The solitary pleasures of TV binge-watching: 'Friday Night Lights' down, 'The West Wing' on deck

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Image Credit: Bill Records/NBC

This February, I watched all 76 episodes of Friday Night Lights.

Somehow—despite the facts that I live in Texas and loved the movie and care about sports and am obsessed with small-town culture—I never got it together enough to watch it when it was actually on the air. I’m part of the problem of why the critically-acclaimed show long struggled in the ratings and for that I must find a way to forgive myself.

But then there came that one insomnia-ridden night in February when, adrift on Netflix, I clicked on the pilot episode. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Kyle Chandler’s coach Eric had the weight of the world on the shoulders of his blue coach’s jacket and Connie Britton, who plays his magnificent wife, Tami, had this unicorn’s tail for hair and suddenly the quarterback was in the hospital and there was this guy Riggins who had these humongous shoulders and he blamed himself for the accident and he didn’t appear to have any parents and Explosions in the Sky was playing in the background…

And so began a strange couple of weeks in which I’m reasonably sure I showered and my young child was fed. “They’re all my friends and family and nothing makes sense to me when I’m out in the bright of day,” I told somebody who worried over the amount of time I was spending in my Friday Night Lights alternate universe.

Sometimes when I mentioned to people that I was deep into the show they’d make the mistake of saying they were fans too and I’d overwhelm them with overly impassioned play-by-play. How much did your heart swell when Riggins’ dad showed up at the game? Don’t you love it when Coach Eric gets Tami more wine? Aren’t you impressed by how they never drink and drive? Ugh, Julie. Grandma Saracen will be okay, don’t you think? Remember that time Coach Tami told Tyra to spike the volleyball right into Riggins’ throat? Or that time we got every angle of Riggins doing a round of back squats? Would you say your favorite supporting character is Mindy Riggins or Smash’s mother? Can you too recite Tyra’s UT application essay? Ugh, Julie. Panthers or Lions, or is that Sophie’s Choice? Skeeter!

I got used to people backing away from me slowly, saying that it had been a while. And they called themselves fans!

I was of no use to anyone, least of all my employers. Here it was, Oscar season, and I was snickering on Twitter about Landry asking out a lesbian. (God, I loved her too. She’s totally in the running for top 5 supporting characters.) But my Friday Night Lights binge was as satisfying and intimate and intense a pop cultural experience as I’ve ever had. (Which isn’t to undersell the torrid fun I had “discovering” Season 1 of Scandal over Christmas break. When I finally got myself caught up, it was like my days suddenly lacked a sense of purpose and urgency.)

Throughout it all my relationship to Friday Night Lights remained somehow private and thus sacred. It wasn’t shaped or shifted by the noise and chatter of a fickle critical mass. On that note, one day I’m going to watch the hell out of Girls.

Certainly one can argue that it’s lame coming late to a show. As somebody who watched The Wire in real time, I’ve rolled my eyes over folks just familiarizing themselves with the awesomeness of Omar. Where were you when it needed viewers?! But really, I’m just envious. Giving yourself the belated gift of The Wire or Friday Night Lights or Season 1 of Downton Abbey is like discovering Advil or cupcakes as an adult. Suddenly you’re yammering about pain relief and a sugar buzz to everyone long since immuned to their wonders.

Anyway, off to introduce myself to The West Wing! I hear C.J. is one to root for.

PopWatchers, what shows have you gorged yourselves on lately? What should I add to my docket? Is now a good a time as any to confess that I’ve never watched an episode of Lost? Will anyone on TV ever be as heart-breaking and messy and beautiful as Riggins? Is it any wonder that John Carter and Battleship Earth bombed? Taylor Kitsch should be forbidden from having short hair and ever leaving the house without his denim and sheepskin collar jacket.

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