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Plenty of drama off the field

Times Staff Writer

First of all, what’s with the goofy, soapy midepisode recap, sponsored by JC Penney? I realize that embedded advertising is the future in a DVR world. But please, I don’t need to be told what’s just happened in the first half-hour of “Friday Night Lights.”

The show has me at “hello”! The corporate-sponsored recaps are both no big deal and a microcosm of a sophomore jinx, demeaning a quality show with faux intrigue.

The beauty of “FNL” last year was its tableaux of small-town life, inside of which roamed these characters on divergent paths of discovery. All of this felt unhurried and naturalistic, told in quickly glimpsed gestures and flavorful shots of Dillon, Texas, as much as dramatic events.

But Dillon has been receding of late, replaced by the will-he-or-won’t-he return of Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and the murder/will-they-or-won’t-they-consummate pas de deux between high school hottie Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and nerd-savant Landry (Jesse Plemons).

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He will, and they did. Next week, “FNL” teased in coming attractions, the body of Tyra’s stalker will be recovered, and Landry, who did the deed, will begin to feel that night closing in.

Didn’t the show used to tell us that hardscrabble small-town Texas life got writ large on the football field? This season it’s seemingly been writ large in a writers’ room, with the network on a notes call, wondering if there isn’t some way to raise the stakes (i.e., ratings).

Football used to be the show’s religion, but lately it feels like just another after-school activity. Let us, however, also go in praise of story lines. Buddy Garrity’s (Brad Leland) plea to Coach Taylor to return to Dillon played out convincingly in a truck stop, setting up the payoff at the end. And Lyla’s (Minka Kelly) born-again Christianity in the wake of her parents’ separation and the breakup with Jason Street (Scott Porter) is also a winner.

In Friday’s episode, emoting jock-hunk Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) also flirted with a closer relationship with God, until it turned out he was just flirting with Lyla, using God as his wingman. Too harsh? Maybe Riggins really did feel something in that church. Regardless, as he perused the worshipers and the camera followed, a missing piece of the show’s spirit had returned.

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paul.brownfield@latimes.com

Show Tracker follows television series through their highs and lows.


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