TV Club

Who Posted the Video?

Still from Friday Night Lights. Click image to expand.
Cress Williams as Ornette Howard

Yes, Hanna, the YouTube clip of Maura’s drunken puppet dance is ripped from the headlines—exactly in line with the real damage that kids do to each other on the Internet. In the Web 1.0 era, we worried a lot about sexual predators seducing teens on-line. That happens, but not often. Instead, it’s become clear that the more pressing concern is the ways in which kids casually and cruelly use YouTube and Facebook and and other sites to trash each other. In the classic scenario, a girl is stripped of her dignity by classmates who are, in part, pranksters, but who are also doing real harm. Because, as Tami underscores in her broom closet lecture, Internet smears are permanent and indelible, or at least they can be.

What did you think about the turn this episode took from cracking down on the boys to remonstrating the girl? At first, Levi comes to Eric to talk about disciplining his football players, and Eric is understandably defensive. Lots of boys were at the party, he says, and Levi doesn’t know who posted the video. Tami says that the girls ought to be dealt with too. Then Eric summarily kicks off the team two boys who are jokingly imitating Maura on the sidelines at practice. I guess this is meant to be justice, but it felt unfair and arbitrary to me. Sure, it was low to play the debacle for a laugh, but if these boys weren’t the ones who played puppeteer with Maura or who posted the video, then weren’t they minor culprits? Meanwhile, the emotional center of the episode, as you noted Hanna, was Tami’s schooling of Maura in the ways of girlhood self-respect.

I’m all for the lesson, but I wanted to know: Who did post that video? Will that student be punished? Legally speaking, it’s an open question whether schools can discipline students for off-campus behavior like this (which gets some protection as free speech—what’s unresolved is how much). But they can certainly bring in a kid and his or her parents for a long talk about basic human decency.

As for Julie’s fling with the married T.A., I give the writers one point for taking away Tami’s moral high ground but deduct 10 for the sheer annoying implausibility of this whole encounter. As University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill vented to me over e-mail, “Are we really doing this? I agree that it stretches the imagination that she would not be immediately sought out and popular on campus. Even worse is the grad student—he is really weird and unappealing. Like a serial killer from one of those Lifetime movies you can’t believe you actually watched for two hours.” I know that the beginning of freshman year is a time when good judgment goes out the window, but in my experience, the girls who slept with T.A.s in that giddy moment were much less sensible and wholesome than Julie. They ended up on the fourth floor in the psycho singles, as we called them. I wish FNL didn’t fumble when it leaves Dillon behind, because in theory it should bring fresh air to the show, and also satisfy our curiosity about how our beloved characters fare outside of town. The brief glimpses of Matt in Chicago did that, I think. But Julie going to college is almost as bad as Julie visiting colleges was last season.

Vince, on the other hand, is breaking my heart in the best of ways. His father slouches back from prison, his girlfriend chirpily takes over the team’s laundry, his coach makes him stand outside the supermarket in a coat and tie. When Vince cracked in Eric’s office, he extended his trust of Eric and he also had the sense to avail himself of the best adult help on offer. And he framed his dilemma perfectly: You are asking me to be better than everyone else, but my father never taught me to be better. Eric’s answer was also just right, I thought: “I said you needed to strive to be better. You need to try. That’s what character means.” This is the male tough love that FNL does so well. Eric never goes as far toward emotional comfort in these scenes as I would secretly like, because he’s as uncomfortable about emotion as his players are. Which is why they can turn to him in the first place.

Meanwhile, the show gave us the subplot about Buddy and his pot-smoking son to show us the deadbeat dad problem from another angle. It’s hard to find your way back into the life of a child once distance has settled in, whatever the cause. Maybe Buddy will handle this more skillfully than Vince’s father did. Or maybe Vince’s dad will try again, and against the odds he won’t blow it. As Jess said, do you believe people can change, the way she believed in Vince? Fundamentally, FNL does of course believe that—this faith is at its sentimental core. I saw a hint of this in the plaintive catch in Vince’s voice when he asked his father where he’d be. On the other hand, we love this show because it’s also clear-eyed and at times unyielding, especially about the sins of parents. Sometimes they stick around, not quite redeemed but not gone either, like Matt’s mother, or Tyra’s. Maybe we haven’t seen the last of Vince’s dad, even if he won’t quite come through in the end.

David, in the opening episode you noticed a series of interruptions that punctuated the narrative. This week, I noticed a lot of yelling. Tami yelled at the girls who wouldn’t listen to the drug shpiel. Buddy yelled at his ex-wife. Vince and his father yelled at each other from about an inch apart (a potentially risky distance for a star high school athlete and his ex-con dad). Did the shouting feel earned and did it make you sit up, the way it’s supposed to? Or did it feel overdone?