Season Three of our Friday Night Lights rewatch is in the books. We’re halfway home, fam! Season Three marks a turning point for Friday Night Lights. Not only is it the first season on a new network, but Dillon itself is on the precipice of change, with many of our faves entering their senior year of high school and redistricting looming in the distance. Before we head to East Dillon, Sage and I are joined by two of the #ClearEyesFullHearts fam to dissect the (many) highs and (few) lows of Season Three. Let’s get to it. –Kim
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- Favorite Episode
KatyBeth: “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” (aka The One Where Everyone Believes in Tyra). Put aside the storylines about redistricting and Joe McCoy beating up his son and focus on Tyra for a moment. Tyra Collette just wants to get out of Dillon, and she has worked on this goal for years. So in the midst of planning and putting on her sister Mindy’s bridal shower (a classy tea party), Tyra gets her new SAT results and some important validation from three loved ones whose opinions she values. Landry tells Tyra he’s proud of her (while helping her make the food for the party), because he knows how hard she has worked. Mindy thanks Tyra in a toast during the party, telling her friends that she has always looked up to her little sister. And then after the party, Tyra’s mother sits down and tells Tyra that she is full of surprises (which will come up in Tyra’s college essay in the next episode) and that she “will have everything that [she] is dreaming of.” Each person takes time to recognize and validate Tyra’s efforts and goals — even if they don’t understand them or can’t relate to her desire to get out of town.
Other great things about this episode? A rain game (Coach loves a rain game!) that ends in a win, Tim consoling Lyla with a trip to hear a church choir when she is feeling heartbroken, and accidentally telling Lyla he loves her!
Sage: The night that we watched the final three episodes of the season, it wasn’t easy heading right into the finale after the emotional pummeling we received in “Underdogs.” And I say “emotional pummeling” in the most complimentary way possible.
This episode feels like a held breath. Our characters and the town in general are on the cusp of a lot of changes, and we know that not all of those situations will resolve themselves in the way that we hope. Will Lyla really have to settle for a college beneath her expectations? Will Tyra be accepted by a school that surpasses hers? What’s going to become of JD and Katie McCoy, who throw their support behind Joe despite (because of?) how violent and controlling he is? Can Billy actually keep a business afloat? Do the Panthers have any shot of reclaiming their state title? If they don’t, is there any chance that Coach will keep his job? And where the hell are the students who aren’t graduating this year going to land after the dreaded redistricting?
Friday Night Lights handles each of these storylines with compassion, finding small, beautiful moments in the uncertainty, and ultimately, in failure. Lorraine and Julie bonding over how much they’ll miss Matt and want him to succeed. Tami reminding Eric, in the light of the stadium, that the morning will come, whether he wins or loses the game. Landry calling Tyra out for phoning in her essay because he knows she’s capable of so much more. Eric inviting their families into the locker room so that they can hear him praise his players for pouring their hearts into the season. Tim Riggins, content with having done everything he could have, walking back out on the turf alone to leave his cleats on the field. Many Ls are taken in this penultimate episode, but never without dignity. Because FNL knows that it’s better to be an Eric Taylor than a Joe McCoy any day.
Kim: “Underdogs” easily ranks in my top five, if not top three episodes of the entire series, so obviously, it takes this category. It is RELENTLESS from the very start and never lets up. The cold open at the pep rally is fantastic, with the cloud of Joe McCoy’s abuse of JD and Tami’s obligation to report it to Child Protective Services hanging over it like a ticking time bomb. It sets the tone for the entire episode. Everyone is on the precipice of change, their fortunes hanging in the balance. Everything kicks into high gear as Tyra and Landry drive to the Championship game in Austin and we stumble on the thesis for the ENTIRE SHOW as Landry pushes her to dig deeper for her college essay.
“Jason Street got paralyzed. I realized that…He was this great guy. I mean, like, this hero. And it happened to him? And it made me realize that life isn’t fair for anybody, not just me.”
THEN we get the voiceover of Tyra’s essay, where she talks about her dreams and her hopes for the future and the idea of POSSIBILITY and it’s all set to a montage of our faves the night before the game. The iconic shot of Eric and Tami embracing on the roof. Matt and Tim tossing a frisbee. Julie cuddling Gracie Bell. Landry sitting opposite Tyra, listening to her with pride and love shining in his eyes. It’s the Friday Night Lights version of “One Day More” and it’s not even the emotional climax of the episode because we still have the fucking game to play!!
What a heartbreaker of a game it is. JD’s meltdown feels like a foregone conclusion, his inexperience and immaturity finally becoming something insurmountable. And still you can’t help but hope when Eric puts Matt back at QB. After all, Matt’s performed miracles before. The combo of Matt and Tim, who plays the entire second half on an injured shoulder, gets them SO CLOSE. But remember the thesis of the show? You can do everything right and still not get there in the end. Life isn’t fair. For anybody. The Panthers lose. But much like Tim does with his cleats on the way out of the stadium, they leave it all on the field. No regrets. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
Graeme: The last three episodes, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “Underdogs,” and “Tomorrow Blues” are unbelievably powerful, and I’d argue that they should be viewed as a whole. But if I had to give it to just one episode, I’ll give it to the finale, “Tomorrow Blues,” because it haunted me so much afterward. Watching Eric Taylor get frozen out of — and then dismissed from — the team he built up and brought to the state championships two years out of three is painful viewing. (I was screaming at the TV, “Buddy, why aren’t you standing up for your guy!?”) It’s also agonizing to watch Joe McCoy reach peak terribleness. Thankfully, there is much that is sweet in this episode: Tyra getting her college acceptance. Matt going back to get Lorraine (and bring her to the dance). Tim convincing Lyla to go to Vanderbilt and then Billy telling Tim he has to go to San Antonio and get his degree.
The good (and sad) thing about this season of Friday Night Lights is they made it clear they won’t just have the kids go to the local college like in 90210 or The Facts of Life. Once they graduate, they move on, as it is in life. And as we come to the point where most of the original generation of FNL kids are ready to move on, it makes sense to change up the show for Coach and Tami too. (Thank god for what I called on Twitter “Chekhov’s redistricting.”) That change is painful but as the episode closes with the leads looking at the dilapidated East Dillon field during magic hour, there’s hope, too.
- Least Favorite Episode?
Kim: I’m going with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” not because it’s a bad episode but because the first four episodes are SO GOOD that they had to come down from the stratosphere eventually. You can practically hear them shifting gears from closing out Smash’s story to kicking off Jason Street’s farewell arc, and while Jason’s ultimate farewell is satisfying, the house-flipping story is a bit tedious in the beginning and it’s hard to get invested in the Jason and Erin relationship when, much like Jason, we barely know her. Plus the Cash storyline starts to veer to the bad place when he convinces Tyra skips out of school to go see a foal being born and it’s so painful seeing Matt Saracen being benched in his senior year, especially when it’s mostly due to Eric giving in to external pressures. I recognize that there’s less wiggle room in a 13-episode season, but this episode feels a bit overstuffed and would have benefitted a bit from giving some of these stories a chance to breathe a bit.
Graeme: To indulge in a baseball metaphor about a football drama, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” has three strikes against it.
- Strike One: Tami’s overreaction to Julie’s tattoo makes Tami seem intolerant, and she’s better than that. The fact that Tami pulls out of this skid by the end doesn’t necessarily redeem it.
- Strike Two: The Riggins Brothers and Jason Street doing the Dillon Amateur Dramatic Society production of Glengarry Glen Ross is just painfully bad. (I actually said at one point when they attempt to raise cash from Iguana Man, “This has officially entered Stupidville.”)
- Strike three: Cash.
KatyBeth: “The Giving Tree,” a.k.a. The One Where Buddy Loses Lyla’s College Money and Gets Into a Fight at the Strip Club. It’s hard to pick a least favorite because the whole season is full of fantastic writing and acting and character moments, so this is based entirely on Buddy letting us down. (Imagine Tyra Banks shouting “I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you!” and that’s how I feel about Buddy from this episode forward. HOW, Buddy?!)
Sage: Sad episodes, I don’t mind. Put these characters through it, that’s why I’m here. But what really tests me is when they aren’t operating in their own self-interest. And there’s a lot of self-sabotage in “Game of the Week,” from Tyra throwing in with her rodeo fuckboy to Tim blowing off a recruiter who came to Dillon just to see him and even to Eric resisting the national fanfare, which certainly contributes to the coaching choice made at the end of the season. It’s not that I find any of this unrealistic; if TV were more true-to-life, we’d see a lot more backsliding in every kind of personal development. But it is unpleasant, so for purely subjective reasons, this episode is my least fave.
- Underrated Episode?
Sage: Class is a topic that Friday Night Lights has always been concerned with, and “How the Other Half Lives,” as its title suggests, digs into several ways that the divide manifests in this town. The show is good at this – “this” being subtly building an episode around a theme. There are the delicate politics of the team barbecue, which Eric can see more clearly than Tami. There’s an offer of a feet-on-the-ground future for Smash, which he considers for stability’s sake. And there’s poor, desperate, utterly misguided Billy putting Tim’s future in jeopardy because he’s so determined to scam his way out of poverty. Meanwhile we now have the McCoys holed up in their hideous prison of a mansion on a hill, looking down at the rest of our characters. At twice the size of the old Garrity place, it clues us in to how much more skewed the wealth imbalance is about to become.
Graeme: The departures of Smash and Jason overshadow the first half of the season, and the second half is all about the one-two-three punch of the final trio of episodes. But I really liked “It Ain’t Easy to Be JD McCoy,” which was the closest thing to spotlight to JD gets this season. I have to admit, I don’t get JD’s deal, and I don’t get if he’s a cipher by accident or by choice. (He seems to have no affect whatsoever.) It was fun to watch Tim (under orders, but you get the sense he’d do it anyway) befriending JD and trying to get him out of his shell. It was just as heartbreaking to watch Joe force JD to apologize to Eric for getting drunk while Eric is at church. As an added bonus, the Jason departure storyline has started to level out after “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” and Eric’s conversation with Jason about fatherhood was a nice counterpoint to JD’s version of parenting. (Also, I love how it’s implied, but not explicitly stated, that Eric stuck around to fix and paint the house Jason is flipping.)
KatyBeth: I have no idea how any of these could be underrated, so I’ll just tell you that after the Tim and Jason Misadventures in Mexico of Season Two, I was not expecting their trip to NYC in “New York, New York” to go so well. I figured Jason would not get the job, that he’d lose his money in some kind of scheme, and that Erin would reject him. But somehow, the combination of Jason’s perseverance and Tim’s belief in Jason help him achieve all of his dreams. (But you know what I do not care about? JD’s QB coach getting hired to sub in for Mac. Not sorry to all of those men.)
- Favorite Character?
Graeme: This hasn’t been a particularly good year in the life of Tyra Collette. She’s aware of her potential and desperate to leave Dillon, but she’s also terrified she can’t do that with the hand she’s dealt. So she makes a lot of mistakes. Like Tami, I was disappointed that Tyra didn’t win the Student Council election based on the leadership she was capable of showing. And I was capital-D Disappointed in her bailing on everything and going with Cash — basically doing everything she chided her mom for doing in Season One.
But here’s the thing about Tyra: She makes a lot of bad decisions this season, but she achieves a lot of growth as well. She replicates with Cash her own mother’s dead-end relationships, but she knows to call Mrs. Taylor for help and get the hell out. She realizes that she’s taking advantage of Landry, so she gets his terrible band a gig, and even wears his merch. Stuck doing a terrible Applebee’s-as-metaphor college application essay, she punches through until she writes something truly beautiful. She fights her way onto a waitlist and gets in to the college she wanted. As extremely frustrating as it was as a viewer to watch her make some really terrible mistakes this season, it was just as exhilarating to watch her claw her way back. As her mom says, Tyra always surprises me.
Kim: We yell a lot about the boys of Friday Night Lights and deservedly so, but when I sat down to consider this category and this season, I just kept circling back to my girl Tyra Collette. Fiery, troubled, underestimated, deeply kind, determined, wickedly smart, beautiful Tyra Collette. What a senior year she had. I think what I love the most about Tyra is that she doesn’t always get things right. The first half of the season sees her backsliding into her Season One behavior because, as Sage wisely put it, it’s different when you’re talking about college in the abstract but when faced with the very real possibility that all the work she’s put in still may not be enough, Tyra panics. Seeing her future if she doesn’t get out of Dillon, in the form of Billy and Mindy, makes her panic. Tyra’s choice to go all in on the relationship with Cash, while disappointing, is not surprising.
But what’s important, and what speaks to the depth of Tyra’s character, is that she manages to get herself out before it’s too late. She asks for help and admits she was wrong and she rights the ship. Season One Tyra wouldn’t have done that. Season Three Tyra, on the other hand, has the ability to right the ship, thanks in part to the support of Tami, Julie, and Landry, but ultimately because she finds the faith in herself, she finds the courage and the ferocity that she’s had all along. She may get told no, but that just means she’s going to find a different way to ask the same question. To me, she encapsulates everything about Friday Night Lights, and I really can’t put it better than Angela’s speech in “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” so I’m just going to paste it right here.
“Okay. I love my Mindy. You know, she was my first baby. And she’s so funny and darling, you know, but…she has never surprised me, not one day in her life, bless her heart. But you…you surprise me, honey. Every day since the minute I knew you were coming, till right now. You are a wonder. I have no idea what’s gonna happen with you, not a clue, I’ve no idea what college you’re gonna go to, or anything. But I know one thing, with all my heart, that you are gonna have everything that you are dreaming of. You’re gonna get everything you’re reaching for, honey. You are. And I want you to keep reaching, you keep going. One of these days, you’re gonna surprise yourself, you’ll see. I won’t be surprised, but you will be. I know it.”
Sage: I strategically decided to save this question for last, so I could dedicate everything I had left in the tank to singing the praises of our own #33, Big Tim Riggins.
One of the things I was most curious about when we decided to rewatch this series was whether I would feel the same way about Tim that I did when I was in my early 20s and watching live. Was he really as wonderful as I remembered or was he just one of the most beautiful faces to ever be on television? The answer, I say to you at the age of 38, is that he is both.
This is a pivotal season for Tim. I fully believe that he’s been in love with Lyla since Season One, but this is his first time in a monogamous, committed relationship. He has to say goodbye to his best friend. And he has to decide, all joking and deflection aside, what he’s going to do with himself after graduation. He could be selfish in any of these things, but that’s not who he is. Tim can stumble when he’s being self-defeating, but that’s why he and Lyla make such a great team. She wants him to succeed, and though he’s not sure he can do it for himself, by god, he can do it for her.
This is the season where we see Tim completely cast aside the careless bad boy role that he’s been playing since long before the pilot, because there are enough people in his life who no longer think of him that way. The real Tim is introspective. He likes the quiet. He can be a team leader, especially if that involves taking JD to parties and introducing him to girls. But his best and most noble characteristic is his generosity, especially with the space and support he gives to the people that he loves. He doesn’t make Lyla choosing Vanderbilt or Jason moving to New Jersey about him, though he so easily could have – he lets them have those moments without any guilt. And instead of letting the disappointment of not repeating their state title get to him, he literally leaves it all out on the field, putting the value of the journey over its outcome. As someone who can be petty (Kim, stop laughing!) and keeps careful track of offenses, I wish I could be more like him.
KatyBeth: Tim Riggins: Team Captain, Friend to All, Number One Supporter of Those He Loves, Wearer of Excellent Hats. In three seasons we’ve watched him go from a lovable disaster who shows up to practice drunk and hides from his fear about facing his best friend’s paralyzing injury by sleeping with said best friend’s girlfriend to being someone who loves, mentors, uplifts, and helps. The growth of Tim Riggins across this season fills my heart with so much joy that I can’t stand it. He has always been a character who tries to help others, regardless of the sometimes awful responses from people who choose to misinterpret his actions or not take him seriously. But this season’s Tim Riggins, finally a senior and now team captain, is someone who has still not given up on his people. We see him being a sounding board for Smash and even being part of the crew that takes Smash to college. He supports his brother Billy through an engagement and breakup and wedding, through multiple business endeavors (with varying success), and offers emotional support when Billy is terrified of becoming a parent. He shows up for Jason no matter what, win or lose, because he promised Jason he would be there and that’s who he is as a person.
And then there’s Lyla.
Lyla Garrity, who sought in Tim solace after Jason’s injury and tried so hard to stay away from him in Season Two, lets herself finally admit she gave Tim her heart a long time ago. Lyla and Tim make each other better. She pushes him to try to attend college and he tells her she has to go to her dream school even if it takes her away from him. He takes care of her when she’s at her lowest after Buddy admits to losing her college money and stands in the doorway as a human barrier to block Buddy from harassing Lyla before she’s ready to speak to him. He takes her to the church she attended with her family to hear the choir sing and help her unpack her feelings about staying behind in Dillon and losing her faith in her father. Always, no matter Lyla’s needs, Tim is there to make sure they are met — even if her need is for him to go away for a while so she can be mad at him.
Is Tim Riggins still a mess? Sure. But in the most endearing way. Tim Riggins sees the joy and possibility in the scary life changes and reacts with excitement and reminds you to feel the same. Like I said during the finale, imagine Tim Riggins believing in you. And now I think, looking back on all he has done for others over the course of this one season: imagine believing in others the way Tim Riggins does.
- Least Favorite Character?
KatyBeth: How does one choose between Cash, the McCoy family, and Buddy Garrity’s betrayals of his daughter and his best friend Coach Taylor? The competition was fierce, but I had to go with Joe McCoy for my least favorite. He moves his family to a monstrosity of a house in an impoverished town and begins a campaign to undermine Coach Taylor at every turn once Coach rejects the idea of making Joe’s son JD the new QB1. He enlists his wife to help him draw a wedge between the Taylors and the boosters via fancy party and bad advice. (Katie McCoy is like a less interesting Lady M.) He weasels his way onto the coaching staff via JD’s QB coach. He controls his son with such intensity that abuse seems like a foregone conclusion even before he attacks him in the parking lot in front of the whole town. And honestly? It’s boring! I know I joke a lot about how parts of this show remind me of Veronica Mars, but the McCoy family feels like a cheap photocopy of the Season One Ecolls family, with football instead of film fame. At least Cash took Tyra to a pony birth before he showed himself to be a gigantic piece of crap. Joe is terrible from start to finish.
Graeme: I know I should say Jason Street, but I have to say… I kind of liked how they wrote out the character. (It’s more magical thinking — “I’ll go to New York City and become an agent!” — but if it finally has to work, why not with a gambit that lets Jason have a happy ending and be a dad?) That leaves me with Joe and Cash. Now with Joe, I have to say that if NBC gave Jason Katims the note, “We think Tyra and Landry should murder JD’s father,” I would have said “Yeah, I’m good with that.” And yet, I have to admit a personal bias here: I knew people who dated pieces of shit like Cash, for the same screwed-up reasons Tyra did. My hatred of that man is visceral. So… it’s Cash.
Kim: I have issues with Joe and Katie McCoy as human beings, but as characters, they bring a richness to Dillon that we didn’t even realize we were lacking until we got them. Think about it! We hadn’t had any awful rich people on the show until they rolled into town. It’s a dynamic the show sorely needed, and in Joe McCoy, Jason Katims gives us a GENUINE villain and adversary.
Thus this category goes to Cash, not only for being a trash man with a kid in every city, but for being an underdeveloped trash man simply thrown in in order to have Tyra backslide into her Season One behavior and put yet another roadblock in the Tyra x Landry relationship. I don’t like it and I don’t like him!
Sage: I initially had Cash, a.k.a. the darkest timeline version of Bo Burnham’s Parks and Rec character Chipp McCapp, here because fuck that guy, but at least he serves a narrative purpose. Every time Mac speaks, I’m like, WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE. This choice is also brought to you by the deleted scene from “Game of the Week” that’s on the DVDs in which it is Mac who suggests to Eric that he not listen to Tami and plan something romantic for her birthday lest he be punished for it “in the boudoir.” Gross.
- Best Moment on the Football Field?
Kim: One of the things I mourn the most about losing the back seven episodes of Season Two is the loss of the Smash storyline, actually SEEING the moments where he gets to rejoin the team in the playoffs only to get injured (like many warned him could happen!) and lose his shot at playing college football. “I Knew You When” and “Tami Knows Best” do a spectacular job of dropping us right back into the story though, perfectly capturing Smash’s despair at his prognosis and his fear of potential re-injury and resignation that he may never be the same athlete that he once was. Eric Taylor never gives up on him though and knows exactly how to get through to him.
For all his swagger and ego, Smash flourishes when he is part of a team. He always has. (He’s a bit like Joe Jonas that way.) The image of Smash doing solo sprints on the field and then turning around to see the entire Panther squad (led by Tim “I hate that guy” Riggins) running out to join him is forever seared on my memory. It’s so beautiful to watch the team band together for their former leader, treating him with care and not holding back at the same time. I think we all collectively hold our breath the moment Smash takes the hard hit in the endzone. It’s the moment of truth, the moment where Smash just forgotten his fear and reality comes screeching back in. I love how the episode lets that moment hang in the air for just a beat too long to where we think that MAYBE he’s hurt himself again. Instead we get him triumphantly shouting “That’s six! I’m back, baby!” I’m crying just thinking about it.
KatyBeth: There’s a moment in “Tami Knows Best” where Smash expresses his frustrations and hesitations about training to become a college team walk-on after his injury in the previous season. Smash’s fear is rooted in losses he has suffered, none more devastating than his feeling of lost identity as a football player. “We in the same boat, Rig,” he tells Tim Riggins while working at the Alamo Freeze, “I’ve just been told I’m not Smash Williams, either.” Smash’s mental struggles as he returns to the field after his injury are ones I have witnessed firsthand with the athletes and performers I have worked with, and my heart breaks every time I witness someone second-guessing their training and skill where they were previously fearless. Coach Taylor seems to be feeling that same heartbreak on Smash’s behalf, searching for a way to help him rediscover his confidence. He stumbles upon the right answer when Smash confesses to feeling isolated in their training sessions, leading to my favorite moment on the field: the moment Smash’s team shows up to help him run plays. The love these kids feel for each other is reflected in how they support one another off and on the field. In this practice, Smash rediscovers his confidence and identity — with a little help from his friends.
Sage: The show does a truly masterful job of establishing Joe McCoy as a villain and showing how his influence spreads like a virus. From the moment we first see him on the field, he’s already taking liberties, and we get such a strong sense of the wrongness of it and how much more dangerous he is than Buddy was in Season One. The kicker of course is when Joe saunters into the locker room uninvited and the handheld cameras catch so many of the players’ horrified and confused reactions. He has no respect for them, he has no respect for Eric, and he has no respect for the culture they’ve built. And without anyone to check him, it’s the beginning of the end for the Panthers as we know them.
Graeme: The whole season was leading up to Coach calling in Matt to QB at State. That wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was in what a massive release of tension that happens because of it. Everything has been building the whole episode with JD self-destructing with misdirected anger but also…just everything. And then in the highest of possible stakes, Matt gets the nod. It’s exciting to watch because Matt is ready for the challenge and he, Tim, and the team play valiantly. But then … after coming from behind, they lose by a field goal.
- Best Tami Taylor Queen moment?
KatyBeth: I was all ready to write about Tami’s tattoo removal fake-out in “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”… but then I re-watched “Hello, Goodbye” and saw a moment that resonated so strongly with where I currently am. When Tami’s fight against the Jumbotron in favor of funds for more teachers ends in failure, she’s ready to take her lumps and admit her defeat. But when she confesses her shortcomings to Coach, he responds by giving her my second favorite pep talk of the season. He tells Tami that sure, she did lose the fight over the Jumbotron… but she stood up for her belief in what was right, and therefore she won. For me, this discussion where Tami accepts her losses and decides to move on with grace, was a quiet example of maturity that I’ll take with me in my own working life. (And then she throws Buddy under the bus with her, because she is a queen even in defeat.)
Kim: First of all, I would like to shout out all of Tami’s hot girl principal power lewks because I love how she doesn’t sacrifice her sense of style for her new job.
Second, I love how Tami’s title change doesn’t negate her history as the school’s guidance counselor. The kids still come to her for advice and Tami still listens even when she’s being pulled in a million different directions. My favorite instance of this is when Tami finds Landry in the library to tell him that Physics Club is canceled but he ends up spilling his guts to her about his girl problems. Tami sits and listens to him patiently, never giving any sort of indication that she has anywhere else to be, and then gives him one hell of an “it gets better” talk.
“Here’s the thing. And I know it’s probably not very 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 going to get much further than this. But you are going to go to some great college. You’re going to have a career that you love. And I’m telling you right now, women are going to flock to you. I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s the way it’s going to work. You’re a good person and this is just the beginning. I’m right 100% of the time. You can ask my husband.”
I love this scene because Tami can see that Landry is a different kind of kid, that Dillon is not the place for him. She knows he’s going to get out of this small town, that he’s going to blossom in college where he can meet more different kids just like him, and that he’ll be the one who shows up at his twenty-year reunion wealthy, thin, and hot. She knows that, but he doesn’t. I love that she encourages him to keep being himself. She doesn’t tell him to change, and she doesn’t put any sort of blame on the girls for not liking him either. (And, much to his credit as a young man, Landry doesn’t blame Tyra and Devin either.) She just reminds him of the bigger picture that Landry can’t see because he’s in the middle of it. That kind of reassurance is invaluable and it’s just one example of how Tami is that fucking good at her job.
Graeme: I want to give a shout out to Tami giving up a night of nookie with Eric to drive three hours to pick up Tyra. And I should also commend her eff-you gesture to the Boosters when they won the fight over the scoreboard. But if I’m honest, my favorite moment this season is in “Keeping Up Appearances,” when Tami and Eric have to convince two skeptical parents to let their kid play for the Panthers. Eric has done his schtick about the greatness of the game and that hasn’t landed, and Tami says, “I have to say it took me a long time to understand this fuss about football. He’s very convincing about it, but I didn’t get it either.” And then she sells them on it. She’s more or less saying the exact same thing as Eric, but she’s also selling them on Eric as well. As far as I’m concerned, Coach had better keep opening the car door for Tami from now until eternity.
Sage: The first sex talk Tami tries to have with Julie about Matt is a bit of a disaster — not only because Julie is so defensive and flip, but because Tami (understandably!) responds to that energy with anger. The next time it happens, Julie is a little more mature and therefore equipped to hear her mom, but Tami is different too. She’s so vulnerable in this moment, showing Julie how it feels to be a parent who can’t be totally in control of how quickly her kid grows up. I love that Tami smiles when her daughter tells her that she’s loved and in love. I love that she reminds her that her consent is hers to take back any time she wants to. It’s a tricky moment and something that’s impossible to handle perfectly, but Tami makes it clear to Julie that nothing is more important to her than their relationship.
- Favorite Coach pep talk?
Sage: It would be difficult for anyone else to know what to say to Buddy after the very stupid business decision he has made is revealed in the most embarrassing manner you could possibly think of. But Eric offers perspective.
“Can I tell you one thing? Money comes and goes, yeah? These kids of ours are a one-time deal.”
I love that this happens in the same episode where Eric catches Matt and Julie in bed together. Because we know he can be impulsive; we know that he finds it challenging to be the father of a teenage girl sometimes, as adorably repressed as he is. But he cannot let his anger and embarrassment get the better of him or he could lose his daughter forever. He has one chance not necessarily to get this right (how can you get it right?), but not to get it terribly, terribly wrong. And, bless his heart, he manages it.
Honorable mention to my favorite non-verbal Coach moment of the season, i.e. when he rolls up his sleeves and helps Jason catch up on renovations at the Garritys’ old house, never talking about it to anyone afterwards.
Graeme: It’s not a talk at all, but I love it when Coach, after being browbeaten by Julie and Matt to give him a shot to demonstrate his wide receiver skills, agrees to an all-or-nothing demonstration in the street outside the Taylors’ house. Matt catches all but one pass — but the Coach gives it to him because it was a “piss-poor” throw. It isn’t until Matt is out of earshot that Coach asks Tami for some aspirin because he hasn’t thrown that hard in years. It’s a capper on a great scene, which shows that Eric wasn’t going to make it easy for Matt, but he also was willing to listen.
KatyBeth: “I wanted everyone’s friends and family to be in here to hear this, gentlemen. I have never been more proud of a team than I am right now. I am in awe of each and every one of you gentlemen. You played great football tonight. This is the game that people are gonna talk about for years to come. This is the game you’re gonna talk about. There’s not a single person in this room that’s ever gonna be the same. You be proud of yourselves. Because gentlemen, you are champions.”
Kim: We’ve already established that I am the most basic bitch of basic Friday Night Lights fans, so it should surprise no one that I am going with the speech Coach gives in the locker room after they lose the state championship. It’s how Eric gathers all the friends and family in the locker room so they can mourn the loss as a community. It’s how he knows deep down in his soul that he probably just lost his job but he doesn’t let that show in front of his team. It’s how he tells them that he is proud of them, that he’s never been more proud of them, that he’s in AWE of them. That this will be one of those memories that will define them for the rest of their lives. (As an aside, I can’t get over how Tim Riggins is so UTTERLY at peace during this scene. He knows he left it all on the field and has zero regrets!) Eric tells them they are CHAMPIONS because he knows this moment is about so much more than a singular football game. He’s raised these boys into men of character, and it’s time for him to send many of them out into the world. “There’s not a single person in this room who’s ever gonna be the same.” Indeed.
- Favorite ship?
Graeme: Do you think at some point when Julie and Matt were lying together on the beach, they had a conversation like this?
JULIE: I was such a terrible person last year. I was jealous of my baby sister.
MATT: I got ridiculously mopey and lashed out at my art teacher.
JULIE: I was seriously hung up on a guy in college with a creepy van.
MATT: Same only with a girl who had graduated and was caring for my grandmother.
JULIE: There was a creepy teacher who loaned me John Irving books…
MATT: I tried to tell a girl we should be in an open relationship…
JULIE: Tell you what. Let’s just pretend none of that happened and instead we picked up where we left off 14 months ago and our relationship just deepened in incredible ways.
MATT: I’m good with that.
Kim: While I will always be sad that we didn’t get to see the moment that Tim Riggins finally won Lyla Garrity over, I am SO HAPPY that we get to see these two in a happy, loving, and DRAMA-FREE relationship this season. (God bless Jason Katims for not indulging in more than one on again-off again teenage relationship, we get plenty of that with Tyra and Landry.) I think what I love the most about Tim and Lyla as a couple is how much they are the same. Tim still pulls her pigtails. Lyla is still completely unafraid of calling out Tim’s bullshit. Only NOW there’s kissing and cuddling and being cute together and it’s just? It’s so much?? It’s amazing to see how much Tim flourishes when he has Lyla in his corner, always pushing him to want more for himself because she thinks he deserves it, so much that he starts believing it too. Tim gives Lyla a safe place to land when the rug gets ripped out from under her and THEN he demands that she follow her dreams to Vanderbilt, even when she’s willing to give it all up so they can be together. Loving someone so much you’re willing to let them go!! That’s true love bitch!
Sage: I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive the writers’ strike for robbing us of the moment when Lyla realizes that she’s been kidding herself that she’s over Tim, but Season Three does the most to make up for it. A lot happens in the span of 13 episodes! It kills me how eager Tim is to show Lyla that he’s all in with her, despite how freewheeling he’s been in the past. And I love Lyla for setting the expectation that she will not be made a fool of. Lucky for her, Tim Riggins adores being a monogamous boyfriend.
Their relationship was born out of grief, yet it’s so clear how much Tim and Lyla enjoy just being around each other. Even when they’re fighting, they’re careful. And there’s a surprising amount of maturity to their partnership, which I don’t think many people outside of it look hard enough to see. For me, the scene that exemplifies why Tim and Lyla are so great together isn’t the love confession or the Vanderbilt discussion. It’s when Tim takes Lyla to her church when she’s drowning in resentment for her dad, even though he used to poke fun at her faith, because that’s where she finds peace. Sure, his strategy doesn’t completely work, but it does prove how well he knows her and how closely he pays attention to everything she does and is. If that isn’t love, my friends, then I don’t know what is.
KatyBeth: Listen, I think we all know my answer will involve Tim Riggins. (“Tim Riggins and Anyone” was my initial note for this question.) So in deference to my answer for Favorite Friendship, I’m giving this to Tim and Lyla. They manage to overcome Lyla’s hesitations about being a couple and establish a sweet, supportive, playful, honest relationship where they both feel safe to express their fears and anger, with enough humility to know when to apologize for their mistakes. No matter how their lives turn out, I believe in the love these two have for each other and the ways they have learned to uplift one another.
- Favorite Shipper moment?
Kim: Thank GOD they course corrected Matt and Julie, amirite? It is so satisfying watching them find their way back to each other this season. I love that they become friends first, from Matt confiding in Julie when she comes upon him having a meltdown behind Applebee’s to Julie showing him the car she’s planning to buy and will maybe drive him around in if he’s nice to her. I love that even as they become friends, there’s always something extra between them, the sexual tension simmering just beneath the surface. Everything comes to a boil after their day at the lake and if you don’t SCREAM when their frenzied make-out begins, I don’t know what to do with you. The contrast between Matt and Julie’s attempted first time all the way back in Season One and them FINALLY doing it by the fire at the lake is STAGGERING. It’s everything a first time should be, and I’m so glad Julie waited for it.
KatyBeth: “Do you wanna go to the lake?” Matt Saracen sees the homecoming dance coming and instead opts to borrow Landry’s car and whisk Julie away for an afternoon/evening in nature. They go swimming, build a fire, cook hot dogs (regular AND veggie), and FINALLY launch at each other’s faces. After the out-of-character breakup and garbage of Season Two, Season Three finds Matt and Julie falling back towards each other with the same fondness their relationship had in the first season. They spend the first half of the season flirting with an adorable awkwardness (that shot of their shoes in the grocery store!) that makes their inevitable reunion that much sweeter.
Sage: Because Tim Riggins has two soulmates and I refuse to choose between them, it’s his and Jason’s tearful goodbye.
In the first place, he shows zero hesitation when Jason announces that he’s off to the east to sell some magic beans. If Jason is going to New York, so is Tim, and there’s no discussion to be had about it. In the pilot, we find out that the only future that Tim has planned for himself is one with Jason. It involves his best friend conquering the world and him staying put, but the two of them eventually reuniting and living out the rest of their days together in their home state. Now the plan has been drastically changed, and Jason is leaving town to chase another family. Outside of Erin’s parents’ house, when Tim tells him “Texas forever,” he does so knowing that Jason is never coming back. But we all deserve a friend who can genuinely say, “I hope you get everything you want,” even when that means that they might lose something of their own. The love between Jason and Tim is tested and pure, and it’s really special to see that kind of affection between men portrayed without a wink.
Graeme: I wasn’t super happy about Tim and Lyla hooking up mostly because as near as I can tell she (and the entire FNL writers room) forgot about her being a born-again Christian (which you don’t back away from overnight, trust me). And yet, Tim and Lyla have a relationship that I immediately believed in. I loved that both of them call the other on their bullshit. Usually, it’s Lyla doing the calling out, but the moment where Tim does it to her by telling her she needs to go to Vanderbilt is heartbreaking. As Coach Taylor said, Tim Riggins is an honorable man.
- Funniest Moment?
Kim: I’m still laughing at the Tim and Tyra scene after the horrible country club dinner with Lyla, Buddy, and the McCoys. It’s everything about the scene, from the way Tim unselfconsciously shucks his dress pants in front of the fridge, grabbing a beer and plopping down on the couch next to Tyra in his boxers, blazer, and dress shirt to the befuddlement in his voice as he announces that he ate pigeon to the way she giggles at his predicament. This scene is funny because, much like Tyra, we’re laughing WITH Tim, not at him. A lesser man would have wallowed in the humiliation of that moment, but Tim Riggins just lets it roll off his back, not completely unbothered by the evening but also emotionally intelligent enough to see that it’s not the end of the world. After all, rich people are fucking weird and they eat weird things, telling themselves that they are being fancy. We stan a self-aware king!
KatyBeth: TIM RIGGINS BUYS A COW. (Yes I know it’s a steer. I hope they will be happy together.)
Sage: Every single thing about Billy and Mindy’s engagement and wedding, from the public proposal at Seven Senoritas Cantina all the way to the white trashy but sweet event itself. FNL gets a lot of mileage out of this milestone as far as it spooking Tyra, but there’s plenty of pure comic relief in it as well. (A stripper tea party, Billy’s 20-gallon hat, “Mindy, I love you, but I can see your crack.”) And honestly? These two really were made for each other. Despite how much fun the show has playing up their extra-ness and lack of taste, it ultimately celebrates that their love even exists. And that’s what Tyra eventually comes to realize: Even in a town with limited options, Billy and Mindy tying the knot would only be sad if it weren’t what either of them wanted.
Graeme: Eric telling Tami he caught Matt and Julie in the act. The staging is utterly perfect, with neither parent making eye contact with the other while talking about it.
- Best Warm Fuzzy?
Graeme: If Tami and Eric grappling with the revelation their daughter is sexually active was played for comedy, the resolution where Tami and Julie have “the conversation” was full of warmth and sentiment. I love the flash of a smile that goes across Tami’s face when Julie says she loves Matt, and Matt loves her. And the awkward conversation between mom and daughter about birth control and saying no lands on this beautiful moment where Tami says, “I wanted you to wait. And that’s just because I want to protect you, because I love you, and I want to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to you. And I want you to always be able to talk to me, even if it’s something so hard like this.” It’s a beautifully acted scene (how did Connie Britton not get an Emmy!? And Aimee Teegarden is great), but it’s nice to see parenting — particularly the transparent form of parenting that Tami practices — being shown in all its awkward glory.
Kim: The answer is the look on Smash’s face when he tells his mother he got into Texas A&M and the way Corinna Williams screeches at the news, immediately embracing him. Next!
Sage: I cannot imagine being unmoved by Smash’s short but incredibly impactful arc this season. It’s warm fuzzies all around, starting with Eric continuing to work with him (for free, obviously) in his spare time, through his whole former team showing up to let him feel like a leader again, and right into the moments where he shares the news that he’s been accepted with the two people who played the biggest role in making it happen: his coach and his mother. “I’m goin to college, mama!” Rushing over to Eric’s house so he can shake his hand! It makes me weep every time.
KatyBeth: I’ve talked plenty about my love for Tim Riggins and while I think his speech to Jason at the end of “New York, New York” is a total warm fuzzy, I adore the moment Tyra gets her hands on her acceptance letter to UT in “Tomorrow Blues” and takes off running to tell Landry. She wants to open the envelope with him beside her (and her mom and sister watching carefully nearby), but this accomplishment is all her own. She did it! I’m so proud of Tyra, and I wish the show was able to follow her to college.
- Thirstiest Moment?
Graeme: Sorry guys. I’m still not participating this as it’s just skeevy for a middle-aged dude. Look forward to everyone else’s answers though.
Kim: My heart and my loins are dying of thirst and devoted boyfriend Tim Riggins is the tallest glass of water in Dillon.
Sage: Every time I close my eyes, I see Tim Riggins, shirtless and with his undone jeans hanging from his hips, emerging from Lyla Garrity’s bathroom right under her dad’s nose and telling her that she needs to get “a workout in before breakfast.” I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.
KatyBeth: With apologies to Tami Taylor’s principal outfits, I have to follow my heart and choose Tim Riggins in a Hard Hat.
- Right in the Feels moment?
KatyBeth: Smash Williams is “just playing,” or: the scenes at the end of “Hello, Goodbye” where Smash gets into college via phone call and goes around telling everyone before having one last mess-around with his boys! Knowing that he carves out time to tell Coach and thank him for helping to make it happen when even Smash himself didn’t believe it was possible warms my heart — and makes me certain that Smash will continue to grow up into a fine leader and human. And that final shot of the episode, the close-up on Gaius Charles’ face, lit up with joy? Pure magic.
Kim: Listen. Taylor Kitsch and Scott Porter famously had to delay filming Tim and Jason’s goodbye scene because they couldn’t get it together due to the fact that they were crying about it too much. If THEY can’t keep it together, how can you expect ME to? For me, it’s not the choked “Texas Forever” before Jason wheels away to start his new life, it’s the way Tim watches him go, pride gleaming in his eyes even as he nods sadly. Tim lets both of the loves of his life go this season because he loves them that damn much and he’s not even BITTER about it, he’s just happy through his sadness. GODDDDD. I need to lie down and cry about Tim Riggins, bye.
Sage: “Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying, and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting. I wanna fly somewhere in first class. I wanna travel to Europe on a business trip. I wanna get invited to the White House. I wanna learn about the world. I wanna surprise myself. I wanna be important. I wanna be the best person I can be. I wanna define myself instead of having others define me. I wanna win and have people be happy for me. I wanna lose and get over it. I wanna not be afraid of the unknown. I wanna grow up to be generous and big-hearted, the way that people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life. It’s not that I think I’m gonna get all these things. I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are gonna change. I can’t wait.”
Graeme: If Friday Night Lights ended in Season Three, this moment in “Underdogs” would have been a perfect summation of the show. After a whole episode of being cajoled by Landry to stop writing about Applebee’s and just dig deep, Tyra writes this heartrending university application essay. “Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying, and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere in first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself, instead of having others define me.”
That’s why I love Tyra Collette as a character, and why I love Friday Night Lights right there. It’s well written (I love the “I want to…” passage so goddamn much) but it says so much about Tyra’s journey to this point, and the hopes and dreams of so many in that little town. And now I’m crying just thinking about it.
- Best Hero Moment?
Graeme: THE WHOLE TEAM CAME ONTO THE FIELD TO HELP SMASH. COME ON.
(Close second place: Landry’s “Giving Tree” speech, which is Landry’s line-in-the-sand self respect moment from last season only on steroids)
Sage: I’ve written before about how Matt is a lot bolder than he’s often given credit for, and rarely is that more true than when he refuses to accept that he’ll be sitting on the bench for the rest of his senior year. He has a lot of heart, obviously, but we’ve also gotten to know him as an analytical player who has a really clear-eyed (heh) idea of what he’s capable of. So when he tells Coach that he thinks he should let him play running back, by god, you believe that he can be successful at it.
Even better than Matt going after what he wants is watching him do that with Julie in his corner. As wee as they were in their first go at a relationship, Julie seemed even in those early days to understand how difficult Matt’s life was and how much shit he had to deal with just to try to be a semi-normal high-schooler. But it’s in this storyline where it really crystallizes (and you can see Coach realize it at his dinner table too) that she is now the Tami to his Eric. They approach this problem as a united front, and it ends up contributing to the Panthers making it through the playoffs and back to State.
KatyBeth: During the titular big game in “Game of the Week,” Coach puts Matt Saracen in the game as wide receiver. He’s been struggling with being benched in favor of JD McCoy and so down that even his grandmother (who loves Coach) won’t go to the game. But when Coach puts Matt in, Grandma and Shelby (who were watching the game on TV in two separate rooms) are filled with such excitement that they put aside their differences to attend the game together. Matt’s joy at playing again and winning the game for his team is multiplied seeing his grandmother and recently reunited mother together in support of him.
Kim: Eric Taylor uses his body as a human shield in order to protect a teenager from an overly aggressive adult, not once, but TWICE this season, you guys. The first time is when he gets in between Tyra and Cash after Tyra interrupts birthday celebration sexytimes, tearfully begging Tami to come pick her up in DALLAS. The second time is when he intervenes in the rainy Applebee’s parking lot, literally pulling Joe McCoy off of his son and shoving him aside, standing in the gap as Tami and Katie squirrel JD away. He barely says a word either time, he just ACTS without hesitation like his basest, most primal instincts are triggered by children in danger. (It’s so hot it was in the running for my thirst moment, TBH.) ANYWAY. Both times Eric does this are equally heroic and I refuse to pick one over the other.
- Favorite pop culture reference?
KatyBeth: I was mad on Tyra’s behalf when Landry compared her to the boy in The Giving Tree, which was one of my favorite childhood books. But then of course Tyra showed up for Landry by getting Crucifictorious a show and proved that a good relationship can be two giving trees and no greedy boys.
Sage: I can’t choose between Tyra ~platonically~ holding Landry’s hand during Cloverfield or Landry reading High Fidelity when he’s starting to wonder whether he “repels” women, and you cannot make me.
Kim: Katie McCoy assuming Tami was on the Atkins Diet because of all the meat she was trying to buy for the team barbeque is oh, so very 2008. (And it also establishes pretty much everything you need to know about Katie.)
Graeme: Not a pop culture reference per se but Jason Street may be the only person in Texas to sell a house during 2008 when sub-prime mortgages were tanking the housing market and the economy. In fairness they acknowledge this indirectly with Buddy Garrity’s bad deal that leaves Lyla without a college fund.
- Favorite Friendship?
Sage: Before you get mad at this choice, I, too, want Tyra and Landry to be together! But I chose them for this category because they do have what so many other Hot Girl/Geeky Guy pairings in pop culture never did: a mutual respect and fondness that exists underneath all the romantic tension. Everything else set aside, Tyra and Landry are friends and will always be friends.
I think that’s one of the reasons that the aftermath of their breakup is so rocky. They want to be in each other’s lives, and especially at this particular crossroads, they’re unsure whether that can happen. It’s also why they’re capable of calling each other out on their shit and, in Landry’s case, letting Tyra know that he doesn’t always feel valued by her. Tyra and Landry’s journeys are intertwined at this point; they each get something from each other that they don’t get from anyone else. I just feel like there’s a connection there that supersedes the boyfriend/girlfriend thing.
Graeme: Perhaps this should have been a favourite ship but Tyra and Landry spent most of this season broken up and as painful as it was on occasion to watch, I did enjoy watching the two try to forge a friendship in the midst of all the other dramas going on (mostly with Tyra). The fact that in the middle of the shitstorm of everything happening with Cash, Tyra calls Landry for support — and Landry temporarily blows off his interview on national TV to support her — speaks volumes about the depth of this relationship. Yeah, I’m on record that if the show doesn’t end with a flash-forward of the two of them bantering on their fifth wedding anniversary, I’m going to be pissed. But they have a really sweet friendship too.
KatyBeth: Jason Street and Tim Riggins believe in each other in a way to which I think we should all aspire. During their house flip adventure, Jason teams up with Billy to create my new favorite short film, Tim Riggins Goes to College, an application video full of game footage and interviews with people who love and support Tim. When Jason reveals his new plan of going to New York and becoming a sports agent in hopes of reuniting his family, Tim goes along for the ride, filling the roles of cheerleader, fashion consultant, and consigliere (remember, he’s the one who comes up with the plan that gets Jason the job), and even entertainment planner (I’m dying to know his take on Gypsy) before being the person who takes him on the long taxi ride to Erin’s parents’ house.) “You’ll always be my best friend. And you deserve to be happy,” Tim tells Jason before Jason completes the last step of his plan, and then he cries while watching Jason’s dream come true. I love how much these two love each other, and how willing they are to join an adventure the other has planned.
Kim: I love how Lyla and Mindy go from barely being able to be in the same room at the start of the season (remember how Mindy and Angela stormed out after Lyla made fun of Mindy’s Finding Nemo wedding vows?) to Lyla TURNING DOWN SEX WITH TIM to stay and play MarioKart with Mindy and Billy. Sometimes friendships are born out of proximity, but that doesn’t make them any less genuine. Mindy and Lyla’s nexus event comes when they encounter each other in the corner store parking lot after Mindy calls off her engagement with Billy. (Lyla calls up all sorts of images of Motor Pool Juliet as she fiddles under the hood of her car, doesn’t she?) They bond over how terrible Billy and Tim are being and then Mindy invites Lyla over to hang out. Cut to them later that night: they’re drunk off vodka shots, telling each other how great they are, dancing, and declaring the house an anti-Riggins forcefield. Alexa, play “Let’s Generalize About Men.” It’s a primal ritual we need now and then.
- Sum up your feelings about the season ?
Sage: I may be a Season Two apologist, but Jesus, did it feel good to get back to some vintage Friday Night Lights. Season Three is both propulsive and sure handed; it’s like the rockiness of the previous year never happened. The best choice the writers could have made was to get back to serving the characters instead of shoehorning in new ones to chase plot points and to focus back in on the specificity of their daily challenges, because that’s what makes FNL so universal. On this show, something as simple as a dad showing up at practice can set off a chain reaction that upends dozens of people’s lives.
In Season Two, it really felt like a decision had been made to make especially our teen characters a little harder and more unpredictable. But that was never necessary. People leading with kindness are still capable of hurting each other and doing the wrong thing. There’s enough drama in just navigating an unfair world. Season Three gets back to exploring that in a targeted way, and I think we can all agree that it was a necessary course correction.
Kim: What a difference a new network partnership and a reduced episode order makes. To me, Season Three is when Friday Night Lights evolves from a very good network show into a prestige drama. I don’t know exactly what kind of creative arguments may have happened behind closed doors when Friday Night Lights was picked up for a third season, but it’s clear that Jason Katims won them. The season premiere is a statement of intent, one that goes aggressively back to the basics of Season One, and the show is better for it. If there’s one thing that always gets me going with television, it’s confident storytelling. Season Three is unbelievably confident in the story it wants to tell. It never falters, even when it allows the characters the space to do so. That’s hot.
Graeme: Kim told me that Season Two would be rough, but it all becomes great again in Season Three. And yes, she’s right. (She usually is.) There’s a sense of going back to fundamentals, back to the characters driving events. The upside of a 13-episode order is that it’s a much tighter constructed season than we previously saw, and you really get a sense of how everything builds (particularly with Coach unwittingly setting up his own firing by hiring Aikman and then phoning calls to Aikman when he gets thrown out of the playoff game with Arnett Mead)
There’s a downside to the abridged season though: Season Two’s abrupt end meant they had to write out Jason and Smash during the first half of Season Three. Which is right and proper (and Smash’s storyline in particular was wonderful) but that took up a lot of real estate that might have been used for other things, like developing new characters to be on the team. After Smash’s departure, there’s no major Black character in the ensemble, and that’s frustrating because two of the biggest characters developed this season are two varieties of white privilege with Cash and Joe McCoy.
But Cash and the McCoys give us the theme for this season, which is a meditation on toxic masculinity. I suppose you could argue that’s true of most seasons of Friday Night Lights, but this one in particular puts in out front. Joe McCoy thinks he can buy a team for his son…and proceeds to do just that. And when his son deviates from the program, he abuses him emotionally and physically. Cash, meanwhile, is a user in every possible way who gets what he wants through charm and then it all turns ugly.
What stays with me more this season are the ways it models a better way for men to be. When Coach Taylor intervenes with Cash and Tyra, and later with Joe and JD, he doesn’t do the expected trope of slugging the aggressor. He simply gets between aggressor and the victim and that’s it. This never happens on TV. And the boys becoming men on this show make similar better choices, and the girls becoming women do too. Matt and Julie’s relationship is one of the most mature portrayals of a teenaged sexual relationship on TV. Tyra’s climb out of the bad choices made out of self-doubt is harrowing to watch but immensely satisfying emotionally. Jason’s moment of clarity about being a father is surprising. (And I figure everyone else has gushed about Tim Riggins, so I won’t but I agree with everything they said.) When these people fuck up — and they do so spectacularly this season — they figure it out. (Buddy swallowing his pride and fixing things so Lyla can go to Vanderbilt is one such example.) These people aren’t paragons. They’re flawed human beings in a flawed system, working out how to be better.
The season ends on one man, having done all the good he can, making the case for keeping his job. And the town goes with the guy who bought the team. That’s heartbreaking. But that same man goes to a wedding reception, dances with his wife and then they both go and stand in a broken-down football field together and figure out how they will both rebuild. There’s a reason I love this show, and it’s right here.
KatyBeth: During the second episode of this season, I tweeted “Season Two feels like a freaking fever dream now!” And really, it does. (Though honestly I would prefer a murder plot to the McCoy family.) All our friends (minus Buddy) are at their best. Tami has become Principal Taylor and goes on a quest to improve the school. Julie and Matt have so much growth and maturity from their Season Two lows that they feel like different characters. I especially love the person Julie has become this season. Matt gains his mother, who manages to become part of his life and help him with Grandma Saracen. (And hello to Kim Dickens, who played Cassidy on Lost. The sight of her face sends me into a spiral of feelings about Kate every time.) We get to watch Smash recover from his offscreen injury and head off to college. Tim Riggins becomes the man we all knew he could be. And at the heart of it all, leading by example, is Coach Eric Taylor.
Coach raises his players to be leaders, encouragers, good citizens, and kind friends, and the season is littered with examples of the players being their best human as a result of Coach’s guidance. Sometimes his influence is obvious (like telling Tim to make sure JD is part of the team off the field or physically standing between someone traumatized and the person who harmed them) and sometimes less so (Jason’s efforts to provide for his family, Tim taking in Lyla when Buddy upends her future plans, Landry being welcoming to who Devin is as a person, Matt opening his heart to his estranged mother, and every single pep talk any of these boys give to their loved ones), but the good actions of Coach Taylor’s “gentlemen” reflect back on all he has taught them, on and off the field.
Coach isn’t perfect, and Tami isn’t either, but together they lead the young people of Dillon to grow into adults who will try and make their worlds better. I know I’m already an adult (I was sent into a spiral when I realized that I’m the same age as Matt Saracen’s mother), but watching this season has made me consider the ways I can be a better person, how I can mentor and teach the young people in my field, how I can show support to the people I love. In this season, the Taylors demonstrated how to work hard and how to get back up when your best efforts still lead to failure. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we lose the championship game. But our convictions and actions show who we are and what matters to us.
Want to join in on our group watch as we move to Season Four? Track #ClearEyesFullHearts on Twitter!