TV Club

Week 12: How the Show Reminds Me of a Schmaltzy Christian Drama

Still from Friday Night Lights. Click image to expand.
Michael B. Jordan as Vince Howard and Angela Rawna as Regina Howard in Friday Night Lights

I found this episode charmingly old-fashioned, and not just because Eric and Tami don’t have caller ID. The FNL morality was front-and-center, and the themes were very heavy and Biblical. Emily, you mentioned some: apologies, lying, untimely death, crime, and even the nature of evil. This will sound like a terrible insult, but the episode reminded me of many of the Christian dramas I’ve watched over the years, in which the central characters—even the good ones—always eventually pay for their sins (Tim and Billy), and the drug dealers drive big, black cars and have no names.

What makes FNL so much better than a schmaltzy Christian drama? For one thing, it’s aware of its own bad habits. In this episode, Vince finally comments on how FNL’s white world treats the denizens of the hood. “You don’t even know his last name,” he says to Landry, after his teammate offers condolences over Calvin’s death. And it’s true—for much of this season, we didn’t even know Calvin’s first name, and we still don’t know the name of Vince’s partner in crime. Calvin was, to us, the devil with cornrows, as Emily named him, and now he’s been replaced by a second nameless devil in shades. This is a white world, but at least FNL knows that.

Secondly, FNL cleverly used a morally heavy episode to take a dig at the pro-lifers, who come off here as bullies and thugs. There is no question that Tami is being asked to tell a lie. Paul Dunley (your hero, David, who gives a fine weasel performance this week) makes it clear that he doesn’t think she counseled the girl to have an abortion or did anything wrong. The school district officials just want this whole thing to blow over and get off the front page of the Daily Gazette (another ‘80s throwback—a functioning local newspaper!). Emily, you mention Tami’s passion. In this episode, she learns the limits of it. She can be full of righteous rage, but not enough to wage a multi-year lawsuit in order to prove that she’s right. Ultimately she just wants to be a good principal and have a nice life. I’m guessing she gives that apology, in some form, and that it will be a moment of both triumph and humiliation for her.

I liked very much the way they used the law in this episode. In Tami’s case, it was her lawyer who delivered the full truth—that she was right but that proving she was right would really cost her. Then, over the question of who trashed the East Dillon field, the law was there to obscure the truth. Joe McCoy spoke in that aggressive polito-speak about doing everything he could to find the truth, while the sheriffs just mumbled and failed to investigate. Everyone knew that whoever was driving those big trucks that tore up the field was connected to West Dillon, but no one would go out of their way to prove it. Either way, it was a great plot device to remind us what the stakes of a football game are in Dillon and particularly of the upcoming East vs. West Dillon game.

As for our working-class heroes, I commend the birth scene for capturing them in all their modern glory. Billy had his five energy drinks but then was easily persuaded to switch to bottled water. Like the working-class men that sociologist Kathryn Edin writes about, Billy has a vague sense that being a father is a good thing but he is hazy on the details. “I’m going back in!” he yells at nobody in particular at the hospital. “I’m the dad.” (By the way, epidural, anyone?) He and Tim have a great FNL moment of sentimental male bonding as they stare at the infant, but then Tim brings it back home: “Keep your guard up, stay angry,” he warns the baby. Plus, it’s always a pleasure to see a Riggins boy in his underwear, even if it’s only Billy.

Finally, the love affairs: Yes, I’m rooting for Vince over Landry. (Sorry, David.) Also for Tim to give in to Becky—the two of them are never leaving Dillon anyway, so they might as well stick it out together. And for good measure, let’s get Buddy back together with Billy’s mother in law—another rare lady in Dillon with fine, curly hair.

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