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Friday Night Lights Watch: Examining the Flawed Second Season

I heard a lot of negative things about Season Two of Friday Night Lights, which I finished watching over the long weekend as part of my Friday Night Lights catch-up.

After the strength of the freshman season, Season Two of Friday Night Lights almost feels like a different series altogether. While there were some beautiful moments that stood out, they were just moments rather than a cohesive season of taut storyelling. It's a stark contrast to the first season of Friday Night Lights, where each episode managed to build on the one prior to create a staggering portrait of a small town that perfectly captured, as I said last week, the ebb and flow of real life.

Not so with Season Two, where the main network note seemed to have been to inject Drama into the series. Yes, Drama with a capital d, rather than the more nuanced and studied drama of the first season. Here, everything had to be bigger, had to be bolder, and had to be broader than ever before.

Yes, watching from the first episode of the season it was blatantly clear that there was some major network interference going on here as the series made an effort to fit in more with nighttime soaps than in keeping the tone and balance of the previous season. Gone were the smaller stories of awkward adolescence, the powerful friendships, the tiny moments on which dreams were built or discarded. Not helping matters was the fact that the truncated season was derailed by the WGA strike.

I do think that Season Two of Friday Night Lights found itself as it went on, which made the decision by NBC not to resume production after the writers strike ended all the more gutting. The back half of the season, particularly the final installments showed the series getting back to its roots and reclaiming its voice once more... before it had to end on a non-cliffhanger that left the rest of the season--including whether the Panthers made it to the playoffs or to the state championships--in the dark. (Also unclear, though all bound to be revealed in Season Three: whether Jason had managed to convince the flame-haired waitress to keep their baby, whether Lila would continue her tentative relationship with Matt Czuchry's Christian Chris Kennedy, and whether Carlotta would return to mend Saracen's wounded heart.)

It helped that that the ludicrous murder cover-up conspiracy plot involving Tyra and Landry was wrapped up halfway through the season. I was well aware of how awful this storyline was ahead of time but I didn't quite appreciate just how much it would completely destroy Landry's character over the course of the season. Could Tyra and Landry have still accidentally killed Tyra's would-be rapist? Sure. Could the incident have still pushed them together into an unlikely romance? Absolutely. Would Landry still be plagued by guilt over what happened? Definitely.

Instead, it took the characters and pushed them into another series altogether, one where characters killed indiscriminately and then didn't feel any semblance of remorse (Tyra) or where a sunny and upbeat character became a dour, haunted individual who stole away some of the comic relief.

By pushing the duo into this OTT murder storyline, the series robbed viewers of one of the more rewarding relationships on the series--that between Matt Saracen and Landry--and curtailed several important story beats along the way. The beginning of the season should have focused on Landry's new role on the Dillon Panthers, his ecstasy at joining a team he cheered from the sidelines, and friction with his best friend but it instead made Landry and Saracen virtual strangers. Landry didn't tell Saracen about losing his virginity to Tyra, nor did Matt tell Landry about his burgeoning relationship with Carlotta. Whereas before there were open lines of communication between the two, they split apart without any real storyline involving their distance from one another, despite them now being teammates.

Likewise, we as an audience lost our entry point to the Panthers as Landry's focus wasn't on football but evading the police and keeping himself out of jail... even going so far as to bring his father into the conspiracy as police officer Chad Clarke destroyed evidence to keep suspicion of his son, a plot point that went unnoticed, as did any reaction from Landry's mother about her son's complicity in the murder of a rapist.

While I also understand why the writers would seek to get Eric back to Dillon as quickly as possible, they also jumped over any reaction from Tami and Julie about Eric moving home, with Eric turning up in the driveway and the twosome acting as though they knew he was coming back. (But what was their reaction? When did they learn about it?) Additionally, the firing of Chris Mulkey's Coach McGregor was handled very quickly, though there were some repercussions as a result of his swift dismissal (namely, Eric taking over as athletic director of Dillon High School).

I will say, however, that Season Two of Friday Night Lights did a wonderful job once again with the core relationship between Connie Britton's Tami and Kyle Chandler's Eric, making the Taylors once again a powerful force to be reckoned with, even as they themselves were beset with problems this season, from the birth of baby Grace and their long-distance relationship to daughter Julie's rebellious streak and some intriguing jealousy on the part of Eric. Their storyline focused on the stresses of everyday marriage and child-rearing, the fear of letting go both of newborns and of teenagers, and the push-and-pull of long-term relationships.

Additionally, I loved the storyline that had Taylor Kitsch's Riggins moving in with the Taylors for a brief spell, after the high drama of his living with a gun-wielding, ferret-loving meth cooker. It was lovely to see Eric and Tim bond over some quality time together, each fulfilling a missing role in the other's life (Eric for the son he never had, Tim for the father he lost) and, in the words of Coach Taylor, balancing the gender teams in the household.

Riggins, meanwhile, saved Julie not once but twice--shielding her body with his during a tornado and rescuing a drunk Julie from a lecherous teen at a party--only to be thrown out by Eric when he walked into Julie's room and caught her and Tim in a compromising position. The scene where he later apologized to Tim and called his actions "honorable" was a nice coda to this storyline, given how stubborn and quick to judge Eric often can be.

Fortunately, nothing happened between Tim and Julie, whose brattiness this season led to both Tami slapping her across the face in frustration and a near affair with a teacher (which fortunately didn't happen). That both the latter storyline and the relationship between Saracen and his grandmother's nurse Carlotta both played out after the Riggins-Jackie romance of Season One made them both feel repetitive. The May-September romance thing just felt forced this season and failed to create any real sparks. In the case of Saracen, it led him to a very dark place where he began to drink and cut class and generally act out... until Coach Taylor throttled him into the shower and talked some sense into him.

That many of these storylines--including the continued battle against adversity for Jason Street--were incomplete, due to the writers strike, means that there was no opportunity to see these play out in full. Yes, Friday Night Lights has used a time-jump between seasons before but in previous years, we at least got to see the end results of the season and the wrap-up of a few storylines.

I don't doubt that these dangling story threads will be dealt with in the third season premiere--just like life, Friday Night Lights goes on even if we're not watching--but I do feel cheated by the fact that we won't get to see these stories continue first-hand, as the time-jump between the second and third years has got to be fairly considerable to get us back to the start of football season in Dillon.

Which is sad, really. Season Two of Friday Night Lights has been plagued by a reputation for being awful that the series itself sought to overcome as it went on. While I won't be in a rush to rewatch it any time soon, it also hasn't diminished my enthusiasm for the series, particularly as I've heard amazing things about the next third and fourth seasons.

But to everything there is a season and to every season an end. That came too quickly for the sophomore season of Friday Night Lights but I for one am happy that I can jump into what promises to be a return to form for this ambitious, intelligent, and heart-felt series. Here's to moving on in the next day or so Season Three...

Comments

Chris said…
Season 2 wasn't the best season but I've never been as hard on it as others have. I watched it in real time so a few things stood out.

First, as many people who love the show always say, mediocre FNL is better than most stuff on television and this was especially true that year which was just before the cable networks really took off with the likes of Damages and Justified.

Second, because of FNL's approach to shooting their shows, they had completed significantly more shows than others had before the writers' strike hit, 18 shows I think it was. So episodes went well into the spring which also helped things a lot.

But I do think some important stuff came out of season 2: Julie being a complete brat and the new side to Tim Riggins being chief among them. So while season 2 doesn't come close to being season 1, it wasn't a complete waste for me, either.
DryedMangoez said…
Season 2 was definitely a bumpy ride and yes it was still better than most of TV.

And while there were still trademark FNL moments in the season, as a whole it was completely over the top and so far removed from the first season. Looking back at season 2 and seeing season 1, 3 and 4 makes it look even more out of place.

I get NBC wanted to try and make the show more mainstream, but they went about it the wrong way.
Rambling said…
Just as the other posters alluded to-- a troublesome FNL is better than 95% of everything else on TV (if not 99%). I love Season Two because the power that is Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins truly starts to take hold. I loved his stay with the Taylors for the reasons explained-- that it fills a void for both Eric and Tim. But we also get to know the wickedly funny Riggins in this season. From his gymnastic meet worries to his baiting Lyla all season, it was a welcome relief from the Drama.
Hadley said…
I agree that Season Two, while it got off to a bad start, started to turn around and it's really a shame that we weren't able to see how that season would have ended. Sure, there were some awful storylines (the murder cover up, Matt's affair with Carlotta) but there were also some great ones (Tim moving in with the Taylors, Tami dealing with being a new mom while also balancing her life with Julie and Eric) and those are the moments that I will remember!
Rose said…
Season 2 was very uneven, but I think that were it not for the writers' strike, it could have succeeded in righting itself. Indeed, the end of the season was considerably better than the beginning.

I agree, the (attempted) rapist murder storyline was dreadful. As Jace writes, it dismissed (and desetroyed at least for this season) a cornerstone of FNL, that being the friendship between Landry and Matt. The killing is almost hermetically sealed from the rest of the town, which makes no sense. The killing is never acknowledged or brought up after Landry finds out no charges will be brought against him -- it makes no sense that he wouldn't have discussed it with Matt, or that no one would ever have referred to it. Crazy. It's as if it never happened... (I had a nagging "their jumping the shark" feeling all the while). This is a small town afterall, where everyone hears what's going on (remember how quickly news spread about Lyla and Tim?)!

What really upset me though, is how the character of Santiago was just abandoned. It was by means of Santiago that I came to love the character of Buddy, and Buddy was pretty invested in Santiago -- so what happened to him?! He's never mentioned again after season 2, which is frankly insulting to viewers who bought into that storyline.

As well, season 3 never clears up what exactly happened between Lyla and preacher-boy. Later in season 3, when Tim tries to take her to her first church, the one she used to attend with her family, it becomes clear that the rupture went beyond that with a boyfriend, that it went much deeper. Lyla didn't just stop going to church because she got busy -- something happened. Something that is key to her character's development, but we aren't allowed to know what, exactly. Frustrating.

That said, I quite liked the development with Tim this season, and was disappointed that despite the bit of bonding that happened with Coach, the Coach did not care enough to mentor or guide Time. After what happened with Tim revealing himself as this very noble character, I would have thought the Coach would have felt compelled to reach out and help Tim...
Brett said…
Rose, I don't understand the last part of your comment. How did Coach not reach out to Tim? I'm not seeing how he mishandled Tim in any way. And I agree with you in regards to the storylines of Santiago and Lyla being shortchanged. However, I blame that on the strike and not the writers, since they weren't allowed to finish the season. If they had been able to finish it, we presumably would have seen what happened to Santiago and how Lyla became disillusioned with the church. Basically, the shortened season necessitated that they skip ahead without seeing the conclusion of those storylines. I don't hold that against the writers.
Chris said…
Rose brings up a great point that I'd completely forgotten. The Santiago plotline really had me invested in the back half that we got of Season 2 and I was not at all happy that it was dropped. It was too major a story to be dropped but also the advances Buddy made also disappeared in season 3, which made no sense. (There needed to be some explanation for how Buddy went from taking in someone like Santiago to being completely taken in by Joe McCoy.)
Anonymous said…
I actually didn't mind the Saracen-Carlotta storyline. Maybe it was a little over the top, but the scene in the shower was one of the better character-developing moments for Saracen in the entire series ("EVERYBODY leaves me!"), which is really saying something, as I've always felt he was the best character in a cast full of great ones.
Misha said…
Chiming in seven years late, lol, but Coach dealt horribly with Tim. So did Tami, so did Garrity. Coach should have taken him back in after learning what really happened with Julie. I mean, Santiago- a character just introduced- got a surrogate father, but every single adult with the vantage point to know what is happening to Tim (including Garrity) just left him out there, floating all alone. Coach completely let him down. He lets all the boys down, in my opinion. He has a team full of boys without fathers and yet he has to be dragged into helping them with anything personal- and the only one he puts true effort into is Smash, because Tami forces that one but ignores poor Matt and the lovely Timmy. I bet it. In real life, people don't do what others need them to do. But, Coach just tees me off. He could be more to those kids than he is!!!! Granted, I have only seen two seasons and maybe he starts giving more.

And, anonymous, that shower scene (I saw it last night for the first time) was the standout. It was absolutely amazing.

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