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'Friday Night Lights' recap: Taking a 'gut check' on the season thus far

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Friday Night Lights is, we all know, the greatest TV drama centered around sports in the history of the medium (I said drama, readers, so don’t start writing in about your [and my] beloved SportsNight, or your inexplicable nostalgia for Robert Wuhl’s Arliss). But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In fact, one of the things that makes FNL so engrossing is its willingness to go off in all sorts of directions, some of which pay off magnificently, while others pay off aimlessly. Such is life. And TV.

This week’s episode, “Gut Check,” took a number of off-the-field swerves that may or may not pay off. Didn’t you get the feeling that Tami’s tussle with Epyck over the theft of $20 was the troubled teen’s swan song? And — the inevitable thought as this final season winds down — do you think the producers originally thought they’d do more with this character, giving Tami a young woman to champion, to redeem, but they just didn’t have time to squeeze in an epic Epyck story-line? Even with these misgivings, there’s no denying these school scenes were potent, never more so in the silent gazes of Tami, as Connie Britton proved once more how she’s managed to thrive in a series whose real action has never taken place primarily on the field.

But speaking of the field, how unlikely was it that Luke would go in as quarterback when Coach Eric decided to yank Vince to teach the latter and his increasingly hot-tempered (but not entirely without good reason) dad a lesson? The Vince decision was in keeping with Eric’s sense of propriety, but putting Luke in underscored the idea that (a) we haven’t seen many vividly sketched-in players this season and (b) the show needed to get Luke front and center, so he could not only pull off a save but also increase the flame in his simmering relationship with Becky.

Which brings us to Becky. Working at The Landing Strip? Come on. This girl is smart enough to know that’s bound to end badly. Or, wait a second — she isn’t that smart, is she? This is another sterling FNL trait: Not every main character is smarter (wiser, nobler, more open to revelations) than the subsidiary characters.

Her Landing Strip mentor, Mindy, is pregnant — no shocker there, when your husband smells like nachos, right? Mindy and Billy have wormed their way into my heart; they act as though they’re starring in their own private, sports-and-bar version of Married… With Children.

As far as true love goes, it doesn’t seem to be going that way for Julie and Matt, does it? Their fascinating yet disconnected subplot, with Julie, as usual, trying to avoid life by attempting to create a dream reality, hit some hard realism, most of it in the cement-like expressions she was getting from Matt. I can’t help but feel that, as glad as I am to see Zach Gilford back, he was being used as a plot place-holder, until Julie makes her next life-move, and Gilford could barely contain his antsiness to move on. Of course, we all know that what he moved on to was the hideous, short-lived jungle-soap series Off The Map: I hope you enjoyed your return to FNL more than it looked, Zach!

Twitter: @kentucker