FNL just fast-forwarded 20 years in a single episode, launching itself into the YouTube age. In his office, Principal Levi showed Tami and Eric “Drunk Puppet Girl,” a clip from last episode’s rally girl party in which our new anti-heroine, Maura, drunk but still smiling, gets passed around among football players and other students like a rag doll. And then Tami says, “Wow, 2000 hits.” I had to stop for a minute on that one. We’ve barely ever seen Tami watch television or use a computer, so it felt like the words were coming out of someone else’s mouth. What’s next? Checking into Buddy’s new place on Foursquare? That said, the video was at the center of a very tight and highly dramatic episode aimed right at your bullying-obsessed heart, Emily.
Unlike, say, Easy A, the Emma Stone cyberbullying movie, FNL doesn’t wring many laughs out of the situation. Instead, the episode unfolds as a parable about parenting and the need to guide children to become moral adults. Maura is depicted the same way she would be in a made-for-Christian-audience movie. She is an unrepentant slut, giggling her way through her meeting with Tami as her spaghetti strap slips further down her shoulder. “Have you ever been to a party?” That attitude ends later when Tami finds her making out in a supply closet and breaks her with a lecture about brooms and rats. You are smart and beautiful and this is a moment to choose your future, she tells Maura. The exchange has echoes of the generational feminist wars: girls gone wild vs. the sober, moral careerists.
But true to the best of FNL, the writers pull away from easy caricature. Tami triumphs, but she is also shrill and handles the situation without much grace. When the kids in school are failing to pay attention to a deeply droning and boring lecture on alcohol consumption, she just yells at them to shut up. (She should have taken the mic herself and given one of those great talks she always gives to Julie.) And when she and Eric discuss whether they ever did any of this when they were kids, it’s clear from that little pause between them that she’s not telling the truth or is at least allowing her memory to get selective.
And 2,000 miles away the action unfolds to undercut her and Eric’s moral authority completely. Julie, upon learning that her cute TA has a wife, does not turn away and leave the party as a good Taylor daughter should. Instead she seduces him, and next morning we cut to her in bed. She now is just another college girl slipping out of some guy’s room in last night’s clothes, hoping the latch doesn’t click too loudly. And here is the genius of FNL: taking some very old-fashioned subjects—moral guidance, female virtue—and making them modern enough for the YouTube age.
Parties have a second life in this episode, just as they do on YouTube. Maura and Julie both suffered post-party consequences. The episode opened on the post-victory party at Buddy’s new honky-tonk joint. And then at the end of the episode, Vince walked through an almost identical party, only this time in a haze because of the showdown with his father.
I will leave it to one of you to discuss the Vince subplot. It had echoes of the Wire, Season 4, when Michael is furious that his little brother Bug’s father is out of prison and wants to live with them, so he has him killed. But FNL is at its core sentimental, especially about men, and would only kill off a father if he were a soldier. So after a few confrontations, they have a heart-to-heart in which the dad, while packing his bags, says, “I’m proud of you, Vince.” Can’t be too hard on the writers for that bit of tenderness. At least he walked out without leaving his address.