On Screen: Why Tami Taylor is a Fan Favorite on Friday Night Lights
In the canon of 2000s teen dramas, Friday Night Lights (2006-2011) stands out. The show follows Coach Eric Taylor, who heads a high school football team from Dillon, Texas—a small town that’s obsessed with football. In charting the lives of the football players the show tackles the role of sports, friendship, sex, and all the ways they intertwine. Unlike similar shows such as One Tree Hill, which regularly produced cringeworthy moments of toxicity packaged as sexiness like this one, Friday Night Lights rarely put a glossy finish on these themes. Instead it often painted a depressingly realistic picture of male-athlete worship. The football stars have “rally girls”—aka female students who serve as personal assistants to the players, doing their homework for them and making them baked goods before a game. The challenge to this misogynistic lifestyle is lead by arguably one of the most iconic female characters on the show Coach Taylor’s wife, Tami Taylor.
With the show centering on her husband, Tami might normally have been limited to the realm of the “supporting” character in more ways than one. Because she exists on the outskirts of the football team at the heart of the show, Tami could easily have been written into the pejorative archetype of “The Wife” — a woman who exists solely in the shadow of her husband—but she isn’t. Instead of being an accessory, Tami’s independence transforms her relationship with Coach Taylor into the heart of the show, bringing an example of a real life marriage into the soapy world of teen romance, which regularly relies on toxicity to keep a relationship interesting.
The reason I and so many other young girls were drawn to Tami as a character was that she showed us a relationship that contrasted so greatly with the tumultuous romances in the teen characters’ lives and, probably, our own lives as well. The strength of Taylors’ relationship proves to be a strength for the show itself. In an article for The Atlantic on FNL’s portrayal of marriage, writer Tony Lee remarked the marriage didn’t need chaos to make it interesting, noting the lack of “sensationalistic storylines involving infidelity, illegitimate children, mistrust, or even just spite.” He argues that the united front the Taylors present “make this marriage different from most that are depicted on television.”
Friday Night Lights defies “The Wife” archetype with a storyline overlapping seasons one and two, which tackles Tami’s far from joyful relationship with domesticity. After giving birth we see the agony that comes with both caring for a young baby and teenager on her own as well as her seemingly paradoxical pain of leaving her baby and returning to her beloved job. None of this is glamorous, and particularly during Tami’s weeks with her newborn daughter we see her unravel from a confident, put-together woman into a stressed out mess.
In past interviews, actress Connie Britton who plays Tami emphasized how important it was to her that Tami be a well-rounded character. A 2013 New York Times profile on the actress even quoted her saying she was “‘rabid’ about holding the producers to their promise that her character would do more than just cheer on her husband from the bleachers.” Yet, anyone who watches FNL knows that there are a number of shots where we see Tami doing just that—standing on the sidelines, cheering for her husband. But while she does this, Tami also has her own interests, a career of her own by the end of season one, and a strong will that precludes her from ever being a doormat to her husband’s whims. The underlying message FNL conveys is that supporting your partner does not mean subjugating yourself to them.
Tami’s arc feels so satisfying to watch because her support for her family is never taken for granted. Instead of being absurdly unconditional, we see Tami’s sacrifice as true emotional labour, which drains and depletes her. In a scene which feels particularly nuanced in retrospect, Coach Taylor finds Tami under a table, picking up trash, during a large party the two are hosting for the football team, which Coach Taylor gave Tami little notice to prepare for. Upon finding her under the table, Coach Taylor demands to know why Tami is hiding rather than helping him host the party, prompting a controlled but passionate answer from Tami. “I’m cleaning up after your football stars who by the way happen to be pigs.” She says, “I’m doing it but I’m not going to pretend to like it. Not right now. Not down here. When I go back up there I’ll give you a big smile, alright, just like I know you need, but down here I’m pissed.”
In Tami’s moment of frustration, she makes a clear distinction. The party may be going on without a hitch but that doesn’t negate the amount of labor necessary to pull it off. As she explains to Coach Taylor in the scene, a smile and a bubbly attitude does not signal a respite from emotional labor. In fact, as she points out, sometimes even the simple act of being happy, or trying to appear so, is a sacrifice in and of itself.
Through Coach Taylor and Tami’s relationship, the show portrays emotional labor as an essential part of a healthy relationship—so long as that labor is respected and distributed equally. Just as Tami gives up a lot to help Coach Taylor pursue his dreams, he gives up his own for her in return. After the birth of their baby, Coach Taylor insists that Tami keep her fulfilling job as a guidance counselor, even though he previously admitted life would be easier if she stayed at home. At the end of the series—spoiler alert—he even moves across the country with her to Philadelphia, giving up coaching his beloved Dillon Panthers so she could further her career as the Dean of Admissions at a prestigious high school. Most importantly, Coach Taylor’s support for his wife is never framed as making less of a man. In fact, those moments only further enhance the characteristics of care and honor which define the Coach Taylor we know and love.
When I started watching Friday Night Lights at 12-years-old, I had never been in a relationship before or even anything close to one. Though it was probably an ill-advised move, I looked to TV shows like Friday Night Lights as a guidebook for the challenges I might face as I moved into my teen years. Even at such a young age, Tami’s character struck a particular chord in me.
She didn’t represent who I wanted to be next year or even the year after that, but she did offer a glimpse of who I aspired to be in the distant future, reminding me that the endgame of growing up is to become the most confident and capable version of yourself. Daunted by the way conventional gender roles seemed to inevitably shape a patriarchal hierarchy in relationships, Tami’s relationship with Coach Taylor showed me a pathway forward, proving that being strong doesn’t always mean being right or having your shit together. They were evidence that a good relationship should be able to withstand frustrations, mistakes, arguments, and all the other little foibles that make us human.
Sophie Hayssen is a freelance writer and recent graduate of Wesleyan University. Her work has appeared in Rookie, Teen Vogue, and BUST Magazine. She is a born-and-raised New Yorker who currently lives in Brooklyn. You can find more of her work here.