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Our regular man in Dillon, Scott Tobias, is celebrating the birth of his very own Baby Gracie this Friday night. Let's give him a week of paternity leave before the wrenching scene where he drops the helpless infant off at the Chainlink Fence & Pea Gravel daycare, whaddya say?

As rites of passage go, the driver's test is right up there with leaving the baby in the hands of a stranger, and there's a lot of potential in the conflict between Eric and Tami over how to handle their daughter's growing up and out of their control. Mrs. Taylor takes over the driving lessons, but because of her involvement with the volleyball team, the few moments between road hazards are about the only quality time she's spending with Julie. And that's the theme of this episode: what kids need from grownups.

Of course, some of the kids feel like they've earned their majority already, at least in suffering. Saracen has reached the end of his rope, what with the departure of his Guatemalan girlfriend, the breakdown of his junker, and the continued stress of taking care of grandma. His avenues of rebellion? Calling the art teacher a bitch, playing hooky, and window-shopping for motorcycles. Oh, and drinking in the middle of the day. Thanks a lot, Riggins. I know Saracen's a cute mascot and all, but really, why decide to make him your best buddy now? Of course, the "even keel" Saracen professes to admire about his new role model isn't so stable; Riggins is still raw enough over Lyla to flaunt his beer in front of her new beau, the preacher, at Applebee's. (Does the chain want their in-show advertising to imply that they serve underage patrons?) When they up the ante at the strip club, Saracen gets a call from the hospital during his lap dance and has to get a stripper to drive him to his injured grandma. Saracen, it is clear, needs a dad — but not to tell him to shape up. As he screams at Coach Taylor during their confrontation, "there's something wrong with me"; he needs somebody to commit to him rather than threaten to leave him behind.

Smash reaches his low ebb when TMU revokes his scholarship because of the "questionable character" he exhibited during the racial incident and its aftermath. He needs somebody to fight for him — or does he? The whole subplot has been designed to showcase his maturing character, the convictions that lead him to work for something larger than his own advancement, whether that be his sister, a sense of justice, or at the end of this episode, the team that gave him the opportunity to become great and in which his greatness might have already reached its highest point. In an unexpected but moving turn of events, Smash doesn't wait for anyone to stand up for him. Instead, he inspires the team to stand up for itself. There may not have been any on-the-field action tonight (except for Saracen's football-in-the-face practice follies), but surely the end of that locker-room scene is enough football magic to keep us all going until the playoffs.

What of our last lost lambs, Landry and Tyra? Mistaking her jealousy for genuine feelings for Landry, Tyra decides to renege on the blessing she gave to his relationship with pixie-geek Jean and confess her true love. As usual, Landry is helpless before her Amazonian neediness, and breaks up with poor Jean. "You're making a mistake," she warns, and from my vantage point on the couch, she's right; surely, despite the canoodling and soft music in their reunion scenes, Tyra doesn't love Landry so much as she fears being alone and feels gratitude for his loyalty. Jean got treated like dirt, and there's no indication that she did anything wrong but fall for a guy too confused to appreciate her.

We're building up steam heading into the postseason, folks, and even if I were as much of a detractor of recent Season 2 episodes as Scott, I would surely think that this week, especially in its final moments, was a return to form. And next week Peter Berg shows up to make Eric jealous! I'm grinning just thinking about it. Well, that and the multiple adorable shots of Graciebell in the backseat, hanging out with the volleyball girls, bouncing on her mom's shoulder in the DMV parking lot, with her big eyes and uncertain neck muscle control. Seems like the perfect image to pay tribute to new dad Scott, whose little girl promises to break the hearts of greater Chicagoland.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- Some of you have been waiting the past few weeks for some good Eric and Tami time, and you got it this week. Exhibit A: Tami begs with the long-suffering civil servant at the DMV to actually work the last 10 minutes of his shift, humiliating herself to redeem her standing with Julie without ever giving up her claim that she's within her rights.

- Jean's right — there are a bunch of MST3K shorts on YouTube. And I'm happy to report that Landry made the right choice of movie. Wrath of Khan vs. Jaws for a date? Dude, I know she appreciates the postmodern kitsch, but stick with the classics.

- Volleyball realism watch: Better than last week's fiasco of unconvincing editing, but mostly only because it was shorter. However, full marks for the framing when Jean confronts Tyra on her way into practice, highlighting Jean's fighting-leprechaun stature against Tyra's freakish height.

- Landry Line Of The Week: "I just don't want you turning into an at-risk youth."