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'Friday Night Lights' recap: The show shines brightly under 'The Lights of Carroll Park'

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Friday Night Lights ventured more thoroughly than ever this week into the neighborhoods of the East Dillon school district. It was a nervy move, letting Coach Eric be our wary guide to the area, as he saw the outcome of a stray shooting while walking through the Carroll Park of the episode’s title.

That became the hour’s main plot — Eric returning to his home field and knowing that, while he can’t be a Great White Hope to this largely black, largely neglected neighborhood, he can try to perform one small good deed: Get the lights in the park turned on at night. To that end, Buddy Garrity proposed a football game between the East Dillon team and the young men in the neighborhood. Startlingly, with some help and that dollop of optimism that FNL ladles out at just the right moments, he succeeded in organizing what became an engrossing game.

In other subplots, Julie’s adventures with Habitat for Humanity were like something out of a well-written romance novel. I love the way this crazy mixed-up kid has decided to get an HFH internship on her resume now, after she’s started applying to colleges. And that she just happens to luck into a crew with a hunky guy with whom she can work through some of her “still broken,” Post-Matt Syndrome. Respect to FNL for having Julie decide it makes sense to “just get it over with” and make out, so as to defuse the tension between her and her new college-boy boss, Ryan.

Proof that the Taylors have the best marriage on TV, if not in the universe? It was confession time about Glenn’s tremulous “mouth rape” kiss of Tami last week, and instead of going after the forlorn-puppy teacher, Eric looked dismayed and ultimately amused. As the hour proceeded, Eric and Tami were joking about the (non-)threat Glenn posed to them. (“Make sure he doesn’t drink all my Scotch.”) Which only made them seem more like the sexiest couple alive… on TV.

It was a big week for Vince. Having trouble finding a job because he’d been honest on his job applications about his arrest record, he made a small breakthrough with Coach, asking for his help in providing a job reference. He ended up working for Jess’ dad, Virgil/Big Mary (I never know which name someone will refer to him next). Thus, the young man with the single-mom who’s struggling with a drug problem has now acquired two strong male role models. And FNL did that without slipping into cheap sentiment. I also loved the scene between Vince and Landry, in which Landry says he (much like those of us watching) doesn’t really know what the relationship between Vince and Jess once was. But Landry, in his brilliant-goofball way, stopped Vince before the Carroll Park game, said he’d like to clear the air, and said Vince could punch him if he wanted to. Instead, Vince took the full measure of the situation (great inner-working acting by Michael B. Jordan), and gave Landry a quick thump-of-ambivalence in the chest, and the teammates went on to play the game.

This week we also arrived at the season’s most tricky subplot: The pregnancy of Becky, and her desire to get an abortion. Let me be clear: I don’t want to get into a debate with you about abortion, but rather want to proscribe the discussion strictly to the drama of Friday Night Lights. Within that parameter, I thought the show did a fine job of depicting one realistic reaction a girl in Becky’s position might have, and that Luke’s ambivalence (“I don’t want to be a dad, but there’s something about not wanting to be one”) was navigated as well as is possible in the rocky shoals of network television.

A couple of final football-bullets:

• Buddy Garrity making a fine return to form: “Everybody loves football!” Even when I disagree with Buddy, I still nod my head, hynotized by the Garrity charm.

• Larry Gilliard, Jr. — D’Angelo Barksdale from The Wire — in a guest role as the ex-gangbanger/community leader who helps Eric with the Carroll Park kids’ team! Sometimes FNL is almost too subtle: How could the producers resist putting him together with Michael B. Jordan, FNL‘s other Wire vet, for at least one brief scene, to give us Wire fans a small thrill?

Did you watch? What did you think?