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TV Review: Friday Night Lights – “Gut Check”

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NBC’s Friday Night Lights begins counting down the final five episodes with “Gut Check.” This is a real turning point in the season, when things get dark and characters go down paths they shouldn’t. The Lions lose their first game of the year. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) asks Vince (Michael B. Jordan) to help train Luke (Matt Lauria) to fill in as quarterback. After listening to some bad advice from his father, Ornette (Cress Williams), Vince doesn’t show up for his practice session, and is benched. After an accident, Epyck (Emily Rios) is arrested and transferred away from Tami (Connie Britton). Julie’s (Aimee Teegarden) stay with Matt (Zach Gilford) sours as he encourages her to face her problems, rather than continue hiding out with him.

Vince has been having a rough year, and things are only getting worse with Ornette’s continued presence. After overcoming all of his personality difficulties last year, with no small thanks to Coach, Vince is backsliding when exposed to someone who is an enabler, immoral, and good at saying what people want to hear. It’s apparent Vince knows he’s making the wrong decision, but his pride is getting in the way of him admitting it, and is causing a serious obstacle. Hopefully, being benched will be a wake up call for Vince, who is looking so promising until Ornette begins taking over.

Something else that will help Vince is if he stops pushing people away. He isn’t paying attention to Eric, and he gets into a big argument with Jess (Jurnee Smollett), leading to their break up. Jess is a positive influence in Vince’s life, helping him make correct decisions and stay away from bad situations. Without her, Vince loses a serious source of support. Luckily, he is still as close as ever with his mother, Regina (Angela Rawna), who, despite her love for Ornette, recommends to Vince that he not always listen to Ornette’s advice. It’s a sound judgment call, and one Vince needs to take to heart. There’s hope, as Vince prevents a potentially volatile confrontation between Ornette and Eric.

Jess has some real potential as a coach. She is the one that takes Luke aside and helps him learn to play the top position. This dream of hers does seem to come out of left field, but her family’s passion for the sport, as well as her spending the summer helping Vince prepare, keeps it from being completely unrealistic. What’s more, while she is far from perfect, as evidenced by Luke’s rough struggle to win, she has some raw talent. She helps both Vince and Luke become better players this year. Hopefully Eric will pay a little more attention to her as she continues down this path. He’s already starting to see her like a daughter. It’s a logical progression. Unlikely as it is, how cool would a spinoff, set years in the future, with Jess as a head coach, be?

Vince’s issues are likely the reason the Lions lose. While it is a team sport, having the quarterback more concerned with his ego instead of the team fractures everyone. His bad attitude is contagious. For those hoping to see the team go undefeated in their final season, this is a serious disappointment. But Friday Night Lights is all about overcoming adversity, so a stumble is bound to happen. Considering that this is the final season, it is not likely to happen again, whether Vince pulls things together, or Luke steps up like he did in the game at the end of the episode.

Luke is slowly becoming a man. A grownup man. Besides the football stuff, the way he is handling his renewed relationship with Becky (Madison Burge) seems very mature. Luke doesn’t pick a fight with his mom, but he’s not going to keep hiding Beck from his parents, either. Instead, he simply presents her without comment, without rehashing last year’s abortion incident. Luke’s parents should be proud. Luke and Becky learn a lot from their experience, and will be much smarter the next time around. Plus, their reconciliation demonstrates real affection between them, making last year more than just a fling.

Becky’s new job at the Landing Strip could be a problem for her and the moral Luke, or not. There’s not a lot of time left to deal with many issues, and the portrayal of Mindy’s (Stacey Oristano) character makes the job seems less wrong and demeaning. Mindy has given a face to the type of girl that works at a strip club, and her sweet story of marriage and having a family humanizes the dancers in a way never seen before in series television. If Becky wants to pursue the relatively easy money to be had, Friday Night Lights won’t pass judgement. The question is, will Luke?

Mindy’s hesitance about her pregnancy is natural. Their insurance is lapsed, and she is still caring for an infant. It will keep her from working when the family needs money. Mindy is a realist, but Billy (Derek Phillips) is not. The balance helps them work as a couple. Now it will be Billy’s job to get Mindy on board. They have a stable, loving marriage. It will not be easy at this time, but they can handle another child.

It’s too bad Epyck leaves. Tami has really been working hard to reach out to the girl, and after all the kids Tami helps, it’s a shame that the one that might be her last of the TV show is removed before the real work can be done. This plot is as much about the counselor as it is about the student, if not more, as Tami struggles to provide support for kids that really need it. Epyck just won’t be one of them. Life isn’t fair.

Finally, it’s time for Julie to go home. A happy ending between her and Matt would be a welcome development, but it cannot happen in “Gut Check.” Not until the eldest Taylor daughter confronts the things she is hiding from. Sure, her first semester at college sucks. But part of being an adult is picking up the pieces and moving on. Instead, Julie is immature, intentionally crashing a car, and now running off to Chicago. Matt is ready to be with her, whenever she is. Let’s hope that Julie grows up a lot in the last four episodes.

Friday Night Lights airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, or if you can’t wait to see how it ends, the Season Five DVD is on sale now.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com