Bill Records
October 05, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

SPOILER ALERT: A major plot point is revealed in this review. If you don’t want to see the spoiler, stop here.

The critically beloved but woefully low-rated Friday Night Lights has returned, miraculously, with the folks in Dillon, Tex., crabbier than a linebacker during two-a-days. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and wife Tami (Connie Britton, brilliant as usual) are struggling in season 2 to balance his college gig in Austin with their new baby. Daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) is drowning in rebellion, as jilted QB Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) mopes like a champ. Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) has found Jesus, who is unlikely to save perma-drunk fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). Only star running back Smash (Gaius Charles) seems to thrive, under the oppressive reign of the new Panthers coach (Saving Grace‘s Chris Mulkey).

Alas, FNL‘s usual balance of perfectly observed dysfunction and vibrant joy has been jolted by the trite TV-movie-of-the-week subplot trapping lovable dork Landry (Jesse Plemons) and good-bad-girl Tyra (Adrianne Palicki): A murder in self-defense! A hasty cover-up! Feelings runneth-ing over! Sure, in a world where narrative complexity faces obsolescence at the feet of dancing ”stars,” a desperate series might turn to schlock to survive. But given that Plemons and Palicki deliver achingly strong performances even in the midst of this melodrama, can’t someone else practice pandering? I’m trying to watch the smartest show on TV. B+

Want more FNL? See what EW’s Ken Tucker posted on our PopWatch blog after watching the season premiere of Friday Night Lights

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