Can one good scene at the end save a bad storyline? How about three great scenes and three bad (or at least uneven) storylines?
Because at-risk youth Matt Sarocen is not an interesting character. Having him go through the usual bad kid playbook--mouthing off to the teacher, cutting class, drinking--feels out of character and a big bundle of the show's usual cliches. I really enjoy the Matt Sarocen character, but the actor doesn't have that much range, and he's not terribly convincing at playing the kid who's acting out because the things that motivate him in life, his team and his romantic life, seem to be crumbling.
And yet the scene where he's in the shower and Coach is trying to talk him out of his funk goes a long way toward redeeming the rest of it. "Why does everyone leave me? What's wrong with me?" is a pathos-ridden sentiment that the episode and the performance truly earns. Connecting Matt's feelings to everything that's gone on even helps find the silver lining to the insipid Carlotta storyline. It doesn't make the previous twenty minutes we spent watching Matt circling the drain seem any better, but it does at least show that they were leading to something worthwhile.
The same goes for the Landry-Tyra-Jean love triangle. Again, I'm not sure this show knows how to dramatize romance through anything but love triangles. (See also: Riggins harassing Lyla and Chris the Christian.) So watching Lyla fumble over her unexpected jealousy, and watching Jean be suspiciously perfect for Landry, and having Landry nevertheless ditch Jean because he just has this feeling, man, seems like another arbitrary road block to stretch out Landry and Lyla getting together even though the show had already long passed the natural point for that to happen.
But then, "If It's the Beaches" starts to play, and Landry shows up at Tyra's house, and they kiss and share one of the long meaningful embraces, and Landry says "I actually have to go now" because the game is starting in one of those genuine, human moments that the show sometimes stumble on in all its cheese, and even if the slog of the last two episode in this storyline feels like a waste, the end of it feels earned and touching, even if it also seems like something of a cheat.
Oh, and we get more mother-daughter drama between Julie and Tami. As usual, there's a germ of a good idea here, with Julie feeling neglected as Tami starts mothering Tyra and the volleyball team. I did appreciate the twist that they made Julie seem like a brat for flipping out over the volleyball shindig only to reveal that Tami really had messed up by forgetting about Julie's driving test. But even then, this is another instance of a sitcom story on steroids, and it's resolved just as quickly and perfunctorily when Tami talks the DMV guy into staying open so Julie can take her test.
But thank god for Smash! The hurt and pain in his eyes when he tells Coach that TMU revoked his scholarship and he has a giant black mark that other schools are unlikely to overlook is powerful. The moment where he hugs his mom and she tells him she loves him no matter what happens with football is touching. And the shot where he's left in the lockerroom by himself after the rest of the team demands he play but he can't because of his suspension, and he breaks down in tears, is devastating. His is the one consistently good part of this season, and it's nice to know that there's one part of this series that remains strong despite how uneven so much of the other storytelling has been. On to the season finale!