TV Club

Week 4: What’s the Deal With Saracen’s Mom?

I’m on Mars with David: I think the superintendent was dead set against Tami, too. The battle over the JumboTron is a fight she shouldn’t have picked—not as a new principal who clearly has no political capital, because it’s a fight she couldn’t win. There’s a practical reason for this that in my mind blurs her moral claim here: The donors gave earmarked funds, whatever Tami’s technical authority to ignore their wishes. And there’s also, of course, the larger metaphorical meaning of the JumboTron: Dillon is about football first. In Friday Night Lights the book, this primacy makes itself similarly felt. The real school that’s a model for Dillon High spends more on medical supplies for football players than on teaching supplies for English teachers. And the head of the English department makes two-thirds the salary of the football coach, who also gets the free use of a new car.

Hopeless as Tami’s plea is, Katie coaxes her to try by instructing that “nobody likes an angry woman.” It’s Tami’s anger that’s making her fumble and bumble. That’s hard for us to watch, I think, because it brings up a lot of baggage about women in authority being seen as bitches. Tami remembers Katie’s words and tells the superintendent, “I’m not angry,” but her voice is full of righteous indignation, so he can’t hear her.

Before my inner feminist erupted, however, I reminded myself that Tami was to blame, too, for playing the politics wrong. She blew her honeymoon on a lost cause. (Here’s hoping Obama doesn’t make the same rookie mistake.) That’s why it rings false when Eric tells her that she was right, unconvincingly contradicting himself from a couple of episodes ago.

I don’t share your despair, though, because Tami is already bouncing back. She used the JumboTron announcement to do what she should have done from the get go: co-opt Buddy Garrity into raising the kind of money she needs by making him host a silent auction for the school at his car dealership. You can’t beat Dillon’s football fat cats if you’re Tami. You have to join them.

Meanwhile, even as Eric is being valorized in this episode—that lingering shot of the “Coach Eric Taylor” sign on his door was for anyone who missed the theme—he doesn’t entirely live up to his billing. Yes, he gets big points for getting Smash to college. (Since I am still caught up in the glory of last Sunday’s Super Bowl—how about that game!—I’m feeling kindlier toward the idea of Smash playing college ball, though I reserve the right to come to my senses and start worrying about his brain getting battered.) But what is Eric thinking by dividing quarterback duties between Matt and J.D., and running a different offense for each? It’s baby-splitting, and it bodes badly. I’m betting against the Panthers in the next game. Related point of ongoing frustration: The writers seem to have settled back into portraying J.D. as robotic and empty-headed, the boy with Xbox between his ears.

Matt, by too-obvious contrast, is ever the thoughtful, winsome struggler. You’re right, Hanna, that his mother is a disappointment. I was happy to meet Shelby because she’s played by one of my favorite actresses from Deadwood. But I don’t believe in her character, either. Where’s the sordid underbelly—the lack of caring, or mental illness, or selfishness that would help us understand why she left her child? Knowing that Matt’s dad is a jerk only makes her act of abandonment less explicable. And so I’m waiting for the bitter reality check: I was ready for Shelby to start to disappoint by not showing up as promised to take Matt’s grandmother to the doctor. But there she was, right on time. I don’t buy the pat self-redemption, and I hope the show goes deeper and darker.