Friday Night Lights, “The Lights of Carroll Park”

Despite its ability to tell stories that are extremely personal and full of emotion, sometimes Friday Night Lights makes me cringe just a little when it gets into racially charged tales. Let me be clear: I’m totally happy that the series expanded the universe of Dillon, Texas in season four so that it can tell stories that were big parts of the book. But early this season, I found it difficult to buy into the large group of African-American folks that we had never seen, the project-like areas we had never seen and the stereotypes that both of those new developments brought forth.

But through Vince and Jess’ father, things slowly improved over the middle of the season and “The Lights of Carroll Park” feels like the first time the storytelling intent has matched up with the execution.This episode is also the first one that feels totally confident in where its going without Matt Saracen around — the last two have felt a little off-balance, for good reason I guess — and now, I’m totally confident as well.

In a way, it looks like Vince has taken Matt’s place as the beaten down, wannbe do-gooder. He has the issues at home with a loved one’s illness and a lack of money. He needs and gets a dead-end job that allows people to come visit him and heckle. And he wants to date the daughter of a strong man (maybe a reach, but go with the comparison). I guess the biggest difference is Vince is legitimately talented on the football field. But anyway, I think the move to putting Vince at the center of the series has kept the last two episodes interesting and the rest of the stories caught up this week. Michael B. Jordan plays the outward strength with inner turmoil very well and he makes Vince almost as great to root for as Matt. Almost. Can I just say I miss Mr. Saracen?

The A story with Coach trying to get the lights turned on in Carroll Park started a little rough and cringe-worthy just like some of the earlier episodes. However, once Coach and Buddy decided to meet with the East Dillon community leader (played by Larry Gilliard Jr. of The Wire), the story kicked in to a more realistic — and enjoyable — drive. Not only was it awesome to have the man who played D’Angelo act in the same episode as the boy who played Wallace (Jordan), but I really liked Gilliard’s character. He wasn’t overly combative with Coach and Buddy and stuck to his honest guns. The episode was smart about not making Coach and Buddy the great white hopes, but just people who wanted to help in any way they could.

And although I do find it a little unrealistic that Coach would be willing to let all his players — except Luke, I guess? — play an unsanctioned game during an off week, even playing two-hand touch without pads due to a fear of injury for his already small team, I liked the intent. I especially enjoyed the little moment with the 13-year old player on the “street” team who Coach absconded for a future try-out. I hope we see that kid again in season five.

On the other hand, Becky’s pregnancy and possible abortion not only came out of nowhere, but seem a little misguided — even if I ultimately enjoyed it thanks to the performances. Not only did we not see any sort of physical interaction between Luke and Becky, but I’m not sure I buy that the nice-to-a-fault Luke would ever have unprotected sex with his crush. I’m not saying his hormones didn’t get the best of him, but if we’re to buy that explanation, then him acting like totally calm, rationale and mature in the aftermath doesn’t quite fit either.

HOWEVER, I like those two characters/actors together and I think  they sold it without drawing attention to the melodramatic aspects. Plus, having Riggins be the voice of support gives him something to do aside from chop up cars. I’m sure more attention will be paid to the story in the coming episodes so I’ll stop with the opining for now.

Finally, really loved the few moments between Coach and Tami this week. I’m glad the series spotlighted the fact that they’ve been unable to share much time together this school year, but a lesser series would have made a much bigger and more melodramatic deal of it. But not Friday Night Lights, not Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. All we need is a couple of scenes, a few looks and boom, that’s a little story for the week.

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