'Friday Night Lights': So Many Stories, So Little Time

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>In Dillon, TX, like in many other football-crazed American towns, the dreams and ambitions of grown men are often dependent on the success of teenagers on the football field. Coach Taylor represents a healthy way to deal with this: though his success relies on how well his high school students play on Friday nights, he mentors and nurtures his players. On the other hand, adults like Joe McCoy—J.D.'s overbearing father, who is bent on living his life vicariously through his son's success on the football field—often put an unhealthy and inordinate amount of pressure on their kids to excel on the gridiron.

As we've also seen on the show, football is also a way for kids to get out of Dillon and possibly to attain a better life. We've seen this with the likes of Brian "Smash" Williams. And in this season, such is the case with Vince Howard and Luke Cafferty.

In this episode though, this similar dynamic is played out not on a football field but in classroom, and not between fathers and sons but between a mother (Tami Taylor) and a daughter (Julie).

When Tami accompanies Julie to a trip to Boston College—where Julie is presumably being interviewed for admission—Tami seems to be reliving her youth by chatting it up with the counselors, participating in a lecture, and soaking up the atmosphere that surrounds what was Tami's dream school. When Tami gives Julie a pep-talk before Julie's interview with the dean of admissions and tells her to "step it up," Tami briefly resembles her husband when he gives inspirational speeches to his football players.

Julie, meanwhile, looks miserable—even though you always get the sense that she has been itching to get out of small-town Dillon—and it seems she's applied to Boston College in part to placate her mother. She eventually "gets it together" and performs brilliantly during her interview. Julie tells the Dean of Admissions that when she started high school, she couldn't wait to get out of Dillon, that every book she read was like a rung on a ladder built to escape "this town that was all about high school football and nothing else." But, she tells the Dean that now that she is close to leaving, she appreciates how the town has shaped her, and even though she has a viewpoint apart from everyone else, she is surprised at how happy she is to be from Dillon.

Watching the episode transition back and forth from Tami and Julie's escapades in Boston to the many newer characters of East Dillon made me think of how much better this season could be if its producers had a full slate of 22 episodes instead of the 13 that they were given. This season, with new characters, a new part of town, and multiple subplots, has been exceptionally ambitious. The characters are compelling, and each episode leaves me wanting to more about the new characters associated with East Dillon.

After this episode, I want to learn more about Vince and Jess's past. Were they a couple? If so, how did they separate? How does Vince's mom have such a good rapport with Jess and her little brothers? I'm curious about Luke Cafferty's family and want to know more about them and their circumstances.

But many of the storylines involving these newer characters seem rushed, as if the producers were trying to pack in 22 episodes worth of content into 13 episodes. If FNL had some more episodes to work with, I think the storylines involving the East Dillon students would be a little less forced and rushed and would be as rich and complex as the characters seem to be.

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Tony Lee contributes to The Atlantic Online. Follow him on Twitter: @TheTonyLee.

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