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Case Number 16403

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Friday Night Lights: The Third Season

Universal // 2008 // 567 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // May 19th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Jennifer Malkowski finds weekly glory under Tuesday night lights—benchwarming at her community softball game.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Friday Night Lights (published February 1st, 2005), Friday Night Lights (Blu-Ray) (published January 12th, 2009), Friday Night Lights: The Fifth Season (published April 5th, 2011), Friday Night Lights: The Fourth Season (published August 17th, 2010), and Friday Night Lights: The Second Season (published May 7th, 2008) are also available.

The Charge

Clear eyes, full heart—can't lose?

Opening Statement

A lot of fans of Friday Night Lights probably have the same story as I do about how they fell in love with the series. A friend told me I had to watch it, and I shot back, "Isn't that the show about high school football in Texas???" Let me contextualize this scenario by telling you that I'm a left-wing, California lesbian who's never watched a whole game of football in her life. So like a sitcom odd couple, FNL and I started our courtship and, lo and behold, I really did fall hard for the series.

After two seasons, the honeymoon should be over. So with most of the main characters graduated or graduating, does Friday Night Lights: The Third Season still woo me like it once did?

Yep.

friday night lights

Facts of the Case

***Spoiler Alert!*** I'll be discussing plot points through the end of Season Three.

With Season Two's ending amputated by the writers' strike, we've got a lot of catching up to do as Season Three dawns. We're quickly informed that star tailback "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles, Toe to Toe) hurt his knee badly during the previous football season's playoffs and the Dillon Panthers promptly fell apart. Returning without another state championship under his belt, Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler, King Kong) is feeling the pressure from the townsfolk of football-crazed Dillon, Texas. So is sheepish quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford, Dare), who's got all his usual problems—an absentee mother, a father fighting in Iraq, a grandmother with dementia he has to care for—and also has an upstart freshman quarterback, J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter, Peter Pan), gunning for his job. Bad boy Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), by contrast, is still sailing through life with a beer in one hand, a football in the other, and a pretty girl somewhere in between. This season, the pretty girl in question is his star-crossed lover of episodes past, Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly, (500) Days of Summer), who has moved in with her wacky, scheming dad Buddy (Brad Leland, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). A few yards farther removed from the football field, Tami Taylor (Connie Britton, 24), the coach's wife, has been promoted to principal of the team's high school. And tough-but-vulnerable loudmouth Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki, Women in Trouble) has once again dumped her brainy, outsider boyfriend Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons, Observe and Report), who anticipates another season of benchwarming for the Panthers.

Friday Night Lights: The Third Season includes all 13 episodes, on four discs:

Disc One
• "I Knew You When"
While Coach Taylor guides the Panthers to their first victory of the season, Principal Taylor faces off against Buddy and the Booster Club, who want to sponsor a Jumbo-Tron screen for the football field rather than pitching in for the underfunded school itself.
Announcer: "Ladies and gentlemen, it is Jason Street reincarnated. That boy can throw a football."
Panthers' scorecard: 1 Win, 0 Losses

• "Tami Knows Best"
Coach Taylor tries to help the injures Smash get back in shape for placement on a college team. When Grandma Saracen refuses to take her pills, Matt has to turn to an unlikely source for help. Tyra runs an unconventional campaign for class president.
Campaign sign: "A Vote for Tyra is a Vote for Hotness"
Panthers' scorecard: 2 Wins, 0 Losses

• "How the Other Half Lives"
Eric and Tami butt heads about the hosting of their annual party for the football team, which gets moved to the McCoy's McMansion. Lyla tries to fit in with the Riggins and Collette crowd, while Tim tries to help his brother Billy steal a bunch of copper wire from a construction site. Sigh. Meanwhile, Matt suffers a heartbreaking defeat on the field.
Lyla, to Tim: "I tell [everyone] you're a good guy…please don't make a fool out of me."
Panthers' scorecard: 2 Wins, 1 Loss

• "Hello, Goodbye"
Tyra starts dating a charming rodeo cowboy and Landry gets jealous. Matt's absentee mother shows up offering to help look after Grandma Saracen. Coach Taylor finally gets Smash a big college try-out.
Matt, to his mom: "I don't need your help. I needed it ten years ago when you left and five years ago, but I don't need it anymore. I've figured it out." Panthers' scorecard: No game this week

Disc Two
• "Every Rose Has Its Thorns"
A new crisis in the Taylor household arises when daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden, 90210) shows up to breakfast with a tattoo. We also catch up with wheelchair-bound former quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter, Speed Racer), who teams up with the Riggins brothers to flip a house, hoping to get some money to support his girlfriend and baby. At the game, Coach Taylor tries to give Matt and J.D. equal playing time, but even he can't stop the changing tide.
Tami, on Julie's tattoo: "Honey, I guarantee you by the time you're 30 you're gonna be takin' that thing off yourself. And I'm not gonna pay for it then."
Panthers' scorecard: 3 Wins, 1 Loss

• "It Ain't Easy Being J.D. McCoy"
In service of the title claim, we watch J.D. get teased by his teammates and embarrassed by his overbearing dad. Jason and the Riggins hit snags flipping their house. And with the decreased pressure of being QB2, Matt shifts priorities and reconnects with Julie.
Jason: "Timmy, glad you could join us. How'd you get outta school? Did you write 'em a sick note or something?"
Tim: "Yeah, I just told 'em I'm pregnant."
Panthers' scorecard: 4 Wins, 1 Loss

• "Keeping Up Appearances"
Buddy has a disastrous visit from his other children, while Billy plays parent for Tim and tries to help him get into college. Principal Taylor has to discipline a football player crucial to her husband's team. Landry experiences a new variety of rejection from a girl.
Landry: "I'm starting to feel like I have some sort of power that repels females…away."
Panthers' scorecard: 5 Wins, 1 Loss—Qualified for playoffs

Disc Three
• "New York, New York"
After successfully flipping the house, Jason has a new cockamamie scheme: to move to New York, become a sports agent, and win back his girlfriend and baby. Tim comes along to help, and make quips about the Big Apple. Back in Texas, Tami wants to buy a big new house, and rival coach Wade Aikmen weasels his way onto Coach Taylor's staff.
Tim: "Why would you ever want to leave Texas?"
Panthers' scorecard: No game this week

• "Game of the Week"
The Panthers' first playoff game gets national TV coverage, which sets the town abuzz, and Matt gets a shot at a new position on the field. Lyla encourages Tim to take the college interest he's getting seriously. Tyra's romance with the cowboy finally reaches its most likely conclusion.
The Taylors, on a romantic getaway: "Honey, look! Hotel robes!" "We've gotta steal 'em!"
Panthers' scorecard: First round playoff win

• "The Giving Tree"
(Some of) the show's perpetual screw-ups get a good yelling-at, including Tyra, who is taking advantage of Landry once again, and Buddy, who has blown Lyla's college fund on a shady investment deal. Also, various kids get in trouble for their various romances, with Coach Taylor catching Julie in bed with Matt, and J.D.'s dad upset about a cheerleader distracting his son from football.
Julie, on Tyra's friendship with Landry: "That's just kind of your relationship. He worships the ground you walk on and does everything you say, and you allow him to be seen with you."
Panthers' scorecard: Quarter-final playoff win

Disc Four
• "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"
Tyra takes a break from her efforts to get into college to throw a bridal shower for her sister, Mindy, who is engaged to Billy Riggins. The stress of the Panthers' semi-final playoff game makes Mr. McCoy crack and unleash his anger on his son.
Buddy to Coach: "Let me tell you something. This is a whole lot bigger than you. This is about the Dillon Panthers."
Panthers' scorecard: Semi-final playoff win

• "Underdogs"
The Panthers have reached the Texas State Championship, but are facing off against a team no one expects them to beat. Paralleling the football climax, our high schoolers are also making big decisions about college—represented here by Tyra's episode-long efforts to write a good application essay.
Tyra's essay, narrating on the eve of the big game: "I want to win and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it."
Panthers' scorecard: State Championship loss

• "Tomorrow Blues"
In an epilogue episode, our characters enjoy the summer, months after football season ends. While the young ones are making their final plans for college, Coach Taylor's own future is suddenly called into question when Mr. McCoy makes a power play to have him replaced. In the end, everyone comes together to celebrate the beautiful (?) union of Billy Riggins and Mindy Collette.
Coach Taylor: "I love my job, I'm good at it, and I'd like to keep it."
Post-season scorecard: 1 Wedding, 0 New Divorces (so far)

The Evidence

So what is it that makes Friday Night Lights so gosh-darn irresistible, despite subject matter that doesn't capture my interest? It's partly that the writers of the show are willing to interrogate the true benefits and costs of football to the characters and town of Dillon, rather than just accepting it as the shining sun around which all of life revolves. They demonstrated this willingness right from the beginning of the first season when they committed to a long-running storyline in which paralyzed quarterback Jason tries to find meaning in life after football. They continue this nuanced view in the third season, with plots about the school losing teachers while the football team gets expensive new equipment, a proposed redistricting that prioritizes keeping the team together over the needs of students, and a community power structure that rewards Mr. McCoy's wealth and threats rather than Coach Taylor's honor and hard work. The writers are also willing to frame football as a stepping stone, a way for low-income kids from West Texas to get to college rather than the be-all and end-all of their lives. And it's always refreshing to have characters like Tyra and Julie around, who couldn't care less about the game, and even to see Matt pursue art rather than sports in his college plans. Always keeping one eye off the game, the series can also acknowledge the positive influence the Panthers, and especially Coach Taylor, has had on the lives of these teens. Tami puts it best when she cheers the Coach up: "I know you're gonna say it's corny, but you are a molder of men. And I find that admirable. And I find that sexy." In short, FNL is about a town obsessed with football, but it doesn't fully surrender to the sport's seduction itself.

That being said, it also manages to make watching football compelling to those of us who aren't sports fans. When the Panthers win, I get excited, and when they lose, I feel just as heartbroken as their biggest fan, Buddy Garrity. It's not because I'm backing the team, as one would a hometown pro sports team, but because the writers always manage to create something personal at stake for characters we truly care about in the outcome of each game. Take the game in "How the Other Half Lives," for example. It's Friday night and QB Matt Saracen has to prove that he deserves his job, has to win the game to fend off the ambitious J.D. who is trying to replace him. If you've watched Matt for the previous two seasons, you've seen this sweet kid take care of his grandmother all alone, get his heart broken, and slowly become convinced that he's a worthwhile person because he can throw a nice pass, can lead a team to victory. The game progresses and Matt takes a pounding for the team, getting tackled hard time and again, but completing his passes and putting points on the board. Everything comes down to the final play when the Panthers need a touchdown to win. Matt runs the ball down the field, pushing past several defenders and finally lunging for the endzone to muscle through the last opposing player. A cheer goes up from the Panther fans as he makes it, but then they see that Matt has let the ball slip from his hands. No touchdown, Panthers lose. In the stands, we see J.D.'s parents smirk in barely-supressed glee as Matt fails, and Matt himself sits crumpled in the endzone, lacking the will to get up and leave the field.

friday night lights

Take away our unwavering investment in this character, the achingly earnest performance of actor Zach Gilford, and the way FNL's crew crafts sequences like these into audiovisual gems, and you'd have just another familiar sports narrative. But it's these pitch-perfect successes with character and style that elevate the series' sports stories above the clichés we've seen in so many other films and TV shows.

What sells the Matt-in-the-endzone moment is all the character development that's led up to it, and FNL is a series that pursues solid character development as resolutely as the Panthers pursue their championship. What we see in Matt's case is the effective, surprising fragility of these tough Texan football players. Despite appearances and endless reservoirs of determination, everyone here is vulnerable—even breakable—which keeps us on the edges of our seats as we watch their personal lives unfold. I did a lot of gasping this season—when Matt shows up at his mom's door, when Mr. McCoy erupts at his son, or when threatening citizens post "For Sale" signs on Coach Taylor's lawn after he loses a game—and also a lot of tearing up, I'll admit. Unlike the disappointingly alienated second season, the warmth and human connection we felt among these characters in Season One is definitely present in this set. Truly heartwarming moments sprinkle these thirteen episodes: Smash finally gets his ticket to college and stops by to give the coach a sincere thanks, Billy and Jason put together a highlight reel for Tim in which all the people in his life give him heartfelt affirmation, Matt reconnects with Julie and the show's most endearing couple is restored, Tyra finds a future outside of Dillon's rut, and tough Tim Riggins gets tears in his eyes as he watches Jason find his happy ending on his girlfriend's doorstep in New Jersey.

Fans should also be excited to watch another couple reunited: Tim and Lyla. Fewer sparks fly than expected, and it turns out that Tim is a pretty good boyfriend. In addition to amping up the comedy this season (watch for not one, but two hilarious instances in which Tim utters the phrase "I'm pregnant") Taylor Kitsch proves his range with his genuine sweetness toward Lyla, who thankfully is back among the fallen after her born-again plot last season. When she gets mad at him about shirking off college opportunities, he redeems himself by following up with the college recruiter and then delivering a charming apology to Lyla: "1. I'm sorry. 2. I mean it. I'm really sorry. 3. Thank you. 4. I wanna go celebrate, and I only wanna celebrate with you because I wouldn't be here without you. 5. Say yes." Also in the character department, though we don't have many new characters this season, those added serve the storyline well, with the McCoys becoming useful antagonists and bringing class issues more to the forefront of the show.

But the best characters on Friday Night Lights are the parents, Eric and Tami. Pretty shocking for a teen drama, huh? Though Eric can be stubborn and even chauvinistic at times (see his attitude toward hosting the team's party in "How the Other Half Lives"), he is ultimately a stand-up guy who will never let the people he cares about down. A man of few words, he's always ready with a gruff, passionate little pep talk for his players—even in their non-football pursuits. It's amusing, for example, to watch Coach Taylor transform into Life Coach Taylor when he tries to motivate Jason in his house-flipping endeavor. At home, too, he manages to comfort his family with just a phrase or two. When Tami is despairing about her feud with the Booster Club, he supports her decision without question, even though it would deprive his team of a Jumbo-Tron: "You're right, they're wrong," he says. Plus, you've got to love (what I can only describe as) Coach Taylor's angry muppet face, which shows up just about every episode:

friday night lights

Even better than Eric is Tami, who captures the same strength and dependability with a touch more warmth and humor. She plays parent to all the kids on the show when they need it most, as in a touching scene she shares with a dejected Landry. She tells him kindly, "Here's the thing, and I know it's probably not easy to see this here in Dillon, but you are at the beginning of your life. A lot of these football heroes around here, they're not gonna get much further than this. But you are gonna go to some great college, you're gonna have a career that you love, and I'm telling you right now: women are gonna flock to you…You are a good person and this is just the beginning. I'm right 100 percent of the time—you can ask my husband." Despite their occasional feuds, Eric and Tami share a rock-solid bond that forms the core of the show, and that Chandler and Britton convey beautifully. Other than their vaguely puritanical ideas about sex, Eric and Tami are the parents every kid wants to have—or maybe the parents every kid realizes they really wanted once they grow up and figure out what's important in life.

friday night lights

Rounding out the list of things that are great about Friday Night Lights is the show's audiovisual presentation, which is nicely rendered on this DVD set from Universal. FNL goes for a gritty, documentary look, so you will see some grain in the visuals here, but it's well-used. The bright blue Panther uniforms and the green of the field under those Friday night lights come through vividly, too—though most of Dillon appropriately features a more muted color palette. The audio track satisfies, as well, with the wonderful theme by W.G. Snuffy Walden (the mastermind of My So-Called Life's equally exciting credits music) surging over the opening credits. My only complaints in the A/V department are that the shaky, handheld camera style is way overused in this series (what does it add when people are having a calm, sit-down conversation anyway?) and that there are a few too many inspirational music cues.

As for extras, we get a substantial set of deleted scenes from 11 of the 13 episodes. Though most of these are not integral to the plots, they are surprisingly good, and feature some great lines that one wishes could have made it into the episodes. As Lyla and Billy fight about the ridiculous copper wire heist, for example, they shout:

Lyla: "That is not how you fix things, Billy!" Billy: "How do you fix things, Lyla? Through prayer?…Sometimes maybe the answer to prayer is some spools of copper wire!"

Coach Mac gets a nice line, too, when he gives Eric some unwelcome advice about the ladies: "Let me tell you somethin' about women, Eric. I've been watchin' a lotta Oprah lately and the only time no means no is when it's about sex." Toward the end of the season, especially, as the episodes get crowded, we're treated to some great scenes from the cutting room floor, like Matt sharing a loving moment with his mom. There's also one commentary track in which two executive producers talk us through the season finale. Their conversation is animated and interesting, with lots of tidbits about the narrative construction of the episode (like the choice to structure the finale around a wedding instead of a football game) and praise for the actors. I had hoped for a few more special features—maybe some interviews or a making-of featurette—and indeed this set decreases the extras since last season, when we also got a few commentary tracks with the cast.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There are far fewer exceptions to Friday Night Lights's overall quality this season than last season, but a few weak points get on my nerves. "New York, New York," despite its great ending, is a mostly wasted episode with Jason's silly scheme being rewarded and a lot of "who cares" emotional scenes between him and a former teammate or him and a sports agent he admires. Though her college storyline is pretty good, Tyra again draws the short straw on plots with her multi-episode dalliance with the cowboy. And one wonders what on earth happened to Santiago, the hard-luck ex-con player introduced last season. With him (the Latino character) gone and only brief appearances from Smash (the African-American character) and Jason (the disabled character), FNL also seemed to lose all of its diversity—which it had occasionally built interesting stories around.

Closing Statement

Drama on the football field in FNL's third season was almost surpassed by the drama of whether there would be a fourth. But the creators' clear eyes and full hearts brought this series another "W"—two actually! Coach Taylor and (some of) the gang will be back for another two seasons of this enthralling show, at least.

The Verdict

Guilty of making me care about football—at least the fictional kind that gets supplemented with lots of drama and romance.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 91
Story: 94
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 567 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Sports
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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