Beautiful shots of Texas sky to open the series. I love how the clouds set the mood immediately, along with the voice of Slammin’ Sammy. It’s Monday, which really just means five days until Friday. This first episode fools you into thinking the series is all about football by centering all the drama and nearly all the dialogue around the big game and the Dillon Panthers’ coming season. But by the end of the episode, I found myself tearing up and it had nothing to do with the fact that the season was in jeopardy. Amazingly, in the space of one episode, I found myself caring about multiple characters and needing to know more of their stories.
First up is Tim Riggins:
Billy Riggins comes in and immediately starts ragging on Tim for being a deadbeat when he could be taking his team to State. Rah rah rah Panther Pride. Derek Phillips’ delivery here was thoroughly unconvincing, but we get the point: Tim is a talented no-good bad boy football jock who better get his act together before he gets kicked off the team and his only opportunity to be great. Tim, however, is much more interested in some wake-up sex.
Next we have Matt and his grandma being adorable. This right off the bat makes me love Matty Saracen. (Yes, I realize he is pretty much never call Matty, but he’s so cute most of the time that I just want to pat him on the head.) Matt’s relationship with his grandma is the anchor that grounds Matt throughout the season.
Look at that smile. Awwwww.
The dialogue in the next scene starts to advance the story. First, it continues to build expectations for the Panthers and raise the mystery surrounding Coach Taylor, who so far has been the subject of a lot of talk, and whom we’ve seen walking through the stadium, but so far has yet to say a word. It also introduces Jason Street and Smash as the stars and establishes Matt as a backup QB, just in case he seemed too good to be true. But most importantly, the banter between Matt and Landry here is fantastic. Zach Gilford and Jesse Plemons play really well off each other, and seem completely comfortable even though it’s the first episode. While a lot of the actors in this show seem to overdo their parts at first (Derek Phillips, Adrianne Palicki, Aimee Teegarden), these two are solid from the get-go.
Finally we meet Jason Street and Eric Taylor as they’re being interviewed for some local news. Turns out, Taylor’s been Jason’s coach since pee-wee. The newsman implies that Eric owes his job to Street, whom the Notre Dame scout up in the stands is calling the best quarterback he’s ever seen.
This is the first of several scenes this episode in which it’s clear that Street and Taylor’s relationship is much deeper than coach/quarterback. They’re staking their careers on each other, and they do it with complete trust.
I am annoyed with Smash the first instant he opens his mouth which incidentally, looks like this:
He’s way too loud, too cocky, to0 mouthy, too cool. I definitely would have been afraid of him in high school. He’s just such a little jerkface.
We also get some not-so-subtle promises of what’s to come if we keep watching. Racism! Alcoholism! Riggins v. Smash! Dead father issues! The little “I’m Tim Riggins and uh…I play fullback” made me think Riggins was about to endorse somebody. I also think Riggins repeating “I hate that guy” wins him a lot of fans early. It’s easy to relate to someone who hates Smash.
I do not like the original title screen and am glad they changed it in later episodes. It was like they couldn’t decide if they wanted this to be a pretty show or go for a “gritty” look so they tried both in the first episode. It didn’t work, and thankfully they eventually switched completely to beautiful landscapes and smooth camera work and ditched the faux-documentary feel.
In the burger joint scene, we learn several important things:
1. Julie Taylor is a bitch
2. Smash is generally just full of shit
3. Jason Street is absurdly uncool looking. I know they were trying to go for a wholesome, Christian-student-athlete type who doesn’t shove people into lockers or show up to practice drunk or talk a lot of smack or go past second base, but honestly his hair makes him look like a dweeb. Plus with Lyla hanging all over him in that disgusting way, it does not make me feel like this is a kid who has the world at his benevolent fingertips.
See? It’s tough to be Jason Street.
Except he does get some lip action later on. It speaks volumes how important football culture is when Lyla is totally fine with the fact that Jason loves football more than her.
Tammy Taylor, easily one of the best characters and actresses on the show, sure gets a shitty introduction. Her first two scenes, and all she does is say “his-n-her closets” 8 times. Meanwhile, Julie spouts some unrealistic symbolism – I guess we’re supposed to think she’s the brainy, aloof type?
It’s amazing how shallow Tammy seems, given that she will quickly grow into one of the strongest female characters on the show. I guess since this episode’s action pretty much dealt exclusively with football, there wasn’t really a good place to showcase Connie Britton.
The next day down at Buddy Garrity’s car dealership, there’s some sort of pep rally going on for the team. Smash starts rapping and…just…stop. He’s not good at it, and I now have second-hand embarrassment.
And so does Coach Taylor.
The scene that follows is another example of the show not quite knowing its format yet. The shaky camera work is gone, and the dialogue becomes cheesy and much less real. The lesbian mayor of Dillon tells Street he needs to butch up.
Mayor Rodell: You like early Black Sabbath?
Jason Street: Black Sabbath?
Mayor Rodell: They’ll make ya’ mean.
And some tramp decides to compete with Tyra for skank-of-the-year
Skank Contestant #2: I am *so* confused about what a blitz is. It sounds a little sexual
Tim Riggins: …
Skank Contestant #2: Have you ever blitzed an older woman? You could, you know…
Tyra is on the prowl for some more skank-prey, and finds Jason Street alone after his pep talk. Early Tyra is the worst part of the show. The character is so over the top and one-dimensional that she sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of the layered, thoughtful performances of her costars.
Then Street runs off to Lyla and Tyra goes off to skank on Smash, which brings us to the promised Riggins vs. Smash battle.
This is just painful because I’m not sure if Tim Riggins actually does think Tyra is his girl, or if he just doesn’t want Tyra to flirt with Smash, but Tyra plays along and I hate her. She’s just stirring up drama, and gross. And Riggins was just one of those guys that I couldn’t help but like right off. Him and Saracen – I just couldn’t deny them anything with their soulful puppy eyes.
Anyway, then we get some touching Riggins/Street bromance. At this point, Riggins is such a cliché that he can only speak in them. “I’m the caretaker, Streeter, whether you like it or not.” “Texas Forever!” “Let’s touch God this time, boys.” The writing is a little heavy-handed, but I guess they’re trying to get through too much story for subtlety.
My oversymbolization of this cap is that the bottle’s shadow on Tim’s face represents the shadow of alcoholism on his life. However, I’m pretty sure campfires are just shadowy places.
Throughout the episode, there’s running voice-over from Slammin’ Sammy and his callers, voicing doubts about Coach Taylor. He’s too inexperienced, he’s got big shoes to fill, he’s a media whore, etc. All we’ve seen from Eric Taylor himself is just him listening to the radio show, and trying to appease his wife’s burning inexplicable desire to have her own closet. (He doesn’t put an offer on a house with the fabled His-n-Her Closets, because he’s also nervous that he’s not good enough, and for those unfamiliar with rabid football culture, new coaches win or get fired.) The locker room pre-game scene is the first scene where we think we might get a look at who Eric Taylor really is.
It must be difficult to write a pre-game speech like this. It’s not a championship game, but it is the first real test. The team has some great players and that’s undeniable, but football is a team sport and there’s a lot of room for “who wants it more.” Taylor urges his players not to take the other team lightly, to expect a fight, and not to expect to win. It’s not a very inspiring speech, but it seems to do the trick. It’s also the first time of the series for “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” and the iconic slapping of the P as they take the field. Ok that sounds like it could be dirty. This is what I’m talking about:
The first episode is full of shots like this, the ones that they’ll show in the opening credits for the rest of the series and put on DVD boxes. It makes the episode very pretty, but at times can feel a little contrived. Like they knew what shot they wanted so they wrote a scene to make that shot happen.
Then Coach and Street get to eye fuck some more and talk about their shared road to success.
And then the game, which goes as you might have predicted. The Panthers take off to an early lead, but have no defense and eventually have trouble coordinating on offense. The offensive line isn’t doing enough to protect Street, and the Panthers fall behind with just a few minutes left. As they’re threatening to score, Street throws an interception and tries to tackle the Westerby player (What are Chaps? I hope Westerby’s mascot isn’t the assless variety that I often see at Dykes on Bikes.) and goes down hard.
Now, I know that crowd reaction shots are pretty standard in this type of scene. Hometown football hero boy gets injured – of course everyone in Dillon is worried and devastated, and it makes sense to show shots of people who are especially affected, like Tammy Taylor, who might not get his-n-her closets if they don’t win the game. Or you know, Street’s mother.
But why is it really necessary to zoom in on Tyra? Is this supposed to make us sympathetic to her character after all the skanking she’s done this episode? Sorry, but one shot showing that you have a modicum of decency by being concerned for a potentially paralyzed schoolmate does not make up for you being the biggest whore in Texas.
On the other hand, that could just be her “Ewww I bet now his peen won’t work” face.
Matt’s look of sheer terror when he realizes he might actually have to play is priceless. As I said, Zach Gilford pulls out a spot-on performance right from the start. It’s definitely a huge reason why I kept watching the show. I absolutely love Matt completely screwing up, and Coach Taylor calming him down. It’s where you start to see what a great coach he really is, and when people get out of his face and let him coach, he’s actually a very personable, interesting guy. Seriously, if it weren’t for those two convos with Street and Saracen, you would think Coach Taylor’s character was extremely one dimensional. The aloof, quiet, mysterious coach figure only stretches so far before you need something real to keep interest. Fortunately, Taylor is so genuine in these moments that you know there are more depths to be plumbed.
He’s an epic coach in the same vein as Denzel Washington and Kurt Russell.
Saracen somewhat predictably wins the game at the last second. It’s good for the first episode, but it did make me wonder what they were going to do in the future to keep the energy level up. After all, you can’t have a miraculous win every week. You can’t even have a high-tension game every week. One of the best things about this show is that if feels real. The characters feel like real people, Dillon feels like a real town that you might have lived in, and the Panthers feel like a real team that you would follow every week. But no way can every game in the season be exciting. FNL is going to have to figure out a way to keep us interested beyond just football. Fortunately, they do.
After the game, everyone goes to the hospital to see how Jason’s doing, and hugs.
Except for Jason because he’s still unconscious. On the upside, soon he’ll be able to compare braces with Regina George.
Even though there are pretty much no women of note yet in the series – I think Lyla was the only female character who got a somewhat decent characterization in this epis0de – I was hooked after the pilot. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Matt Saracen, Coach Taylor, and Dillon, Texas. And seriously, they need to tone down Tyra’s skanking big time. I honestly couldn’t figure out how old she was supposed to be for several episodes.