Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five: Students That Coach Taylor Would Have to Deal With in Friday Night Lights

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 5, 2009

“Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose.”


Friday Night Lights is the best show on television. Dexter rivalled it occasionally this season but now appears largely out of the running, and Mad Men is on pace to be a title contender by next season, but after finally catching up on season three over the weekend, I now consider this point to be basically inarguable. Most great teen dramas (and really, most non-HBO dramas of any stripe) start to decline rapidly in their third season–by then everyone’s gotten with everyone, plots start getting repetitive, and as is unavoidable in the genre, college becomes an unavoidable issue. But while the show may never be able to recapture the magic and freshness of that first season, if there’s a significant lag to be found in FNL’s third season, I’m not feeling it–the show still crackles with the urgency, humor, and emotional honesty that made it such a bright spot on NBC for its last two seasons. And what’s more, it’s even possible that the show could keep it up for four or five seasons to come, assuming two things:

  1. It can manage to keep itself on the air, even with the reduced expectations of DirecTV
  2. It can continue to develop new characters

Riggins, Lyla, Saracen, Landry, Tyra, Julie–all great, great characters. But aside from Julie (and possibly Landry, I dunno what his deal is), all of ’em are of to Uni next year, and if the show doesn’t want to become Saved By the Blitz: The College Years, it has to start the regenerating process. I’ve been fairly impressed with their ability to say goodbye this season, as two of the show’s previous core characters (Smash Williams and Jason Street, both of whom had since left Dillon High) were given four-episode arcs to wrap up their stories this season and sent on their way. That’s half of the equation, but even more important is their ability to bring on new talent to fill the voids their characters left. So far, all we’ve really been introduced to this season is J.D. McCoy–the adorable, all-american rich kid with a cannon of an arm and a mercenary of a father, tabbed by the Dillon Powers That Be as the school’s QB1 of the future (and possibly the present). His character started as a caricature, but quickly became as vivid as any of the show’s regulars, demonstrating the show’s continual ability to somehow make any walking cliche three-dimensional.

But still, even if JD is the show’s franchise star in waiting, the rebuilding process on Friday Night Lights has to run a lot deeper. The way this show would work best in the years to come were if the show’s producers treated the cast like the team’s starting lineup–giving most of the playing time to its seasoned vets, but still giving limited minutes to the up-and-comers, so they can take the reins when the oldsters move on to greener pastures. Similarly, we should be seeing characters in minor spots this season–perhaps like  that of JaMarcus Hall, the fullback whose parents disapproved of his being on the team until they saw him play this season–who will be given increasingly expanded roles as the seasons progress. Consequently, here are my suggestions of types of future Panthers the show would be wise to start developing now, so that they can emerge as the centerpieces of the main story lines two or three seasons down the road.

  • The Celebrity Kid RB: Let’s say the son of a universally beloved and admired football player–a Jr. Manning, Tomlinson, Strahan, what have you–comes to Dillon, wanting to play. The pressure on Coach Taylor to play him immediately–from the fans who want to witness flashes of his father, the boosters who want the national exposure the kid would bring, and maybe even the parents, who want their son to have everything that daddy did. But let’s say the kid really, really sucks–has some natural athleticism, perhaps, but no mind for even the most simple mechanics of the game,  and no heart to make up for it. Maybe the kid doesn’t even really want to be there–maybe he’d rather be in a band, or on the Mathletes–but his parents and friends won’t let him quit, and Coach can’t just bench him without pissing off the entire town. So the two have to figure out a way to work on his skills, play to his strengths, and somehow fit him into the team. Maybe he becomes the long snapper or something, angering fans and parents alitke, until he makes one key tackle on a punt return in an important game, and the whole town learns an important lesson on how every position is essential to the game.
  • The Gay LB: A show as good as FNL can’t avoid homosexuality in the locker room forever, even after they sort of copped out with Landry’s lesbian bandmate. It’s a chance for a very honest show to get a little uncomfortable in its realism. Say one of the team’s better linebackers is discovered outside a gay club by a bunch of his teammates driving by. Most of the team wants him booted, aside from a couple of the Landry/Matt-type players quietly voicing their opinions that it isn’t that big a deal, and Coach Taylor has no idea what to do, not wanting to part with one of his best defensive players, but faced with enormal pressure from inside and outside the team, and a little uncomfortable and outraged with the kid himself. Coach decides to ignore the issue, but the situation is quickly proven untenable, and he decides that has to get rid of the kid. He calls the kid into his office and fabricates some excuse as to why he has to be cut, which the kid quickly sees through, silently tearing up as he leaves the locker room. Coach ends up unable to shake the feeling that he did the wrong thing, but even Tammy agrees that he had no choice. He isn’t seen on the team again, but eventually becomes a good friend of Julie’s, making for a couple extremely awkward dinners at the Taylor household.
  • The Raging DT: Making things similarly uncomfortable, a kid joins the team with serious, destructive anger issues. It makes him one of the team’s defensive stars on the field, but he seems to get called for Personal Fouls a whole lot, and eventually a locker room scene where he ends up getting into a fight with one of his teammates shows the kid to have an inner rage that goes far beyond his desire to pancake offensive linemen. Coach Taylor tries to talk to him and mentor him a little, but that just angers him further, and maybe he even tries to take a swing at him at one point. Coach tries to get him booted from the team but is talked down by Tammy (who sees the kid as troubled and crying for help) and by Buddy (who sees the kid as the anchor of a weak defensive front four)  and persuaded to give him a second chance. Eventually, the kid turns out to have been abused and/or neglected by his parents, Coach gives him some speech about how he has the strength to become his own man, he gets involved with one of the new recurring female characters, and he mellows out a little.
  • The Lonesome PK: Isn’t it a little miraculous that on a show featuring a team that seems to have every game come down to a final drive, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a single field goal attempt? Maybe we just need a good kicker character–someone who reflects the culture of tragedy associated with the position, of course. Let’s say there’s a kicker on the team that’s always been sort of a loner, acknowledged but not really accepted by the team, who just floats along in the periphery of a bunch of episodes until there’s a big game that comes down to a final field goal (or even worse, an extra point) that the kid just shanks, resulting in him getting shunned by team and coach alike. Then a few days or weeks later, the kid tries to kill himself in the locker room bathroom, and suddenly, everyone on the team–especially Coach Taylor–is forced to confront the fact that they never took the kid even remotely seriously, and that they’re all at least partly responsible for giving him such shit for the one time all year he didn’t come through for them, despite the fact that he had been the model of quiet efficiency prior to that. In time the kid recovers, comes back to a standing ovation from the team, kicks a game winner, and gets a private lap dance at the Landing Strip that night, paid for by his teammates. Watching at home, Bill and Martin Grammatica embrace and sob wildly.
  • The Narcissistic WR: Coach has never really had to deal with a real instigator on the team–Smash had an ego but was basically a good kid, and “Voodoo” Tatum only stuck around with Dillon for a few weeks before leaving, but what if there was some receiver type that had a good sense of the game, was immeasurably talented, but always thought he knew better? He constantly disrupts the team chemistry, gives press conferences where he badmouths his teammates and staff for not playing the game right (i.e. getting him the ball) and takes practices off when he feels like it, but is far too brilliant on the field for anyone to question him as a starter. Coach Taylor tries to get him to fall in line but can’t get through to him, and eventually the other players start to complain that he’s hogging the spotlight too much. Coach tries to bench him, but the Panthers’ passing game goes stagnant, Dillon loses an important game, and the entire town starts calling for his job. Eventually, maybe the kid gets into some kind of trouble off the field–he pissess off the wrong people, or owes someone some money, or maybe has some secret he can’t go to his parents with. With no one else to turn to, he goes to Coach Taylor for assistance, who reluctantly agrees to help the kid. Touched, the kid humbles himself a little, and though he still can’t hide his egomania, he apologizes to a couple of his teammates, shows up for practices, and helps Dillon get back to state contention. After the title game, coach meets his father for the first time, played in a wink-wink cameo–of course–by Terrell Owens.

One Response to “Take Five: Students That Coach Taylor Would Have to Deal With in Friday Night Lights”

  1. Jack said

    I like all of these, except the one with the “raging DT.” I dunno, for some reason that one just doesn’t seem to resonate like the others. What about maybe…something to do with an OL? Or a severely mentally challenged backup/ glorified manager (unless they did that in S3, which I still haven’t seen…is it online yet?).

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