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'Friday Night Lights': A birthday, a burnt car, and a rowdy relative

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Julie_lThis was a really intricate episode of Friday Night Lights — the producers set out to do so much, and, for the most part, succeeded.

• This week saw Jason celebrate his 19th birthday and quit the team; his emotional journey was the heart of the episode, and helmets off to Scott Porter for allowing us to see Jason’s torn ambitions and dashed dreams, while still pulling off that fine moment at the party when he acknowledges, after Buddy’s typically heedless joke, that his life really would have been golden had he not had his accident, and yet that life now is not a waste, either.

• The other big dramatic subplot involved Landry (Jesse Plemons) and his dad burning the kid’s car to destroy crime evidence. I still don’t know how this profound act — a gesture of love on the part of his father (helmets off again to Glenn Morshower) — is going to ease Landry’s conscience. It may eventually allow him to get back together with Tyra (Adrianne Palicki), but… let’s face it, we as viewers just wish this burden was completely lifted off everyone’s shoulders, that the show could simply deal with Landry, Tyra, football, and his friendship with Matt (Zach Gilford). Am I wrong?

• I must confess I’d nearly forgotten Lyla’s Christian-ethics project, the ex-con Santiago, but here he was being positioned as the team’s new potential savior. All in all, I like the way he was portrayed on the field — strong, but weak on skills. Not much personality, of course; I bet if there wasn’t a writer’s strike, the Friday Night Lights staff would be sitting around mulling over whether he sparks a romance with Lyla or just gets used as a way for Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) to redeem himself.

• The new brunette cheerleader: a rebound-date for Matt before he gets back together with Julie, or a character who’s going to stick around? I vote for the former.

• How ’bout that sister of Tami’s — quite a piece of work, eh? Jessalyn Gilsig, late of Nip/Tuck and Boston Public, tackled the rather thankless stock TV role of Rowdy Relative Brought In To Shake Up The Family and did as well as she could in a brief amount of time, managing to freak out both Tami and Eric, and give Julie (Aimee Teegarden, pictured) a reason to remain a little rebellious. But I don’t want Sis hanging around much longer, do you?

addCredit(“Friday Night Lights: Bill Records”)

The best scenes last night, by my measure, were the dinner sceneat the house of Smash — finally, Gaius Charles was given a few goodspeeches and got to show some warm humor to both Riggins and his ownfamily — and the whole Coach Eric subplot. Loved the way Eric was soangry with that relentless doofus Buddy about his reduced paycheck andnew position as athletic director. (And that female soccer coach:really funny, or too cartoonish for your taste?).

In fact, overall, it was a great night for both Kyle Chandler (who notonly had his salary tussle, but really displayed his low-key comedychops in his reactions to Tami’s sister and the guys on the footballfield) and Connie Britton (who got to whirl through a whole range ofemotions with her sister, and during her scenes returning to her schoolguidance-counselor job).

Summing it up, I’d say Friday Night Lightsbuilt on last week’s excellent episode. This is one of the few networkdramas that can cram in extra characters and not show the strain. (Takethat, Heroes.) It also, thank goodness, still has enoughemotion coursing through it to move us not once, not twice, but anumber of times throughout the hour. Boy, am I going to miss it whenNBC yanks it due to the strike. My only comfort is that I doubt ABC hasmany more episodes in the can of Women’s Murder Club, the show that’s thumping Friday worst in the ratings.