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'Friday Night Lights': Returning to the heart of Dillon

October 6, 2007 | 10:10 am

Kyle_jozfcykn_300 As that guy on the radio in Dillon would say, Welcome back, Panther fans, to a second season of the one and only "Friday Night Lights."

Fade in: End of summer, and Panther footballers, state champs, are frolicking in the town pool with rally girls. Brainy nerd Landry's still mooning for party-girl-turned-chaste-homebody Tyra; he even goes out for the football team to impress her. Coach Taylor is coaching college ball in Austin, while Coach's coach (his wife, Tami) is about to burst with their second child. First child Julie is a lifeguard; her beau, the shy, word-swallowing quarterback Matt Saracen, watches her flirt with a fellow lifeguard.

He's an older dude ironically dubbed "The Swede." "In some situations," Landry says, as Saracen regards the Swede situation with a wounded look, "you need to ask yourself, WWRD — what would Riggins do?"

These words will haunt. What would Tyra's ex, the emoting jock-hunk Riggins, have done, for instance, if her stalker had confronted her in the parking lot of a local grocery one night? (I had to TiVo back to understand why Tyra didn’t go into the grocery with Landry; she said something about her account being past due.)

Coming chivalrously to her aid, Landry pays for it tragically: He beats the creep to death with a blunt instrument in the ensuing attack.

Now what? I didn't quite buy the way Landry and Tyra conspire to hide the deed; mostly, though, I'm not even sure I needed their relationship to deepen thusly (discuss).

For "FNL" is rich with character, a wonderful tableau of small-town Texas football life (peopled with attractive TV folk).

As Season 2 commenced, there were lots of good choices, beginning with the use of the Wilco song "Muzzle of Bees" at the beginning and end to add ambience, a sense of time's march.

What a difference a season makes: Lyla's become a born-again Christian, which probably won't last if that chemistry-rich parking lot flirtation with Riggins is any indication. Uber-booster Buddy Garrity is in a shame spiral; his marriage is in tatters and, worse, he gets unceremoniously kicked off the practice field by the new Panther football coach, a hard-ass from Tennessee.

On the subject of shame: "Friday Night Lights" was enough of a critics' darling by the end of Season 1 that NBC was sort of guilted into bringing it back. A year ago this time, star quarterback Jason Street was paralyzed from the waist down during a game. At the end of Friday's Season 2 inaugural, the Panthers were getting their rings before the first game, Street's put around his neck by Coach Taylor.

It was touching. The way "FNL" handled Street's injury and recovery last season was heartfelt, convincing. And it indicated that here was a series about teenagers that would nurture them as characters.

Of course, now they're characters with merch.

"Get your own Tim Riggins jersey at NBC.com," said the slick little message that came sliding on the screen.

Innocence lost, indeed.

-- Paul Brownfield

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