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'Friday Night Lights': Welcome the East Dillon Giraffes?

December 17, 2008 | 10:53 pm
Fnl_dec_

Well, that was fun. As the third season of "Friday Night Lights" nears its end on DirecTV -- and beginning on NBC --  writers and producers certainly aren't making it easy on us. With only two more episodes to go before the waiting begins -- the annual "FNL" guessing game as to whether or not the series will nab another season -- things are already getting a bit tearful.

Saying goodbye to graduating friends is easy compared to what went down in the third season's 11th episode. Child abuse and caring for the elderly were just two of the pivotal plots of the episode -- one that also dealt with the end-of-the-world drama that are the modern-day SATs, as well as a father who essentially gambled away his daughter's college dreams.

The rundown follows.

Reason No. 872 "FNL" needs a fourth season: Anyone reading this blog is probably already on the renew-"FNL" bandwagon. But the show has now thrown out a tantalizing new plot development that could certainly keep the series fresh for another season, especially as more of its characters graduate from high school and leave the show.

Season 3 began with a Jumbotron dilemma, and a debate as to how best use academic and athletic donations. But as the season has progressed it has gradually inched away from communal to more personal concerns. It's a shame, as "FNL" is at its best when it illustrates how football is woven into every aspect of the community, in this case the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.

Thus, the debate as to whether Dillon should be split in two via a redistricting is a welcome direction. For one, it adds a new dimension to the Taylor household, as principal Tami (Connie Britton) and coach Eric (Kyle Chandler) have different stakes in this political battle, and it has the potential to test their working and home relationship.

Eric sums it up nicely, as his Panthers, who after winning in this week's episode are going to the Texas state championships, are at risk of losing half the team due to the new town boundaries. They're soon be playing for, Eric guesses, the "East Dillon Giraffes."

But not if the all-powerful football boosters have their say. Last week, we saw the collapse of Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland), his character going on a rampage in a strip joint after being told that his multi-thousand investment had gone bust. An opportunist, sure, but "FNL" had spent 2.5 seasons telling us time and time again that Buddy loved his daughter, Lyla (Minka Kelly).

It resulted in some of the weaker moments of the season, and seemed contrived solely to ramp up the drama between Buddy, Lyla and her boyfriend, Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch). Thankfully, Buddy was back in fine form this week, returning to his role as captain of the Dillon Panther boosters. Some ol' fashioned bullying suits him much better than crying outside the house of his daughter's boyfriend.

And here he was, putting Eric in his place, and potentially destroying Tami's hopes of seeing any more money for Dillon High. When Eric questions Buddy's motives, he snaps, "This is a whole lot bigger than you.... No one is going to let the Dillon Panthers get dismantled because of some dang politics."

Dang tootin'! While football gives Dillon a sense of community, it also may hold the community back, and it's an aspect of "FNL" that can never get tiring.

Best line: Tim calling a hungover Lyla a "beer wolf."

Helping the aged: It's turning out to be a good thing that Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) lost the starting QB job. It's allowed "FNL" to further explore his home life, and things came to a head in this episode. With Grandma Saracen (Louanne Stephens) suffering from an increasingly worsening dementia -- she jumped out of a moving car this week -- Matt has been forced to reluctantly get closer to his mother, Shelby (Kim Dickens).

Thankfully, his long-estranged mom has held up her end of the bargain and has continued to stick around. "FNL" gave us plenty of awkward moments earlier -- remember when Shelby showed Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) a baby pic of Matt? -- but what at first seemed like a more soap opera plot is gradually come to a nice closure. Grandma Saracen isn't exactly a bundle of charm when Shelby is around, but rather than have the two descend into endless fights, "FNL" has showed us the chasm in more subtle ways, such as having Shelby navigate the elder Saracen's meticulous grocery lists.

So when the doctors advised Matt that he should seek a more permanent care solution for his grandmother, one had to almost cringe and hope he wouldn't push away his mom, who was offering to help. He did, but only briefly, and a moment that seemed far-fetched eight episodes ago -- Matt asking his mom to stick around for good -- felt just about right this week.

And there goes McCoy: Nothing comes between Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett) and his son J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter), especially not a 15-year-old "plague" (Joe's words) in knee-high boots named Madison. The triangle between coach Taylor, J.D. and the ultra-rich, ultra-powerful and ultra-creepy Joe has been a Season 3 highlight.

With the McCoys coming to town, a lot has changed and more has been threatened. Matt lost his QB gig and the coach is feeling the heat on his gig, as Joe has an army of people who care only about J.D.'s magic football arm. All season long, "FNL" has explored the torture of emotional abuse, as J.D. is forbidden from dating during the football season and is rarely allowed to party with the boys after a game. He lives a sheltered, protected and caged life, and sooner or later he would snap.

J.D. did so tonight, and Joe fought back, with punches. While it wasn't necessarily out of character, as Joe has been inflicting abuse on his son all season long, it was a bit much, especially for this emotionally-charged episode. It was stronger when the abuse was just a series of mind games.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Zach Gilford's Matt Saracen and Louanne Stephens' Lorraine Saracen. Credit: DirecTV.

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