Friday Night Lights, binge-watching and super-fandom

Does binge-watching a television show’s entire run in a matter of months – instead of devoting that same amount of time to it over a number of years – mean you become less of a superfan of the show?

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.


3 comments for “Friday Night Lights, binge-watching and super-fandom

  1. June 29, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I’ve currently been binge-watching Warehouse 13 on Netflix. One of the show’s creators is Jane Espenson. Oddly Warehouse 13 is the last of her work for me to discover and the only one I’ve really enjoyed. (I liked her Buffy episodes, but didn’t enjoy them like I enjoy Warehouse 13.)

    I did notice the name of one of the stars in the credits and think “Where have I seen the name Saul Rubinek before?” It turns out he was on a show called Nero Wolfe I watched when I was little, which makes me want to revisit that show.

  2. Joel
    June 30, 2013 at 12:52 am

    I’m currently a little over half way through my own Friday Night Lights binge. After hearing from many friends, opinions I trust on the matter, I finally started it. Loving it yes, but I think the knowledge that a) “trust me, you’re just going to love it” and b) the ending exists and you can’t do anything about it irrevocably changes your experience. Coming in I knew at least somewhat of the delays and gaps in production so it may have changed the way I view the odd time leaps in between s1-2 and s2-3. So I’m just rolling with it and enjoying it immensely. And then it will end and the superfan mode will kick in, just delayed. I’m already telling people I know who haven’t yet seen FNL that they have to watch it, and I’ll watch it with them to get that 2nd/3rd/4th viewing nuance that only happens with the best things.

    Went through similar binges well after the show aired with The Wire, and Breaking Bad prior to the 4th season premiere. Where you lose that real time shared experience you gain a wealth of creative talent to now seek out. Similar to discovering a comic character with a huge back catalogue of work. Not only are you going to follow those threads back through story lines, you’re going to follow the creative teams off to other stories or work. Parenthood is now on your radar, you might not pick it up right away (because look how long it took you to get to Lights) but given a choice between it and some new property I think the familiarity will give you a bias towards giving it a try.

    So I don’t think superfandom necessarily requires that real time experience. In the moment it may make things more lively (Bob Benson, undercover CIA, what if, ooohh!?) but if it wasn’t already damn good would we even care to dive deeper?

  3. Sara H
    July 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Andy and I have been huge binge watchers ever since we cut cable. I will say that we have 2 main shows that we have gotten completely into and it led to other shows. We saw some episodes of a British show called Torchwood and then learned it was connected to the modern Dr. Who (or it might have been versa vice) and then that led to us watching many of the older Dr. Whos as well. The other show – again British – was Gavin and Stacey. We watched the entire first season in 1 or 2 nights. Once we finally got through all of the seasons and specials, we stared seeking out other projects by the writers and actors. For us, binge watching works well because we can’t be counted on to watch anything regularly.
    PS I have been watching Warehouse 13 and am really enjoying it!

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