Monday, July 12, 2010

'Friday Night Lights' Gets Serious, Emotionally Raw, Controversial

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recently aired episode of Friday Night Lights.*

Becky’s story has become not just an emotionally wrenching one for the pregnant sophomore from a single parent home -- the product of a teen pregnancy herself -- but has made headlines, specifically in the New York Times this weekend.

Why the coverage in the Times, with its writer, Ginia Bellafante writing that FNL “chose to maintain its commitment, above all, to the world it renders . . . that economics dictate everything?” Because it was one of the few TV shows which had a female teenage pregnant actually go ahead and have an abortion.

At first, Tim, who served as Becky’s confidante, tried to convince Becky to talk to her mother, but Becky said she couldn’t because, well, she just couldn’t. So he brought Becky to Tami’s door. “I need your help,” he said. And help Tami did, particularly when Becky asked, “What should I do?”

Tami started to run down a list of her options saying there’s free medical care for pregnant teens and an adoption agency, Becky interrupted her with this question, “What if I don’t want to have the baby?”

“I can direct you to literature,” Tami, a former guidance councilor, now high school principal said, without flinching, though their conversation kept Tami up late fretting about what if that had been her own daughter asking those questions.

When Becky finally went to her mother – who later referred to both herself and her daughter as “trash” for getting pregnant as teens -- the mom reacted similarly to the way in which the pro-life mom on Private Practice, Naomi Bennett, reacted when she learned that her 15-year-old daughter was pregnant, with screaming and tears and the directive that she’s going to have an abortion, no questions about it. “She’s not having a baby; she’s having an abortion,” Becky’s mother firmly and angrily told the doctor, when Becky was still not sure what she wanted to do.

Wavering on the abortion question, Becky returned to the reassuring Tami again, late at night and teary-eyed after the consultation at the abortion clinic. Becky said: “We don’t have any money and I’m in the tenth grade. And it was my first time, and I threw it away and I don’t want to throw my life away. It’s just really obvious that my mom wants me to have this abortion because I was her mistake and she has just struggled and hurt every day and she wanted better.” Then she asked Tami if she thought she’d go to hell if she had an abortion to which Tami said, “No honey, I don’t.”

Then the big question. What would Tami tell Julie if she were pregnant: “I would tell her to think about her life, think about what’s important to her and what she wants and I’d tell her that she’s in a real tough spot and that I would support whatever decision she made.”

The scene with Becky and her mother stood in stark contrast to Luke’s scenes, the first of which had Luke sitting in church with his parents, being singled out in front of the congregation by his pastor and thanked for making them all proud. He was clearly bothered by the notion of Becky aborting their baby. His conscience was so weighed down with guilt that he finally told his father, who in turn told his mother. It was so sad to watch Luke, this naïve young student, call Becky and try to explain how they could make this work out, how he could help raise the child, only to be informed that Becky had already ended the pregnancy, as Becky hung up the phone and dissolved into tears.

The other main storyline in “I Can’t,” was the on-going tragedy of Vince. Beneath that tough veneer and swagger, Vince has a huge, vulnerable heart. Those scenes -- where he found his mother ODed on the sofa and later spoke with her in the hospital when she became conscious (“Mom, why do you keep doin’ this to yourself? Why do you keep doing this to me? I mean, am I that bad? Why don’t ya wanna be with me? Why you wanna leave me by myself?”) and then he believed he had no choice but to turn to the local gangs and crime in order to get the money to save his mother’s life in rehab -- are why I was a big advocate of Michael B. Jordan getting a supporting actor in a drama Emmy nomination. That kid plays both sides of this confused, desperate and scared teen boy extremely, heart-rendingly well.

And can I just say that I love “Big Mary?” Just love that character. (“I understand Vince because he’s me.”)

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