TV Club

Week 9: Loser Boyfriends, Now in Three Convenient Sizes: Small, Medium, and Large

Hanna and Meghan,

Kim Dickens as Shelby Saracen.
Kim Dickens as Shelby Saracen in Friday Night Lights

The problem with Lorraine Saracen is that she moves in and out of her dementia expertly. Alzheimer’s does cloud the brain at some times and not others, but not on a schedule that dovetails with a TV show plot. I believe Lorraine’s anger and discomfort with Shelby. Paranoia and fear of a particular person—in my experience, especially an unfamiliar caregiver—often accompany the disease.

But I didn’t believe in Grandma’s utter lack of sympathy this week with Matt’s bid to go to college. That’s a trump card when played against any grandparent who is in her right mind and most who are not. A grandmother might manipulate her way into persuading her grandchild to stick around, but Lorraine goes right at him. I guess the show gets points, in an after-school-special sort of way, for dramatizing the plight of a teenager whose future is constrained by his family responsibilities. But Lorraine is being written too as selfish and Shelby too virtuous. I had the same thought about Mickey Rourke’s character when I saw The Wrestler. When deadbeat parents are portrayed as only kind and decent, if bumbling, one wonders about how they managed to walk away from their kids in the past. I know, I know, people change. But do they really go from abandonment to being entirely upstanding and reliable? Rourke, at least, fails his daughter once in the movie; Shelby, so far, is all saccharine concern for Matt.

Meanwhile, this episode is a meditation on the loser boyfriend, in sizes small, medium, and large. Riggins, of course, is the minor, forgivable version. His transgressions are really only against himself, and then he still offers Lyla his Apology in Four Movements. Riggins’ trajectory on this show can be measured in the distance he has traveled since the last time Lyla kicked him out of her car. (Remember, first-season loyalists? Hint: His devotion to Jason wasn’t foremost in his mind.)

The midsize loser boyfriend is Billy. He peels himself off the couch, blotchy and blurry-eyed, and raps on Mindy’s window to tell her that she can go back to work at the Landing Strip, no questions asked. Is her fight for the right to pole dance a victory for womanhood? Well, yes, maybe it is. Mindy won’t be one of those wives who takes the off-ramp out of her career and into dependency on a man who can’t stay employed. She’ll get to dance into her dotage. Hmm, now I am back to The Wrestler, and Marisa Tomei trying to sell a lap dance to a bunch of barely of-age boys. Clearly, I need to see more movies.

Cash, of course, is the rotten louse of the episode. This all felt a little staged to me, and, Meghan, you were right that FNL is too soft-hearted to rub Tyra out like The Wire would have. A couple of moments mollified me, though. The first was Landry’s face when he hears that Tyra’s excuse for skipping school is that her aunt is sick: He’s heard that one before—the night he got his wisdom teeth out and Tyra was a no-show—and it underscores the degree to which he is her forever crushed-out keeper. Also satisfying: Eric’s deft handling of Cash at the crucial moment, standing between him and Tami as she helped Tyra into the car. My husband thought Cash would have taken a swing, but I disagreed, because of the way Eric fills the screen. He’s one bull that Cash won’t ride.

Hanna, your analogy between Tyra and Lolita threw me at first, because our Tropicana Motel girl is 17 and looks 20. Pre-rescue, as she sat alone in the bar where Cash left her surrounded by skanky men, I flashed unwillingly to Jodie Foster in The Accused. But Tyra does shrink into a younger girl in the back of the Taylors’ car, with her teary “yes, ma’am” in response to Tami’s questions. It’s all very sobering, I know, but I couldn’t let go of Tami and Eric’s lost night away together. Those fluffy white hotel robes! No wonder good principals are hard to find.