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So any episode that opens with The Replacements’ “I Will Dare” has at least something going for it, right?

Coming off possibly the worst episode of the season—just edging out “Seeing Other People” from Week Eight—Friday Night Lights had dug itself quite a hole heading into “Humble Pie.” And for much of tonight’s hour, the solution seemed to be to keep on digging. Subplots that I’d hoped would go away quietly, like Riggins and his brother running off with $3,000 in Ferret Guy’s meth money (cash he’s apparently unwilling to spend on, say, a shirt) and Smash slugging a white guy for hurling racial epithets at his sister, were front and center, and neither one ended with a clean resolution. Sometimes you just wish certain storylines would pack up and ship off suddenly to Guatemala, but they can’t all be Carlotta, I suppose.

But let’s look at them separately, because only one was handled shoddily and the other one wasn’t so bad. To go negative first, the Ferret Guy situation finally got the best of Riggins, who had been the surprise breakout character for me this season. Stealing the money wasn’t a particularly brilliant scheme, for one, because even a lunkhead like Ferret Guy could put two and two together; if the two things missing from your house that night are your old housemate's stuff and three grand in drug money, your prime suspect is pretty damned obvious.

Nevertheless, the subplot wasn’t about the suspense of the Riggins brothers finding a way to get all that money together or even their dangerous run-in with Ferret Guy and his redneck buddies. No, it was instead a roundabout way of dealing with Riggins’ feelings for the now firmly Christian Lyla, who’s snuggling up with Logan from Gilmore Girls. Where the Street-Riggins-Lyla love triangle was loaded with passion, betrayal, and other interesting complications, the Riggins-Lyla-Logan from Gilmore Girls love triangle is an unbelievable bore. There are faint signs that Lyla’s new paramour may be hiding dirty little thoughts and secrets inside that matted-down head of his, but for now their squeaky-clean romance lacks any genuine spark and leaves Riggins on the outside.


In contrast, the Smash stuff still feels like an unwelcome distraction, but after last week’s broad view of Southern racism, I appreciated this week’s more nuanced look at how justice and public perception can be tilted in whitey’s favor. Smash’s crow-eating on-camera apology reminded me of those incidents where fans pour beers on athletes or sling racial epithets, and the athletes are the ones wholly responsible for the altercation that follows. Yes, he should have turned the other cheek, but he wasn’t the one doing the provoking. And since he’s the star athlete, the hammer comes down on his head. Frustrated as they are by Smash’s actions, his mother and Coach Taylor both seem to sympathize with the kid’s situation, but ultimately there’s nothing that can be done for him. He’s suspended for the last three regular season games, so he won’t be able to help them get into the playoffs.

Now let me do my best Jim Mora impersonation here: “Playoffs? Playoffs?!” Does Dillon even have a football team anymore? Market testing seems to have convinced the powers-that-be to steer Friday Night Lights away from football, but there’s been such a lag between games—and such a general lack-of-commitment to what’s happening on the field—it’s hard to believe that Dillon has played most of its season, much less battled its way into playoff contention. And while football isn’t necessarily what the show is about per se, its absence has siphoned off a lot of potential drama and left us adrift in storylines that are either distracting or of little consequence. Having Smash out of the picture for the final three weeks of the season doesn’t feel like that much of a loss, frankly, because we haven’t seen more than a play or two out of this undersized running back. Is he still a sensation? I guess if the recruiters and Noelle act like it, he is.


Ironically, we get zero football action this week, but have all sorts of fun on the volleyball court, where Eric the reluctant Athletic Director has enlisted his wife to take over coaching duties on an interim basis. Unsurprisingly, Tami is enough of a spitfire to make an immediate difference, especially after she recruits the 5’11” Tyra as a ringer on an 0-7 squad. It turns out to be an inspired choice, not least because it gives Tyra something constructive to do. I always love the rapport between Tami and Tyra, two “tall drinks of water” who seem more like mother-daughter than Tami and her actual teenage daughter, maybe because she was a lot like Tyra in her untamed youth. They both have some fire in them, and it was mostly a blast to see them get that energy out on the court, even though poor Adrienne Palicki spikes like a… um… girl. (Nice sales pitch to Tyra, too: “The thing I love about athletics is its mind-body-spirit.”)

The other bright spot in another disappointingly uneven night was Street’s rebirth as a car salesman. Again, the show has the challenge of finding him something to do, but this job was an inspired choice, because it’s both humbling and empowering for Street to pursue it. Keep in mind: Here’s a guy who a year earlier had every right to believe that he’d be a star college quarterback with his high-school sweetheart under his arm. Now he’s paralyzed, out of school, bunking in an apartment with his screwed-up paraplegic buddy, and reduced to accepting a job offer from his ex-girlfriend’s dad—the same guy who worked to push the two apart after his injury. As crow-eating goes, that beats Smash’s forced apology six ways ‘til Sunday. Yet Street is made of sterner stuff than most, so it was heartening to see him make the best of a bad situation and even take a little pride from pulling off his first sale.


Now if they could just strap a helmet on him and wheel him out onto the field, maybe Friday Night Lights can climb out of this rut. Are you ready for some football?!

Grade: B-

Stray observations:

• The Crucifictorious sound, defined: Not power metal, but “extreme grindcore with heavy thrash influences.”


• And to keep on Landry for a second, this new girl Jean is indeed “God’s little gift” to him, isn’t she? Oh how I wish I had my own adorably precocious cult-movie-and-music-loving nerd around to make my high school years tolerable. (Oddly enough, I had one in 8th grade, but the transplanted Midwestern doofus in me didn’t know what to make of her love for The Cure and dark eyeliner.)

• What in the fuck was the commercial for Chevy all about? I have no problem with Street selling a Chevy hybrid truck in the context of the show, because that’s what a small-town car salesman would do. But to turn that clip into an actual commercial immediately afterward? That’s a clear violation of the separation between church and state, and a shameful distraction from a show supposedly devoted to verisimilitude. Boo! Hiss!


• If someone wants to post statistics on why a Chevy hybrid truck is neither that fuel efficient nor environmentally friendly, please sound off about it below.