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'Friday Night Lights' recap: Sudden death?

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Fnl_lSo the last Friday Night Lights for a while — forever? — sure left us hanging. Is there any way Smash (Gaius Charles) is going to reconcile himself to what he considers a college unworthy of his talents? (Maybe.) Were the writers really planning to follow through on Jason (Scott Porter) becoming a daddy to the baby of that rather-lacking-in-charm one-night-stand waitress? (Maybe — and if those same writers had planned to get Jason off the hook by having her miscarry three episodes later, I would be… troubled, if not downright annoyed.)

But the stuff that was pure gold this week included the characters who’ve been rock-solid all season anyway: Coach Eric and Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, pictured), and the cool-as-a-long-haired-cucumber Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). As much as I’ve hated the introduction of Lyla’s religious love, Chris (really, Matt Czuchry doesn’t act — he just scrunches his eyes and shakes his head to convey any emotion the script dictates), the contrast to Kitsch’s Riggins has been highly satisfying. I loved the way Tim handled his new (yes, yes, highly improbable) gig as host of a sports call-in show on the religious radio network. The line of the night was when that girl called in and, mingling religiosity with lust, compared Tim’s hair to Jesus’, and Tim simply drawled, “You have been cut off, thank you for calling, that was ridiculous.”

And the series can’t go wrong by putting Eric and Tami at odds, this time over the return to Dillon, Texas, of Tami’s high-school sweetheart, a very successful lout who irritated Eric to the point of some rather sitcom-y fisticuffs that were, nevertheless, pretty enjoyable.

This week, in his online Gluttoncolumn, my man Dalton Ross comes down hard on the show — it’sfrequently the measure of a true, ardent fan that, knowing how good theshow could be, he refuses to let the creators off the hook for thisseason of water-dumped bodies and unlikely romances. I respect Dalton’sposition and his righteous annoyance.

That said, call me cynical, but I have no doubt (based on nothing more than, um, cynicism) that NBC took a meeting with the FNLbrain-trust after the first season ended and said something like,”Look, you wanna come back for a second go-round? Okay, you gotta putthe hot teens front and center, we need more sex and we need a murder.Oh, and at some point, have Matt Saracen call his teacher a bitch.”

I think the key to FNL‘s wobbly quality this season comesback to the man who made a guest appearance this week — Peter Berg, whoplayed Tami’s obnoxious ex-boyfriend, Moe. Berg, who directed the FNL feature film and this series’ extraordinary pilot, is no day-to-day hands-on creator the way, say, Judd Apatow was with Undeclared(to pick another great-first-season ratings flop). I would hazard aguess that Berg — who went off to do things such as direct the JamieFoxx feature The Kingdom — was distracted, and was only one of many producers on FNL,so the decision-making and any possible caving-in to network pressurewas probably a group effort. That could explain the feeling ofcompromise that has mucked up a show that continues to excel in itsacting — which, let’s face it, is what pulled us through some of theless-than-believable plotlines. Which is a long way of saying that,among others in the cast, Jesse Plemons as Landry deserves an Emmy.

According to this week’s EW, if the writers’ strike is settled soon, five or six new episodes of FNL could get produced before season’s end. Should that prove to be the case, can we all implore Friday Night Lightsto get back to its real-as-dirt roots, and do its cast justice byending its season nobly, honestly, and with complexity? Because,y’know, clear eyes and full hearts can’t lose. They also might not get renewed for another season, either, so why not go out as quality champs?