TV Club

Week 13: Billy Riggins’ Amazing Thanksgiving Speech

Still of Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights.

Before David talks football, I will, because if the end of men is drawing nigh, then we need to do our own Saturday-morning quarterbacking, don’t we? I somehow thought the writers would bow to reality and let the Lions lose. Silly me—wrong show. Or, at least, wrong season. Only in the grim light of the first season and Jason Street’s terrible injury would we have gotten such realism. I’m not complaining about the Cinderella ending. It was all in the spirit of honoring the scrappy underdog, which is what fictional TV sports shows do best. Plus, who can begrudge Eric that, after his serial job switches and other tribulations?

As for the play-by-play on how the Lions pulled out the victory, the least plausible moment for me was Tinker standing unguarded in the end zone. I believe that he caught the ball, but not that he would have been left unguarded. I know he’s not usually a receiver, but still—he’s not exactly unnoticeable. The Panthers may be cartoon evil but they’re not supposed to be stupid. Tinker’s surprise when he pulled down the pass, and his general lumbering-bear presence, reminded me of 242-pound James Harrison, who lay down flat in the end zone after his interception and flabbergasting 100-yard run for the Steelers in the 2009 Super Bowl. It was fitting, if not credible, because Tinker has become the show’s moral compass, at least among the teenagers, and he’s poised to be the show’s next sidekick-turned-co-star.

But first, Landry’s moment of glory. Hanna, you’re right that his scenes with Matt were gems. I especially liked the first one, when Matt shows up on his doorstep and Landry tells him he’s been a lousy friend (while chomping an apple that mysteriously disappears midway through the scene in a rare editing glitch, I think). “He’s like a girl,” Matt mutters in disgust as Landry slams the door on him. David, what do you think—does the male friendship code hold that you can never protest when a friend cuts out on you? That seems like too much dishonesty to me. But back to the football game: After lengthy deliberation, I’m gonna say that Landry kicking a 46-yard football is actually short of miraculous. If the Web can be trusted, the longest high-school field goal was either a 70-yarder by Alan Saunders of Oregon-Clay High School in 2008 or a 68-yarder by Dirk Borgognone of Reno High School in 1986. Both kicks, assuming they’re real, are longer than the NFL record of 63 yards, shared by Tom Dempsey for the New Orleans Saints and Jason Elam for the Denver Broncos. (And, yes, that is more football trivia than I’ve ever reeled off before, though I am one of four girls and my dad made sure we grew up watching.)

My point is that even a nebbish like Landry could kick 46 yards if he got super lucky. Or maybe, as Eric says, it’s all about his coaching prowess and how he has spent the last three years turning Landry into a football player. In any case, dramatically speaking, the bonus was the inversion of Vince’s and Landry’s roles: The white garage-band boy is lifted high on his teammates’ shoulders, while the black juvie kid has the season’s best moment with Coach—”I’m not sure I can do this for you,” Vince says, in a burst of maturity—and gets the sweet, smart girl.

Another inversion, this one inadvertent, involves the weak moment you point to, Hanna, between Tim and Becky. You’re right that she would never have called him a coward or a liar—what did he do to her, anyway? And I particularly resented the clichés when she repeated her mother’s past lines, lambasting Tim for being just like other men and complaining that she should never have trusted him. Whatever. Also, wasn’t that a whole lot of symbolic meaning, not to mention caressing, to put on one snow globe? The only virtue of Becky’s bleating mini-tirade was that it underscored the beauty of Billy’s impassioned and unsteady speech at the Thanksgiving table. This episode captured Billy at his manic best and worst: He took a dig at Tim for bringing too many cars to the same junk yard, he snapped at Mindy while she rocked their baby—and then from his heart comes this outpouring of awkward, appreciative love for friends, family, and especially Tim. Billy’s speech was a highlight of the season and vintage FNL, the reason we keep watching. That along with the pure fun of Tami’s restraint when the most praised part of the meal was Buddy’s deep-fried bird. Didn’t you want a bite?

I don’t know that I can forgive Billy for letting Tim take the fall for him, though my husband points out that it was the pragmatic solution, and I agree, Hanna, that Tim really might have sacrificed himself to Billy’s chance at fatherhood. In any case, I expect both the Riggins boys back next season. In fact, maybe the show should skip a year so it catches up with Tim just as he’s finishing his time. The hard road of re-entry for a Riggins brother as an ex-con would make for a good subplot. If Julie decides that her Chicago is truly Habitat for Humanity, maybe she can help Tim build the house with a porch on the land of his dreams.

Even if we lose Julie, who I’d say has grown as an actress—and far worse, Matt, who has always had actual range—I feel pretty good about next season. Maybe Tami’s move back to East Dillon High will somehow create more friction between the Taylors and the McCoys. The fifth and likely final season has already been shot, I learned from this endearing Fresh Air interview with Connie Britton, the actress who plays Tami. Still, I’ll put in two requests: A major role for a long-overdue three-dimensional Hispanic character who is neither a thug nor a nurse. And more Devin! She sadly went missing for the second half of this season. We’ll come back if she will.

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