The first 50 minutes or so of this week’s Friday Night Lights? Pretty strong, with only a quibble or two about Smash’s recruiting. The last 10 minutes, though? Oy.

(I verbally commit to give you some spoilers.)

In terms of the pressure applied to a star player to pick a school, the phalanx of recruiters promising the world to Smash feels pretty accurate. Recruiting has become a cottage industry, with players tracked practically from the time they put their pads on, and top prospects sometimes declaring their intentions on national TV. So it’s no surprise that Smash is being deluged, and that his mother is increasingly peeved about it.

That said, verbal commitments are about as valuable as the paper they’re printed on; it’s true that there’s more pressure than ever to give them, but all that really matters is when a player signs a letter of intent in February. But since Friday Night Lights sets its TV-season calendar to the Texas football season, which ends in December, it doesn’t get to do a singing-day episode.

So, fine. If the show’s intent was to illustrate the weight of expectations on kids (and their families) who may or may not be ready to handle it, then well done. Loved the scene with Mrs. Williams, Tami and the Oklahoma Tech recruiter at the grocery, and the smack-talk between Smash and Chip about who was recruiting whom. Coach’s chat with Smash and his adviser/girlfriend Noelle hit its mark too, as it dawns on Smash that he might not be The Man right away in college, wherever he decides to go.

Still, for all the talk about him taking his time and not making an emotional decision, didn’t it seem like Smash made up his mind awfully quickly after the TMU recruiter showed up? Granted, TMU has become a stand-in for the University of Texas, and as far back as the pilot, Smash was talking about going to Austin (although UT was actually referred to by name then). Hope the fine print works out for him.

In the Taylor household, Tim Riggins has been shown the door (and has taken to sleeping in the Panthers’ training room), and now Eric is hoping Tami’s sister Shelley will be following him. He sees an opening when Shelley announces she passed her real estate exam, but no, she’s thinking about setting up a phone line for her and Julie to share.

Tami, too, is getting exasperated over spilled eggs and shorted-out hair dryers, and things come to a head when Shelley erases Eric’s game tape for The Office ("I don’t know if you’d like it," she tells Eric. "It’s very talky"). He blows up and asks just when the heck she’ll be getting her own place — and immediately regrets it, both because it’s not really his place (she’s not his blood relative, after all) and because, well, it just wasn’t very nice.

It was, however, a pretty nice way to usher out Jessalyn Gilsig’s guest stint. Shelley got more interesting as her stay lengthened, largely because of the dynamic between her and Tami; their final scene was appropriately bittersweet, and the two talks Eric and Tami about it were just two more showcases for how wonderfully Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play off one another. Neither one contained any big, emotional moments, but instead showcased the smaller gestures and inflections they use to make just as big a point. Just really good stuff.

Eric’s moment with Julie when she finally fesses up to being drunk and Tim trying to help also blew me away. All he says is "Damn, Julie. Damn," but his look and body language convey about a hundred times more than that.

As for Riggins, he finally works up the heart to go home, only to find Billy gone and delinquency notices on the door. Jackie, whose taking up with Billy made Tim leave in the first place, explains as she’s loading up her car to move that Billy lost his job and is at some seriously loose ends. It was a reasonably tidy (if overly belated) way to tidy up the Jackie story, and it would have been nice to see the brothers try to work through their problems.

But instead, the show has them go and rob Tim’s ex-roommate the meth dealer. Never mind that it was really stupid for them to take the money; it also feels a little bit lazy. It’s emblematic of some of the other problems the show has had this season, smacking of network notes and promo-driven storytelling, and it left me shaking my head.

For that matter, so did the explanation for the Laribee coach’s meltdown. You probably saw his hit on Riggins multiple times before the episode actually aired, so the act itself couldn’t have come as much of a surprise. But why the coach needed an excuse (his wife is dying) is beyond me. Can’t a jerk — especially one we had never seen before last week and probably never will again — just be a jerk? It’s not like a coach who gets too wrapped up in his own game is such a reach in this world.

Other thoughts from tonight’s episode:

  • Some bad football continuity tonight. For starters, it appears the Laribee QB wears number 24, which you just wouldn’t see in big-time high school football. Additionally, before the final sequence leading to the coach tackling Riggins (at least on the DVD screener NBC sent to critics) the radio announce says Dillon trails by five. Yet the scoreboard reads Dillon 45, Laribee 43. It’s not the first time that’s happened on the show, but it was a pretty bad goof. Here’s hoping someone caught that before the final version went out.
  • I can’t quote the rulebook or anything, but I’m guessing that Riggins was awarded a touchdown on the final play, as he appeared to have no one else in front of him. Thus, Dillon wins.
  • Loved the talk between Tami and Shelley about Tami’s shirt — "It’s too sexy for you. … You can’t wear it to school, what about the boys and their hormones?" Shelley says — and the fact that Tami’s wearing it in their goodbye scene.
  • Mama Smash to the recruiter at the grocery: "You need to relocate your butt up outta my way." And, "Mister, you might be the nicest person I ever met, or you might be Satan himself. But either way, this conversation is over."
  • Lots of missing folks tonight: No Lyla, Buddy, Landry, Tyra or Street, who’s been missing the last two episodes. Where’d you go, Six?
  • Also really liked Coach’s apology to Riggins, and the way it was juxtaposed with Tim and Billy counting their stolen money.

How’d you like this week’s Friday Night Lights? There’s no way things can end well for the Riggins boys, is there?

Posted by:Rick Porter