I just came to the end of my two-month binge-watch of Friday Night Lights, a show I watched via Netflix as it stopped airing new episodes in 2011. I loved the show. I looked forward to each new episode…which were just seconds away. I could read recaps of the episode while the credits were rolling on it. If I wanted, I could read ahead and know what developments would occur two seasons from now.
But I’ve only been a fan of Friday Night Lights for two months even though the show ran for five years with long breaks in between seasons. My enjoyment of the show and dedication to it has been immediate, in some ways fleeting. All-consuming for hours at a time – I’d frequently watch 3-4 episodes at a time – but it took up a brief time in my life.
And therein was the question. Was I really a big fan of Friday Night Lights? Sure, I’d seen all the episodes* and may have put in all the chronological hours watching the show other folks had but I didn’t have all the time between episodes or seasons to consider what might come next or read up on cast changes or new plot developments. I just filled the time between episodes with thumb-clicks of the Roku remote, queuing up the next episode through Netflix.
More importantly, I didn’t develop into the finite details about the show or the people that worked on it. Outside of the main characters, I can’t really name most of the actors and the lack off an “off-season” didn’t leave much time for me to seek out the actors’ other projects. (Though I suppose that’s still a possibility going forward.)
Contrast that with my behavior during Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a show that ran from 1997-2003 and I watched as it aired. I loved the show. I looked forward to each episode, which were either a week away or months away. In the case of Buffy, recaps might have been posted hours or a day later and character development required an educated guess.
I’d been a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – a show that ran for six years – for almost the entire length of the show’s run. My enjoyment of the show and dedication to it was long-standing and had, at the time, consumed 21% of my life thus far** before the show ended.
There was so much time in between episodes and seasons, I delved deep into the show and even sought out ancillary work by those involved. I watched the spinoff Angel. I sought out the Buffy and Fray comics, the latter written by Buffy showrunner Joss Whedon. I developed favorite writers on the show and knew the guest stars well enough to recognize them when their names popped up in the opening credits on future shows or other projects. If you were a part of the Buffyverse, I’d give your show/movie/whatever a shot. Hell, I even knew the names of the episodes and could tell you what season they were in.
Because of the time I spent in total as a fan during Buffy’s run, it was part of my identity. In some ways it guided my cultural consumption. Can I say the same for Friday Night Lights, a show whose original run was five years but for me required only a two-month window? Again, my post-consumption habits are largely yet-to-be-determined. But by definition of my viewing pattern I wonder if I didn’t spend enough time with it to develop that super-fandom. As an example, I haven’t sought out near as much info about Jason Katims, the executive producer and showrunner of Friday Night Lights, as I had Joss Whedon. Knowing he created and executive produced the TV show Parenthood hasn’t sparked more interest in working my way through that show. Yet when Dollhouse – Whedon’s post-Buffy TV show - came out, I made sure I saw the premiere.
In the old model of watching TV, you had to re-engage with a show each season so even general fandom required a lot more work. Recaps weren’t as plentiful. There wasn’t a monumental digital entertainment industrial complex like there is today, supporting fans who want to delve into the minutiae. Or at the very least, you had to seek it out rather than have it foisted upon you at every turn. (When your daily newspaper covers the gossip over whether Megan from Mad Men is evoking Sharon Tate, you know things have changed from the days of Television Without Pity.)
I want to emphasize again how much I really enjoyed Friday Night Lights as a show experience. I had emotional reactions just from the theme song. Just reciting the phrase “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” in my head makes my chest tighten. Tears formed during certain scenes like Smash Williams appearing at Coach’s door. In an effort to capture the communal social experience that I take for granted now, I posted updates to Facebook and tagged other But if I had the time to develop into a superfan of Friday Night Lights, I could tell you what season that Smash Williams scene appeared in and right now I can only guess.
Yet the closest I came to the minutiae of superfandom during Friday Night Lights was near the end of my binge-watch. In episode 10 of the final season, I saw something written in Coach’s East Dillon Lions hat. Rewinding it, I saw the letters KMC, undoubtedly Kyle Chandler’s initials. This was the kind of detail I had time to go back and find in every episode of Buffy.
Like anything that involves more work, superfandom becomes a part of your identity. Nowadays, it’s much easier to be a superfan when the tiniest conspiracy theory – Megan as Sharon Tate, for example – is shared writ large. But it still seems to require the real-time experience.
But I’m a sample size of one. How about you? Does binge-watching a show you really love lead you to seek out other work the showrunners or actors have done?
* To be honest, I skipped a bunch of Season 2. But only after reassurances from longtime fans of the show that doing so would not adversely affect my experience and would, in all likelihood, enhance it.
* Admittedly an exaggeration since it’s not like I spent the entire six years doing nothing but become a fan of Buffy but you get the idea.