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'Friday Night Lights' preview: Tami vs. Dillon

October 7, 2008 | 11:56 pm

The coach's wife and Dillon High's newest principal become the centerpiece of a town controversy in  "Friday Night Light's" second episode of Season 3. The decision by Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) to reallocate money raised for athletics to academics, preferring new books to a new JumboTron, has the mayor of the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, on the attack early on in the episode.

It's not the only drama in the episode, which sees a former couple start to reconnect (no, not Jesse Plemons' Landry and Adrianne Palicki's Tyra) and brings a bit of good news back to Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles), but it's rightfully the one that dominates. Last season, "Friday Night Lights" got side-tracked early on by focusing too much on the personal and the melodramatic. See the much maligned self-defense murder plot, or the silly love affair between a teenager and his grandmother's caretaker.

But Season 3, which is airing now on DirecTV, and early 2009 on NBC, has brought the focus back to the larger, community-focused issues that made the source material -- the television series and film are inspired by a nonfiction book of the same name by H.G. Bissinger -- so irresistible to begin with.

And the academics vs. athletics issue is rooted in reality. Bissinger's book followed the Panthers of Permian High School in Odessa, Texas, and the debate still had the town talking in 2007, at least judging by the Associated Press story. The article quotes former Permian High football coach John Wilkins as saying the book "was one of those things that did bring to the public’s attention, 'Is there too much emphasis on athletics?’ I don’t know that anyone came to that definite conclusion.”

Probably not. Any SoCal resident who has spent some time on the USC campus knows that the academics vs. athletics discussion will persist as long as a team is successful. But if the fictional "Friday Night Lights" is following reality, it looks like the Panthers got the JumboTron:

--Todd Martens

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