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“You’re an outsider now. They’re not going to let you back in.” - Mac

I get the feeling the writers and brass for Friday Night Lights, much like the Taylor family in tonight’s episode, have always felt like they were on the outside looking in. After all, the show has never gained the mainstream popularity I’m sure it once pined for. In the same respect, many of the show’s characters have struggled for varying degrees of recognition, acceptance or even respect forcing many of them into an “It’s me against the world” mentality. So was the theme for tonight’s episode in which the members of the Taylor family were forced to take hard looks at their situations, while others were surprised to learn they were noticed at all.

My big issue with “Outside Looking In” isn’t the message which was basically beaten over our heads in getting us to realize the Taylors are all, in some shape or form, going through a period of moderate isolation in their worlds outside of family. That theme is salient enough. Instead, my gripe is trying to believe that they’d all (Julie aside maybe) be so dense as to need someone else to point out their “lonerness.” Whether it was Tami’s almost staunch refusal to understand why other teachers in the school might not warm to her right away, or Coach needing Mac to point out the utterly obvious case of the Good-Ole-Boy club removing Coach’s name from their roster. While this exclusionary behavior in itself is par for the course, the denseness with which Coach and Tami operate within their respective worlds is a bit suspect.

Consider Coach has been at this gig for the better part of his entire life, won a state championship, lost in another, had a cup of coffee in the college ranks and moved schools a few times. Would he really need someone else to explain to him why his Lions aren’t ranked or why Luke is being suspended for a game? Would he really not see he’s no longer an insider in the high school football world? Or did he just not want to believe it? I tend to think it’s the former and that just doesn’t quite compute.

Similarly, Tami’s tunnel vision in her quest to cure all that ails the students at East Dillon, while admirable in its benevolence, makes little to no sense when it comes to approach. Besides just being new to the school, are we to believe this ex-principal would have no clue about the social or even quasi-political maneuverings it takes to get certain initiatives off the ground? Of course, part of her demise at West Dillon was not understanding the political landscape, but she’s always appeared at least moderately socially adept. And yet she doesn’t seem to understand why the teachers aren’t instantly buddy-buddy with her until both the principal and Coach need to point out the obvious.

At least Julie’s story of finding no social foothold in college makes an iota of sense considering her character’s relative awkwardness (though I suspect she’s the best looking college freshman in history to garner little to no attention from anyone). And no one needs to point out to Julie that she isn’t part of the in crowd. That much is painfully clear as is the realization for the viewer that driving off to college wasn’t the end of the Julie story. It’s looking like we’ll have to endure at least a little of her finding some new love, this time in the form of someone who watches, but doesn’t play, football. Sort of like a Matt Saracen-lite.

I’ll touch on some of the other story arcs at the bottom, including Vince and Becky who find attention they weren’t necessarily seeking, but they took a backseat to the Taylor world tonight. And while the episode wasn’t a world beater, it did give a sense of how the writers might play the final season. In a show that’s often about redemption and acceptance, the Taylors will be the ones seeking just a little respect right until the very end.

Other thoughts and nitpicks

- I thought about including both Vince and Becky’s story as the antitheses to the Taylor’s struggles in that they both found out they were part of something without really going out and looking for it. Vince, who seems to have magically rid himself of all the problems that plagued him in the past (gangs, violence, drugged out mom), suddenly finds himself recruited for college, getting mom a job, treated to free dinners by fans, and fought over by Jess and a rally girl. He’s discovered what being a star in Texas high school football is all about. Of course, this house of cards will almost definitely come toppling down at some point, but I do find it hard to look past the fact that his violent history is almost completely forgotten.

- Becky, on the other hand finds herself, all of a sudden, living in a house in which people actually give a crap. That the care comes in the form of an ex-stripper and bumbling Billy Riggins is sweet and a testament to how much the family really owes Tim.

- Of all the characters in the Friday Night Lights universe who have gone off to college, Julie’s story ranks absolutely last on the list of whose I want to see played out on screen. I understand why they did it, but Landry, Smash, Tyra, even the month or so Riggins spent roaming the dorms held the possibility of more intrigue, interest, humor, or whatever it is you’re looking for.

- Is it me, or is Epic the character the writers originally wanted Tyra to be, but were too scared to put such a monumental trashbag on screen in a pilot episode? No doubt Epic’s story ends much the same way as Tyra’s (we’re off to college!), but she is much more convincing as a girl with actual problems.

- Of all the recurring characters, Luke is the hardest one to get a handle on. Are we supposed to like him? Feel sorry for him? Care about him at all? I’m not sure.

How is it that Vince, Hasting, and Luke all have lockers right next to each other?

- Another school-related nitpick: Are we to believe this high school has a staff of ten? They hold their faculty meetings around one table. This is high school for pete’s sake. They’d need a bigger room people.

- More Stan Traub please.

- I’ll say this throughout this year, but Friday Night Lights is still the only show I watch the entire musical opening for every time. I’ve never fast forwarded through it. Thank you very much Explosions in the Sky
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