Emmy Week 2011: Tami Taylor, My Hero

Connie Britton as “Tami Taylor” in Friday Night Lights
If there is one woman in Dillon who stands head and shoulders above them all, it’s Tami Taylor. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem too hard to do. Mothers in Dillon have not been the most successful characters; they were either drunk/druggies (Mama Collette, Vince’s mother, Becky’s mother), absent (Jess’ mother, Mama Riggins, Matt Saracen’s mother), or one-dimensional (abuse victim, religious nut, etc). Is it any wonder, then, that Tami Taylor becomes the go-to woman for many of the “lost children” of Dillon?
But let’s take a step back. Even if she is a three-dimensional beacon in a sea of sub-par parenting, she is not without her faults…I just can’t think of any right now. She yelled at Julie a few times, right? And there was that one time she humiliated her daughter by showing up at the pool, pregnant to the point of bursting…Did she pressure Julie to consider a university far, far away from their home in Texas, just because Tami had gone there?
What we get to see in Tami that we don’t get to see in other “mother” characters (except maybe Mindy Riggins) is the conflict that she feels when deciding on the best course of parenting action. And this conflict is rarely ever expressed in words; instead, it is played out on Tami’s face, which can go from anger, to disappointment, to sympathy and love in the course of one short scene. Tami, from the outside, might seem like the perfect mother, making the job look easy, but Connie Britton conveys to us the difficulty her character faces in her decisions as a parent.
This final season, Tami was put through the ringer. She found out her daughter had been sleeping with her TA (the wordless confrontation between the two of them alone should win her the Emmy). She was confronted with the reality of working at an under-funded, under-privileged high school (sometimes that Southern Charm can only go so far), almost moved to Florida because of a college coaching gig for her husband, and, most importantly, she was confronted with a true and possibly devastating conflict in her marriage. At the same time Eric Taylor was contemplating coaching the united Dillon football team, Tami was offered a job as Dean of Admissions at a fictional college in Philadelphia.
The tension between husband and wife is oftentimes unbearable during the last few episodes of the season. When Tami spits at Eric, “I’m going to say to you what you haven’t had the grace to say to me:
congratulations, Eric” and takes her boots and storms off, my heart was breaking. Here is a woman who for 18 years gave up pieces of herself in the name of their marriage, their family, and her husband’s coaching career. The sacrifices that seemed so effortless throughout our time watching the show finally burst through.
Tami seemed to have limited herself. But, when a new opportunity, an unimagined opportunity presents itself, she allows herself to dream. Eric’s unwillingness to even entertain the dream is all the more insulting because of Tami’s willingness to up and move to Florida if Eric decided to take the college coaching job. When the tables are turned, Eric cannot extend to his wife the same level of respect.
At least not at first. By the end of Eric’s own trials, he sees that, on one hand, he owes it to his wife, and on the other, he loves his wife so much that he ultimately wants to do what will make her happy. It takes their daughter getting engaged–and telling her parents that they are her model–for him to realize that he would never want his daughter to give up her dreams, nor sacrifice as much for her future husband as Tami sacrificed for him (or, at least, that’s how I’d like to read it; maybe it was just all about telling Dillon to F-off). Either way, Tami is seen confidently walking across her new campus, cheerily throwing out her trademark “y’all” to those in the City of Brotherly Love.

Lee Skallerup Bessette has a PhD in Comparative Literature and currently teaches writing in Kentucky. She also blogs at College Ready Writing and the University of Venus. She has two kids, and TV and movies are just about the only thing she has time for outside of her work and family. She also contributed a piece for Mad Men Week at Bitch Flicks called, “Things They Haven’t Seen: Women and Class in Mad Men”  and a review of Friday Night Lights for Emmy Week 2011.

One Comment

  • Posted September 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Tami Taylor was definitely the hero of the show, for me. (I haven’t seen the final season yet.) What I love about her is her complexity. She was a successful professional woman who dealt with very real issues a woman in her position would face, and when we saw her lose battles we knew were unjust, we saw the ways the odds are so often stacked against the right choices. We saw the ways in which her marriage–namely her husband’s position in the community–limited her ability to really challenge the system in Dillon. In her parenting decisions, we saw her sometimes be overzealous (and the pool visits were cringe-worthy), but always thoughtful and critical of her actions.

    All in all, I’ll miss Tami Taylor (and many of the other women who appeared in the show).

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