I’ve been going back and forth on the final season of Friday Night Lights, the critically acclaimed, if little-watched show about a high school football-obsessed Texas town. As much as I love the show, it can be maddening in its inconsistency to continuity and plausibility. Storylines get dropped unceremoniously or resolved way too neatly — remember Smash’s bipolar girlfriend or that time Landry killed someone and dumped his body into a river?* — but when the show is hitting its mark, it’s pretty amazing. (The Son” is easily of the best episodes of TV I’ve ever seen.)
(Spoilers. Seriously, y’all. Don’t read if you’re not caught up.)
The show’s only ostensibly about football; things don’t really get humming until the stadium lights dim and the town’s football heroes slink back into their messy lives. This is especially true of Tami and Eric Taylor, the toweringly likable couple at the center of the town’s travails. (He’s the coach, she’s the school’s guidance counselor.) Their marriage has had to withstand the minefield of small-town politics, their roles as surrogate parents to an ever-changing army of teenage boys (on top of raising their own daughter), and relocating for Eric’s next big football gig. Tami has had to muster saintlike patience — it’s just part of being a coach’s wife — but FNL’s penultimate episode suggests that this fissure actually runs pretty deep. Tami is offered a job as dean of admissions at a prestigious Philadelphia college, and Eric is completely dismissive about the prospect of moving for her job. (“That’s a long commute,” he snaps.) His team is on the verge of going to the state championship, and he’s become a hot commodity in the coaching marketplace once again. When two power brokers from Dillon High come to his front door at night to offer him the reins of their football program once again, it’s Tami who answers the door. She invites the men in, and looks at Eric. “Eighteen years,” she says — nearly two decades of deferring her career and uprooting her life so he doesn’t have to — before turning to their guests, who are just out of earshot, and offering them tea and water. And the episode ends. It’s a killer scene.
But I think this parallels a lot of choices women make in real life, especially in the South. Coaches move around a lot and just expect their wives to get teaching jobs at new schools. Women go to college first, get a steady-paying job as a teacher, and then put their husbands through school. What never happens is that the wife gets her turn; like Tami, women see their husband’s job as a joint one, and men never see the reverse as true. Eric can easily get a job as a coach in a Pennsylvania school, it just might not be as high profile as a job in Texas. But, so what? Tami will be a dean at a top-notch college. If the show remains true to life, Tami will turn down the job, Eric will still get to be the marriage’s star, and she will decide to put her disappointment aside or it will slowly break their marriage apart. But I hope the show actually takes us elsewhere. In a fair and just world, Eric will go with Tami to Pennsylvania.
I should point out that this plotline may have been set up really poorly — ain’t no way a high school guidance counselor from a Texas backwater is tapped for a job like that at an elite college halfway across the country — but both the acting that’s come out of it and the critique of the gender dynamics inherent to the marriage at the show’s center more than offset the way it came to be.
*To be fair, the writers seemed to have decided that the entire second season doesn’t really count. Good call.
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