Ken Tucker picks pop gems to get you through the week, including Kyle Chandler's winning performance on ''Friday Night Lights,'' ''Lassie'' on DVD, and more

By Ken Tucker
December 27, 2006 at 12:00 PM EST
Friday Night Lights: Dean Hendler

Coach earns a game ball on ”Friday Night Lights”

1. Kyle Chandler loses it, appropriately, on Friday Night Lights

(NBC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.)

As Texas high school football Coach Eric Taylor, Chandler sometimes reminds you of another TV Taylor: The Andy Griffith Show‘s Sheriff Andy Taylor. Chandler’s coach has the same small-town sense of decency, and wry humor. But this younger Taylor, who’s lost his star quarterback to a freak accident, whose wife (Connie Britton) clearly wants him to man-up, needed to get angrier, tougher. And he did it last week, bellowing to his team that he wanted to see more life and muscle out on the field, and yelling at Smash Williams (Gaius Charles, whose face of energetic pride masks a lifetime of struggle) to ignore the smug scout who’s eyeing the kid’s pro-ball chances and concentrate on the game! There are those who’ll say Chandler should have become a big star after his first major TV role, in the never-forgotten cult series Homefront (1991-93), and came close in the gimmicky Early Edition (1996-2000), but I think now’s the time for him to make his career moves, which certainly aren’t being helped by having a terrific role in a show that’s sinking in the ratings (again). Chandler has grown into his pretty-boy looks, he has some weight, some grit. There’s some pain behind his eyes, and I don’t think it’s just Coach Taylor’s.

2. Lassie meets her master in Lassie


Not in the movie, which is utterly charming, gorgeously filmed, and well-acted by both its human and animal cast. No, I’m talking about the meeting that occurs in the Extras, where we witness the moment Jonathan Mason, the young man who’s going to play our hero, meets the dog who’s going to play our Lassie. The kid crumples to the ground and looks up at the collie, who licks his face. In a voiceover, director Charles Sturridge says that the connection between boy and dog was strikingly instant. Not a dry eye in my house.

3. The most underrated actor on CSI

(CBS, Thursdays, 9 p.m.)

No, it’s not George Eads’ amazingly transformative hair growth. (He’s gone from moustache to Beatle-bangs to bullet-head in the space of, what, a year?) No, I mean the lowly lab assistant played by Liz Vassey. Vassey is a terrific actor, funny and bristlingly sharp (what — you mean you don’t remember her as the prickly Captain Liberty in the great live-action Fox superhero show The Tick?). So why are the producers hiding her in the shadows, relegating her to meekly handing the DNA results of blood smears to William Petersen? On the Nov. 16 edition, Vassey was finally lit with enough wattage so that we could see her high cheekbones, hair pulled back in a short ponytail, with a few forensic mumbo-jumbo lines that, through the sheer strength of her radiating wryness, she managed to make engrossing. Get this woman out in the field, give her a case to solve, let her make flirty banter with Eads’ Nick!

4. A ruthless man meets his match in Richard Stark’s Ask The Parrot

(Fiction, Mysterious Press)

Donald Westlake, writing under the name Richard Stark, returns with yet another tale of his amoral but always fascinating thug Parker. In this one, Parker’s on the lam from a heist he’s just pulled; trying to elude police in an unfamiliar rural setting, he forms an uneasy alliance with a reclusive man who involves Parker in his own illegal revenge plot. This guy, writes Stark, ”sensed the othernesss in Parker, but he didn’t know what it meant.” We, as readers, do: Parker is an existentialist sociopath, a hardboiled counterpart to Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, and deserving of just as much literary acclaim. Stark usually makes Parker a loner, and so this crackling entry in the series, which forces the deadly mercenary to deal with an amateur in his trade, makes for a strikingly different, just-as-lowdown-good-as-ever, thriller.

5. The Oxford American magazine, ”Eighth Annual Southern Music Issue”

In an edition that feature fine essays on everyone from the gospel miracles the Swan Silvertones to the extraterrestrial miracle Sun Ra, I really treasured Ron Rash’s tribute to country singer Gary Stewart, who shot himself in the throat and died in November 2003. When you listen to a great Gary Stewart song such as ”I Got This Drinkin’ Thing,” ”Single Again,” or ”She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” — Stewart was nothing if not thematically consistent — Rash writes that the music signals to the listener that ”at any moment you’re either going whole hog toward God or Satan.” Where Stewart ultimately landed in death is unknown, but you need his music in your life.