TV Club

Week 10: Instincts vs. the Playbook

Still from Friday Night Lights.
Jesse Plemons as Landry Clarke in Friday Night Lights 

David, I hear you on Israel and FNL. The experience of watching it in my grandmother’s house in Tel Aviv was a real throwback for me to the days when Dallas was a huge hit here. I would sit with my Israeli relatives who were cracking sunflower seeds and, during commercial breaks, shouting in Hebrew about one political mess or another. Then J.R. would be back, smooth-talking one of his honeys in a Southern drawl. Israel has changed a lot in these 20 years, but still, Coach Taylor and my cousin Itzik don’t belong in the same house.

I have to disagree with you about the excess drama though. I thought this episode used a very neat throughline to connect the various unfolding plots. Vernon laid it out for us: instinct vs. playbook. And then Tami, Vince, Becky, Luke, and the Riggins brothers had to make some tricky decisions weaving between those two poles. The abortion subplot was masterfully handled and must be the first on television to so thoroughly explore the different emotions around it and still not choose to give birth. Especially in this age of Juno, when even the cool kids walk away from the abortion clinic. 

I was worried at first when they started us out with the bare, simple church service. That’s the after-school special side of FNL, pitting Southern evangelical values against one lost teenage girl. But then things got more layered and complicated. Becky’s mother was put on this show for the scene in which she cut off the doctor for lecturing Becky about the gestational stage of the fetus— “We get it, doctor, all right?” He was not being “right wing,” as she later complained. He was just following the playbook. But that is still enraging for a woman who must feel at some level that the standard small-town Southern playbook for a young, pregnant woman pushed her into a decision that ruined her life.

Becky, meanwhile, has to weigh the conflicting ideas that she is the cause of her mother’s hardships and also that her mother loves her enough to be her fiercest advocate at this moment. At first Becky blames her mother, telling Tami that her mother is pushing her to do what she wishes she’d done herself. But then Becky realizes that this is, in fact, her own decision—that she’s in 10th grade and can’t possibly take care of a baby. It’s harder to tell what’s going on with Tami. The first time she talks to Becky, she does seem to be tamping down her instincts and cautiously running through the playbook. Then Becky gets to her, by asking what she would say to her own daughter in this situation. Tami then gives her a less bureaucratic answer, but she still seems to be holding back. Emily, is there a part of you that just wants Tami to come right out with it and tell Becky she’s doing the right thing?

I bet this subplot will get even more interesting when it ropes in Luke’s family. I can’t say the same about the Riggins brothers subplot, which played out in a much more predictable way. I hate it when they make Riggins “act.” That speech he gave about how this is the last time, the very last time we would ever commit illegal acts again and can’t we just go back to the days when it was “simple,” brother Billy, is universal cinema speak for we are about to get arrested. I would be surprised if the Riggins brothers make it through the next episode free of handcuffs.

And if we didn’t get any Jews, David, we did get another great Dillon outsider type: the Seducer Without Borders. That scene of Ryan sitting at the Taylor dinner table cluelessly babbling on about Honduras and making conversation with Erik by wondering whether the rain on Friday would make the game “pretty weird” was priceless. Coach Taylor’s response alone—”yeah, pretty weird”—matched with his killer look, made the episode for me.

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