FNL has always operated on the opposite principle of most teenage shows. It’s about teenagers, but it isn’t actually written for them, which might explain why it’s not more popular, as fellow fan and writer Ruth Samuelson pointed out to me. Take the role of parents, for example. In most American shows about teenagers, the parents are not really relevant. They might leave a ham sandwich on the table or some milk in the fridge, but basically, their role is to let the kids wallow in their own histrionics. But in FNL, the parents drive all the action. When they are absent, they are really absent, as in gone off to war, or deadbeat, turning their kids into old souls who have to endure alone.
Finally, in Episode 6, we get a break from all that. This one is all about teenagers letting go, which results in some fine OC-style interludes. Riggins cruises around town in a Dazed and Confused mode, showing J.D. all the hot spots in Dillon where he can get laid. J.D. gets drunk, and Julie and Matt go to the lake— all the way to the lake, if you know what I mean. “This is the first Saturday I can wake up not having to think about everything I did wrong,” he says. Then, after some splashing and rolling around, Julie gets home after the newspaper boy has already made his rounds and sneaks in the door. We’re bracing for Tami to march out of her bedroom screaming and yelling and waving a jilbab in her daughter’s face, but nothing like that happens. Tami does not even stir in her bed, for all we know. The tattoo caused an uproar, but the virginity left in peace.
Let’s just linger here some more since Emily, you particularly have worried so much about Matt Saracen. Matty shows up at Julie’s house in Landry’s car. He and Julie share the best awkward TV teenage kiss I’ve ever seen, followed by a most convincing stretch of post-coital bliss, which carries through to Sunday morning church. And Matt’s improbable mother is nowhere to be seen. For one dreamy weekend, being orphaned and benched has its benefits.
The ur-parent of the show, meanwhile, goes off the deep end. First, J.D.’s dad whisks his son out of the locker room after a victory to go celebrate with mom at Applebee’s instead of letting him celebrate with the team. Then, after J.D. gets drunk, his dad forces him to apologize to Coach Taylor in church for disappointing the coach and the team. He is proving himself to be the stage parent from hell and making the option of having no dad at all look better and better.
The show has always been thoughtful on the subject of parenting, contrasting the coach’s tight family with the lost orphans of Dillon. The addition of the McCoys complicates things, since they make concerned parents look like nightmares. And here, we get the final twist, where the Dillon orphans get to shine.
Actually, the final twist comes with the very sweet scene where Jason Street sings “Hole in My Bucket” over the phone to his son, who is at that very moment driving away from him. This is imperfect, patch-it-together parenting (like the song says). And it’s not really working, but it might someday. (Pay attention, Bristol Palin.)
So, speaking of imperfect, is that kid Cash’s son or not?