TV Club

Week 4: Eric Taylor, Molder of Men

This opening comment is aimed more at the producers of Friday Night Lights than at both of you: Tami is a stabilizing force in this crazy world, and there is only so much more of her fumbling and humiliation I can take. This episode ruminates on the ancient male art of mentoring, and particularly being a “molder of men,” as Tami puts it to her husband. Tami tries to access this secret world with disastrous results. She knows that Buddy Garrity just played golf with the superintendent of schools, who is making the final decision on what to do with the JumboTron money. So on the advice of the wily Katie McCoy, she finds out where the superintendent has breakfast and pays a visit. “Wear your hair down,” Katie tells her. “Wear it down.”

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Tami shows up in a fetching sunset-colored tank with her fabulous hair down. The superintendent is friendly enough but not overly so, and Tami pushes her luck. She scooches into his booth and immediately starts hammering him about having all the “information” and being “understaffed” and drill, drill, drill. This is not the giggly seduction scene Katie was hinting at. The whole exchange goes south quickly, and a few scenes later, the new JumboTron is announced. My husband and I had a very Venus/Mars moment over this scene. David says the superintendent was against her from the start. I say he was just friendly enough that she could have turned him if she’d played it exactly right. But I can’t be annoyed at her, because playing it right—Katie McCoy’s way—would have meant smiling coyly and batting her eyelashes in a very un-Tami fashion.

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David, meanwhile, choked up at a scene that played out exactly the opposite way. Eric brings Smash to a big Texas university for a walk-on, but then the coach there says he doesn’t have time to see him that day. Eric plays it perfectly. He finds just the right words to win over the coach and just the right words to send Smash soaring onto the field. David was so moved by the speech aimed at Smash that he watched it two more times.

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In a show that so highly values male honor, being a “molder of men” is a serious compliment. Actual fatherhood in this show is secondary to the art of shaping a fine young man. We get a glimpse into the fragile nature of male bonding when Eric asks J.D. to say something about himself, and J.D. comes up with résumé boilerplate—”I set goals and I achieve them”—making it hard for Eric to connect.

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It’s a delicate process, and also one that traditionally excludes women. When, last season, Julie tried to make her young smarmy English teacher into a mentor, Tami almost accused him of statutory rape. You are right, Meghan, that the women are quickly domesticating the men on this show. But that dynamic is not buying them any more freedom. As principal, Tami can’t find her bearings. She still seems herself only in that moment when she’s in the bar with Eric, telling him he’s a molder of men and how sexy she finds that. To which he responds: “I’ll tell you what. I’ll have to ruminate on that a bit longer, because you find it so damned sexy.”

I want more for Tami, but in that moment I can’t help but feel that some kind of order is restored.

A question for both of you: Are you buying Matt Saracen’s mom as a character? She seems so improbable to me.

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