts of this show).
Abby: (Spoiler alert: That won’t ever change.)
Emily: And such hair!
Christian: Being Buddy’s “yang” would be no easy task for anyone with scruples, but Tami managed to handle it so well. And, you’re right, Doyin, the show depicted Gatling as this hell hole, but it can’t all be that way—I mean, they do have a five-star hotel somewhere in town. They also made the predominantly black Gatling team the aggressors: when the game starts, it’s someone from that team who shoves a Panther to the ground to instigate the pre-kick-off scuffle.
Doyin: The handling of Gatling struck me as odd, in a lazy sort of way. It’s easy to make Dillon residents like Buddy racist. Easy to make Gatling look scary when it’s just filled with black people. Easy to make the football team more aggressive than other football teams the Panthers have played. But what’s the point? They’re in one episode and then we move on.
Emily: Yeah, but the shows “bad guys” usually only stick around for an episode or two—Voodoo, Reyes. And then when the football players were starting to be mean to Riggins and Lyla, the show introduced some random new ginger as the instigator.
Christian: You have to give it to that o-line, though. Those guys are loyal to their QB Street, even if it’s in a disturbing, baseball-bat-yielding kind of way.
Doyin: But who are they?!
Emily: Doesn’t matter. We’ll never see them again. Everybody that sticks around for more than a few episodes gets a lot of leeway via depth of character. Like Buddy.
Doyin: That’s true, Emily. But that Gatling episode did serve to give some context to why Smash is in Dillon. And help us understand his mom (and dad) a bit more. Tami’s a great mother, and a great foil to the bumbling dads in this show, but I think Smash’s mother and even Tyra’s mom are good moms as well. Smash’s mom moved her family to a safer neighborhood and seems clear-eyed [Editor’s note: …and full-hearted?] about the reality of the man she married. And this may be jumping ahead, but the little peek we got into Tyra’s home life did not have me thinking her mom had a track record for making good decisions for her. But Tyra says she’s a great mom and when she chooses Tyra over the gross, abusive man, I was pleasantly surprised.
Emily: The plot did move forward in this episode, and we got to talk about slut-shaming!
Doyin: And cyber bullying!
Emily: The Official Lyla Garrity Slam Page should be our band name.
Christian: I guess that would be alright, because the best band name ever, Crucifictorious, is already taken. Dude, I like Landry more and more. Not only is he the lead
singer screamer of that band, he played at the Broken Spoke! What metal band has EVER done that? Totally doesn’t make sense, by the way, but I did love seeing this high-school emo band on that honky-tonk stage.
Emily: Also, one of my notes from episode nine was, “Awwww. The first ‘Lance.'”
Doyin: I loved the “Lance” jokes between Tami and Coach. “Who’s Landry?” “You know, the Lance guy.”
Emily: Also, the episode with Landry and Tim is one of their best episodes. The scene on the bleachers explains why Jesse Plemons has had the best career of anybody post-Friday Night Lights.
Christian: Landry also read Of Mice and Men to Riggins, which was another unbelievable happening but gets a pass because it was too good to scoff at. Best friends at odds over a grievous mistake—such literary parallels—wow!
Doyin: It made me hopeful for a good friendship between them. I thought Landry’s wit was such a good match for Tim’s reluctant . . . everything. I liked that Landry didn’t let him off easy. And in the end, Tim got a B- on the paper, which makes me wonder, what did he write about?
Christian: And it also showed Riggins inching his way to being a better person, I think. He was the only one at Landry’s show (though I don’t necessarily blame anyone for not showing up), and he finally did his own homework.
Doyin: Low bar. Except for going to Landry’s show. That was above and beyond of him.
Abby: Doyin, as a member of Tim Riggins is the Worst™, what’d you make of that episode?
Doyin: He also went to see Jason about helping Lyla, which I thought was really the first selfless thing I’ve seen Tim do off the field. I’m a member of Tim Riggins is the Worst but Getting Better Because His Biggest Flaw Is Being Honest With Himself.
Emily: Otherwise known as the acronym TRITWBGBBHBFIBHWH.
Doyin: It’s not as catchy, I guess. I enjoyed seeing some growth in Tim, and I’m having a hard time knowing which came first, but I can’t think of it except in contrast with how Lyla’s treated.
This all happened after the school finds out that they cheated together. And in the aftermath Tim gets his truck bashed in, but is relatively unharmed. And then his storyline moves on to some tough love/educational push from Tami, Coach and Landry. And Lyla gets me wondering if she even has friends.
Emily: I don’t think Lyla does have friends. I think her best friend was Jason.
Abby: I feel pretty awful for Lyla right now, which is interesting. My husband had to remind me that when I watched it with him the first time I had NO sympathy for Lyla at this point. But watching “It’s Different for Girls” hit a lot of things for me.
Doyin: I think her only friend was Jason. Why weren’t you feeling for Lyla the first time you watched this Abby?
Abby: I can’t quite remember. I think it’s because so much of the characters in the show have these horrible lives that are outside of their control. Lyla’s seems to be more stable, and so I had a hard time ginning up sympathy for her cheating and getting herself into the mess in the first place.
But now I’m kind of thinking about how teenagers (or anyone, really) would possibly process the kind of grief of seeing your partner (and, as you correctly noted, her best friend) go through something like Jason is going through. It makes a lot of sense why she and Tim would fall into something like they did. I’m not condoning it, I just think I see the pathway now in a way that I didn’t before. And, plus, teenagers are just awful. All the constant piling on for Lyla is excessive.
Doyin: That Brittany girl was a complete bitch. I would fight her.
Emily: I also found myself sympathizing with Lyla about her childhood. It’s so interesting to see the role that is carved out for women in Panther Nation. Surely Buddy Garrity wished he had had a first born son, but as soon as he can he started bringing her along to games in a cheerleader uniform. That path was chosen for her.
Doyin: Ah, that was a key point. As if even if you aren’t born a boy who can play football, surely we’ve got to find some way for your life to revolve around it.
Christian: Yeah, I hadn’t felt very sorry for Lyla until that episode. She seems so clearly defined by her relationship with Street that when their bond becomes unstable, she has a hard time navigating the world as Lyla.
Emily: Like, the girls just never have an option to have anything they do taken seriously. Because the only thing that matters is Panther football. I actually forgot that Lyla ends up sticking with cheer, and I was really rooting for her to quit it. And, like, go take film photography or something. Do cross country.
Abby: BUT, I think that Tami’s particular show of strength through these episodes is kind of a spiritual guide for people like Lyla. Like it’s possible to exist in the world of football but have your own autonomy within it.
Christian: Ahem. Julie is also navigating autonomy in the world of football quite nicely.
Abby: OH MY GOD, CHRISTIAN, JUST ADMIT THAT YOU LOVE JULIE TAYLOR.
Doyin: I don’t think Lyla’s figured that out yet. She hasn’t even figured out how to be without Street.
Doyin: Which strikes out one of my last predictions: that Street punching Tim would be the end of Street and Lyla, but not the end of Tim and Lyla. But Tim is still actually in love with Lyla and I don’t think he’s let her go yet. And I still believe that Jason and Tim’s friendship will survive this.
Abby: So now what do you think, Doyin?
Doyin: Other than Tim and Jason being friends again later, I’m not sure. Something about Lyla and Jason’s relationship doesn’t seems stable. She’s too attached to him and he does seem like her only friend, which can just strain the relationship. But I don’t think she’s in love with Tim like he’s in love with her. So who knows. Well, you and Emily know, I guess.
And Emily, is this the part where you don’t like Jason again?
Emily: I’ll only say this: Where the fuck is Jason’s Nevermind CD?
Doyin: He was insufferable in that scene. His poor mom.
Emily: I find Jason endlessly annoying, though I do feel guilty about my hesitancy to cut the poor kid some slack.
Christian: I’m starting to understand your antagonism toward Street, Emily—you’d be one of those townspeople giving Street the stink eye as he rolled past you on his way to collect another Nirvana CD. But I don’t think his actions, including the lawsuit, are unfounded. He’s been dealt an awful hand, and, yeah, it’s starting to grind him down, but he’s still dealing with the situation incredibly well for a high-schooler who had the future he’s always imagined, as well as his mobility and lifestyle, suddenly taken from him.
Emily: If Street were a real person, my heart would go out to him. Because he’s not, and because I know that’s an actor in there, I can’t shake the opinion that he’s a major douchebag. I feel torn about admitting this because I know it means I’m probably a bad person, but I’m a member of the Jason Street is The Worst Club™. Poor kid. God bless him.
Doyin: Nice save, Emily.
Christian: “God bless ’em.” Every Texan’s saving grace when talking about someone you can’t stand.
Abby: To Emily’s point though, I do feel like they got a little lazy with his character. Like they assumed that just because he was paralyzed in the first episode that we’d all have to like him. I feel like they’re doing a good job of the anger part, which makes sense, but without a lot of the nuance.
Emily: Abby are you saying “because I’m CRIPPLED and I want to listen to NIRVANA” is lazy on the part of the writers??? Reallllly????? (Obviously, I agree.)
Christian: I’d like to bring up a couple things: I continue to dig the unabashed Texanness of this show. The Broken Spoke’s cameo, the state-centric dialogue, and staging the last scene of episode 12, where they find out they’ll be heading to the playoffs, at a rodeo was a nice touch, but whoever picked the music for the rodeo scene did a terrible job. Although, I will admit that opening episode 11 with Spoon was a nice touch.
Side note: I haven’t heard a single Robert Earl Keen song yet, so it’s hard to believe that any of this actually takes place at a Texas high school.
Emily: Yeah. In the music supervisors defense, there is a Replacements song in one of the earliest episodes and that was what made me realize this was going to be a very special show. Not a Texas band, but still an unexpected and exciting choice.