Screen: NBC/Hulu

Tami Forever

Friday Night Lights might never have hooked our commentator if not for Tami Taylor.

When a TV show is described as "aspirational," it's usually code for "full of expensive things the viewer wishes she had," and those shows are fun as far as they go. (What's up, Man Shops Globe!) Then there's Friday Night Lights, which is aspirational in the sense that it offers the viewer exemplars of the sort of person they wish they could be. Do you need to be more resilient, like Jason Street (Scott Porter)? More impulsive, like Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch)? More determined to improve your station, like Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki)? More loving and generous, like her sister Mindy (Stacey Oristano)? If your answer is all of the above, then you, like me, consider Tami Taylor an idol.

Tami (Connie Britton) is Lights's Mrs. Coach, a woman who, in a lesser production (or played by a lesser actor) would be a patient, forgiving helpmeet to her husband and his football needs: making sure to have his dinner on the table after practice, cheering herself hoarse whenever the team plays, servicing him sexually when he stops thinking about The Big Game for five minutes. But from the start, Tami makes it clear that she's not that kind of Mrs. Coach. She has a job outside the home, and interests discrete from her husband's. A very early scrap between Tami and Eric/Coach (Kyle Chandler) revolves around his assumption that she'll magically conjure all the elements of a kickoff barbecue and host it without any help from him -- and she does, but she also lets him know that, next time, he actually has to ask, because even though TV characters don't model it much, it actually is possible to be a supportive, giving partner without being a doormat.

While Tami is undeniably great, she's not perfect. And her imperfection makes her greatness all the more striking, because it gives the (false) impression that achieving such greatness could be easy for any of us. Tami has the same fights with her husband over and over again -- over his inability to unplug from his work, or his difficulty in relating productively to their daughter. But it's the final fight, in the series finale, that seems the most intractable, as Tami gets an incredible job offer -- far from Texas, where Eric has made his professional name; but Eric is no fool, and recognizes that he has a better shot of starting a new football dynasty on the east coast than he does of finding another woman half as incredible as the wife he would lose if he doesn't yield. For me, the most moving thing about the series-ending montage is that it reinforced that Tami and Eric do have a marriage of equals...but that he got to steer it for many years in a row, and now it's her turn to take the wheel for a while. Video is NSFW if you are not allowed to cry at the office.

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Tami is always surrounded, in Dillon, by people who embody the worst American stereotypes -- like Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett) using his money to impose his will, or the casual racism of Coach Mac (Blue Deckert), or the Panther jingoism that grips everyone when the Dillon/East Dillon redistricting happens. But even when it's hard, Tami's response to her fellow Dillonites' ignorance and fear is to rise above, and to embody more positive American values. Tami has the good fortune, through both her own work and her husband's, to encounter many outstanding kids, and she met them all with warmth, generosity, hospitality of various kinds, and a resolutely open mind, acting as the Texan equivalent of a grizzly mom (a Panther mom, of course) on behalf not just of her own daughter but many of her neighbours' daughters and sons. She encourages some to take advantage of the social safety net they might have otherwise been to proud to use. She helps them to believe that if they work and study hard, there are no dreams they can't achieve. And she lets them be themselves, whatever kind of self that might be, because this is America and that's their prerogative.

Arguably Tami's greatest triumph as an American woman comes when she counsels Becky (Madison Burge) about what she will need to do to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Becky does tell her mother -- she has to, because she's a minor and Texas requires parental consent -- and her mother supports Becky's decision, but when Becky's partner's parents find out, they make Tami's involvement a public issue and call for her resignation. Tami, wanting to remain in her position for the sake of her students, initially plans to apologize. But in the end, Tami knows she didn't do anything wrong, and leaves her position rather than make a public statement she can't defend. Tami accepts the consequences for doing the right thing, as so many of this country's heroic civil rights crusaders did. ...Okay, it's a small-scale crusade. But it probably means a lot more to Becky than anything Susan B. Anthony ever did.

That Tami Taylor remains a (fictional) American heroine long after the end of her show was proven last week during Texas State Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster against an astoundingly restrictive abortion bill. As more and more people started watching the livestream, the ones I follow on Twitter drew the comparison between Davis and Tami Taylor: after all, both are principled, resolute, Texan feminists with great hair. The meme got so much traction, in fact, that Connie Britton -- who already called bullshit last year when Mitt Romney the fucking clown tried to co-opt "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" for his campaign -- has endorsed a "What Would Tami Taylor Do?" t-shirt, the proceeds for which go to Planned Parenthood's Stand With Texas Women campaign. It's lovely to know that even if Tami Taylor isn't a real-life hero, her alter ego is the next best thing, and that she is carefully guarding Tami's legacy in our fallen, Tami-less world.

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