‘Friday Night Lights’ Season 5, Episode 2 recap: On the outside looking in

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It takes a special girl to inspire a guy to trade a pig for her. But Beckly Sproles is worth far more than a boar to Luke Cafferty.

If that sounds like some sort of joke, it isn’t. There are plenty of standard TV issues handled in ‘Friday Night Lights.’ You’ve got your mother-daughter fights, your teenage pregnancy and, of course, your mysterious bad girl who smokes cigarettes in the bathroom. Yet the series, set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, largely has skirted clichés.

As ‘Friday Night Lights’ ramps up its final season, it’s natural to watch it with a slight nervousness. Critically beloved and commercially ignored, the show was at its best in Season 4, adding new layers of racial and class tension to its football-centric themes. Running now as a shortened season on DirecTV, there won’t be much time to make up for late-in-the-game missteps.


So let it be known that pig trading is not shark jumping. ‘Friday Night Lights’ still has plenty of wrinkles left to explore, and one is the odd tradition of what the show has deemed ‘rally girls.’ These are not cheerleaders; they’re more teenage female caretakers. Sometimes they bake a boy cookies, and sometimes they leave a boy panties in his locker. As for Matt Lauria’s Luke, it’s simply an excuse to get him closer to the girl he impregnated. The relationship between Luke and Madison Burge’s Becky has been on the rocks since Luke didn’t exactly react well to Becky’s decision to have an abortion with agreement. He doesn’t see her as a high school crush, but as the should-have-been mother of his child, who now will have to regularly provide him with baked goods.

‘That’s part of Texas football,’ Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor tells Jurnee Smollett’s Jess, who’s feeling jealous that her man has gone and got himself a rally girl. The rally-girl culture has been hinted at in the past but shown to be little more than demeaning, as Jess terms it, with girls throwing themselves at jocks and busting up relationships.

But the full emotional effect of the rally-girl world hasn’t been touched on. From an outside perspective, it’s one of the weirder traditions surrounding high school football, and one with ramifications. Michael B. Jordan’s Vince fought much of Season 4 for Jess, and no doubt he digs his girlfriend, but he’s also never been the most popular kid in school before. Now that he has heretofore unknown women leaving such treasures as porno mags in his locker, ‘Friday Night Lights’ has outfitted this onetime delinquent with power and temptation.

He also has offer letters pouring in from top universities, including what was surely a pre-sanctions USC. Longtime fans may remember one of Season’ 2’s standout plots, in which Brian ‘Smash’ Williams (Gaius Charles) navigated the world of college recruitment. The politics and feigned politeness of the process left much to explore -- promises that border on gifts, for instance -- and Vince has given ‘Friday Night Lights’ the opportunity to once again look at a subtly complex world.

If the above aren’t edge-of-your-seat gripping plot lines, they’re what make ‘Friday Night Lights’ special. It’s the everyday, the seemingly mundane, such as happy hour, that gives ‘Friday Night Lights’ its sense of realness. And the husband-wife duo of Tami Taylor and Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) gives the series its stability.

The two possess an awkwardly familiar sense of humor, and it shines in Episode 2. There’s Tami skittering away after noting that it’s disgusting to kiss on their daughter’s bed, and one can’t help but smile at Eric’s way-too-excited remarks that the restaurant Tami was invited to for happy hour was a ‘happy place.’

Ultimately, it’s the latter that gives this still-early season of ‘Friday Night Lights’ some of its most tantalizing possibilities. Make no mistake, no show is 100% perfect, and the writers are still struggling with a way to give Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) a decent boyfriend who isn’t Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford). So far, the TA she has her eye on is a bland cornball.

Additionally, we don’t get to see much of Epyck (Emily Rios) in Episode 2, but so far the character has had little more to do than look like she’s lost on her way to a ’21 Jump Street’ remake. An emotionally tortured smoker, Epyck will no doubt allow Tami to play the role of guidance-counselor hero, but so far she seems to be a bad-girl stereotype.

Lynn Blackburn’s Laurel, however, is anything but. She plays the role of stressed-out teacher, one who ultimately wants to do good but also seems to find Tami’s ‘Dangerous Minds’ idealism a little overbearing. Blackburn has thus far walked the line of someone who wants to impress her boss but still save face among her peers.

To clarify an earlier statement, Tami isn’t so much invited to happy hour as she overhears a conversation about it. The camera lingers after Tami walks away, just long enough to hear Laurel say, ‘Somebody’s buying me drinks if she comes to happy hour.’ It’s a casual, throwaway comment, and a rather small moment, but on ‘Friday Night Lights,’ it’s the commonplace that truly feels epic.

-- Todd Martens

‘Friday Night Lights’ airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on DirecTV’s 101 Network.


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