By Ken Tucker
Updated October 20, 2007 at 02:00 PM EDT

“My future’s on the line every Friday night,”said Smash (Gaius Charles, pictured) to Matt (Zach Gilford) in this week’s episode, andso is the future of this series, I’ll bet. Our Lights got dimmer with last week’s premiere over on ABC of Women’s Murder Club, which sent Friday Night Lights plunging lower inthe ratings. What is America’s problem, that so many of our citizens refuse toembrace this show?

Well, after this week, I’m starting tothink there’s a pretty simple reason: The show is just too downbeat for toomany TV viewers who want to start their weekend with a smile. The very stuffthat you and I admire about the series — its romantic anguish, its bleak view ofsmall-town Texas, its portrait of a strained marriage — are what lead manyviewers to shudder and say something like, “I get enough of that at home!”

Nonetheless, this week’s Lights moved a lotta subplots along.Foremost: the opening shot of Landry (Jesse Plemons) and Tyra (AdriannePalicki) in bed! Who’da thought it, a season ago? More to the point, are youbuying it? I love both these characters; I know the plot has led Tyra tobelieve in Landry’s purity and kindness, but… I just can’t get past the ideathat, in that small-town culture I just mentioned, these two interesting butoh-so-different, peer-pressured young humans simply would not be hooking up.

But even less believable: The scene inwhich Matt’s tender nerves and muscles are massaged by Carlotta the live-incaregiver. Come on, Lights folks — thiswas like a bad Dawson’s Creek development.

That’s it, however: I’m notregistering any further complaints. There was a lot here to really enjoy. Theway Chris Mulkey’s new, brutally tough coach compelled a hungover Tim Riggins(Taylor Kitsch) to collapse under the hot sun during drill-time; the way thecoach’s reference to Jason Streebt (Scott Porter) as the “team mascot”compelled Jason to quit the team — great stuff. And I loved the scene of Lylaattending services at her big, tacky church; that is exactly the kind ofover-sized house of worship her character would find her faith in, and I’m notbeing sarcastic or condescending.

Also excellent is the way Julie (AimeeTeegarden) is acting-out in rebelling against her mom (Connie Britton) andalmost-absent father (Kyle Chandler). And also wonderful: the new, unfoldingpartnership between Chandler’s Eric Taylor and Brad Leland’s Buddy Garrity toget Coach Taylor his old high-school job back.

And as always, there are those tiny,perfect touches that make Friday NightLights great: that millisecond shot of baby Gracie holding one of KyleChandler’s fingers with her tiny hand. And the use of (unless my country earswere mistaken) Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the soundtrack singing the great FaronYoung hit “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.” If ever Friday Night Lights needed a theme song for its struggle to stay onthe air and in our hearts, that song title sums it up.

So I ask you: Is anything to be doneto boost the show’s prominence in pop culture? How are you feeling about Landryand Tyra? About Julie telling her mom to go to hell? About the inevitability ofCoach Taylor returning to the Panthers?