I admit I was a little disoriented at the start of the seasons. It definitely felt like I had missed several episodes--and indeed, we had, since the final episodes of season 2 were cut. Once I adjusted, I came to be grateful that Friday Nihgt Lights chose not to condense, unrealistically, the plots of multiple episodes into 1 ep in an effort to get the audience 'up to spped', but instead proceeded as if we all knew what had transpired in the interim. This felt like a more mature writing decision, given how grounded the show is in realism.
The biggest 'leap' at the start of the season was Tami being headmistress of Dillon High. I read arguments either way on the likelihood of this in under-resourced rural Texas, but ultimately the show eventually won me round with the story-telling it resulted in. I particularly appreciated Tami having a role with such gravitas and seeing her be a more important public figure than her husband. It showcases the strength of their relationship, their ability to weather differences and still be completely committed to their family.
The lesser 'leap' was Tyra and Landry having broken up--that annoyed me because no reason was given for it. And it's taken me a long time to win me back on this point, but the recent episodes feel like pay-off. The Tyra/Landry relationship in Season 2 was mired in melodrama, with the murder plot--even when they did hook up later, it was hard to shake off the way they had come together. I think in Season 3 we've finally got past that. And while it was rather annoying to have to sit through, I can believe Tyra being swayed by the shallow charm of the cowboy (whose name I don't even remember!). And also her taking Landry for granted. I'm glad they gave Landry an arc of self-development, through music, independent of Tyra, and that makes me much more comfortable with their chemistry now. It's certainly a lot better than the on-again-off-again business in Season 2.
Meanwhile, the show was working wonders in the other character arcs, returning to its strengths and doing what it does well, really really well. I'm particularly impressed with how rounded and fulfilling a send-off they gave Smash Williams, and the more recent farewell to Jason Street. In both cases they packed in a final storyline which gave the character and the audience an endpoint of hope and optimism for the future, while still acknowledging the realistic struggle to get there that both boys (men! for they are grown up now) faced.
I initially wondered what had happened to Jason at the start of the season and then I was wary about the whole 'renovate and resell a house' plot, but it ended up being marvellous. Jason's capacity for determination and leadership shone through, but they also showed his naivety and his fragility when things didn't go so well. Throughout it, I loved the way Tim stood by him, and there trip to New York was just glorious. Tim sees Jason for who he is--and I love that in this case it was Tim who pointed out what he could do to win the job. It's the sort of thing Tim wouldn't pull off himself, but he knows Street could. And Street did! And their BFF farewell, and Tim's relief-but-personal-sadness at seeing Jason reunite with his family was heartbreaking. In a good way, because they'll always be with each other when it matters--and the show has made me trust that.
Aside: Jason rather fascinates me. I don't necessarily like him, he's so pushy and egotistical, but his ego is such a strength and I think he's a really good study in what makes someone a go-getter in life, and also how people like that don't always do so well when things do come crashing down around them, because they're not used to failure. He makes an interesting contrast to Riggins, who is used to life kicking him in the balls so much he's become rather too lazy to bother changing it. (And hey, I can relate to that!!)
Tim! Tim and Lyla are an established couple. Thank you, show! I love them. Once I had my Lyla epiphany in season 2, she's become a favourite character, and I like that those two are still completely in love and devoted to each other but that they each struggle individually and therefore as a couple as well. I think the show's done really well this year at showing how their different backgrounds and expectations clash. I also think it reflects really well on Lyla that she has ended up bonding with Mindy and being accepted into that world. Hell, if I was her, I'd be a bit snobby of them too. And if I was Mindy I'd think she was stuck up. But they've got past that, at least some of the time.
Buddy Garrety is one of the few characters I really don't like on the show, so I can't say that I'm surprised to see him screw up his relationship with Lyla in recent episodes. It makes me more fond of her and worried for her than ever, but does him no favours in my eyes. Oh, boy, that guy is a chancer. I do like Lyla's loyalty to him though--the episode where her siblings came to visit was really touching--and so I'm sorry to see it repaid so badly. I can understand her crashing emotionally when she found out he'd thrown her college fund away, but am glad that Tim talked to her about it.
Tyra's college hopes are the latest thing to bring tears to my eyes. Her mother's speech was so poignant! I like that they haven't had her achieve some miraculous score despite all her erratic behaviour--it's realistic, painfully so, for a teenage girl to get distracted by boys at her age, and to question her ambition when it feels so terribly hard to achieve. I loved Landry's speech about her not just coasting on her looks because it's so true. And deep down, Tyra does want more than just 'that', than what Mindy is thrilled with--a small town marriage. It's a rocky road but she'll get there.
Julie and Matt! They resurrected that relationship from the graveyard of bad teenage romances! I can't believe it. It is actually a relationship with heart and soul again. I love it! Thank goodness they have toned down Julie's annoying brat behaviour this season. She's still a totally believable character, but I don't miss the screaming matches with Tami one bit. I am happy for Matt that he got her back, though I occasionally wonder about Carlotta and whatever happened to her...
Poor Matt! He's still got a rough time of it, but it's been good to see things improving with his mother. It's sad to see his grandma going downhill though. :(
I loved the episode where Coach caught them sleeping together. Though the thing I took away from it is that women handle these things way better than men. Wow, was that speech from Coach to Matt painful/awful. Sure, Julie and Tami had a very awkward time of it to begin with, but ultimately they were both able to open up and admit that they were acting out of love for each other. I felt for Matt though--there was noone to reassure him and tell him that they loved him anyway, he just got a lecture with the subtext 'I don't really trust you'. Ouch! It made me think boys have it hard in some respects. Matt clearly felt very vulnerable and nervous and he loves Julie and I think they handled things responsibly and are clearly very happy.
The new character of JD McCoy has proven to be well-written and compelling as well. He seems convincingly younger than the other characters, especially with his awkwardness around drinking and girls. His sheltered rich-boy life with the pushy parents (mostly his father) has made for an interesting contrast to Coach's own parenting style. I rather wished that Coach would pull his father into line before now, and seeing what has now happened I feel justified in that. To me it seemed obvious that things were going to end badly at some point, but of course noone wants to tell another person how to be a parent or run their family. I don't really like McCoy's wife (so vacuous!) but I do feel sorry for her. She means well but didn't have the strength of character to stop her husband.
I do think, though, that Tim is the unsung hero of the football team this year. Hasn't he saved them in the last two or three games straight? Sheesh! Without him they'd be screwed. A little more credit would be nice, instead of all this buzz around JD. (Though I totally loved that he came home to Lyla instead of partying after the semis! Awwww.)
All in all, I'm amazed with how they've turned the show around again. Few shows manage that once they derail, but it does feel like they learnt from some of the mistakes in season 2, and are using season 3 to write some really satisfying storylines and payoffs for their characters.