Last season, we did an official introduction post for our Fall 2010 books. This season, we’re trying something new: officially announcing our Spring 2011 titles individually, each in their own post. If you’ve missed any, you can check them all out here.
This book was (sad to say) not my idea.
This book was the idea of our marketing manager, Jennifer, who has championed Friday Night Lights to those of us in-office for years–as much, I suspect, to have someone to discuss episodes with as to get an anthology greenlit. “You have to watch it,” she’d insist. Repeatedly. “It’s the best show on television.”
I’ve loved a lot of shows, but I’ve never been moved to call any of them “the best.” Television shows are so individual, and so varied, each carving out its own story in its own corner of the universe (or own universe), however well it tells it. But that’s the thing about Friday Night Lights: it feels epic. It feels like, despite its specificity–of place (Texas), of subject (football)–it is telling a story that belongs to all of us. Its scope feels ambitious in a way that makes it plausible to say, with conviction–even when we might feel a scene or an episode or a plotline is less than FNL‘s absolute best–that yes, this is, in fact, the best show on television.
Paying tribute to that, especially as the show draws to an end, is a tall order. (Thanks to the split run–the final season first airing on DirecTV, and now on NBC–our contributors were able to cover all five seasons.) And we know it.
A Friday Night Lights Companion includes, first of all, the traditional eclectic selection of essays. Adam Wilson leads off with an ode to Real America, by way of Tim Riggins. Kevin Smokler connects the dots between Buzz Bissinger’s book, the film version of the story, and the television show we’ve come to know and love, using the one thing they all have in common: a preoccupation with class. Paula Rogers outlines the drama in Friday Night Lights’ decency; Ariella Papa highlights how the show constructs “reality” (and as someone whose job once included creating promos for reality tv shows, she’s in a position to know). PhD student Jeremy Clyman looks at sports fandom: both its positives and negatives (and all of them in Buddy Garrity). Kiara Koenig tells us what it means to “man up.” Travis Stewart, managing editor of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football (you may recall Texas Football from when Smash Williams graced its cover back in season 2) reminds us why high school football is so great, and how the show, and Matt Saracen, captures that. YA writer (with tv critic aspirations) Robin Wasserman tells us why, despite all the teenage characters, FNL is not a teen show. Paul Levinson gives the history of the show’s unorthodox funding, and Sarah Marian Seltzer highlights FNL’s feminist politics. Jonna Rubin highlights the imperfect perfection of the Taylors’ marriage. And finally, Jacob Clifton–if you’ll forgive the pun–tackles politics and humanity in FNL, West Texas, and beyond (in an essay, I should note, that never fails to bring me to tears).
But what really, arguably, makes Friday Night Lights great is its characters–and the book’s backbone is a set of pieces by Washington Post entertainment blogger Jen Chaney that remind us exactly why we love 18 of our favorites, from Herc and Billy and Mindy Riggins to the Taylors themselves.
Friday Night Lights is also a show that has inspired some of the most moving writing I can remember seeing among television critics–and we’ve included a handful of short selections here from reviews and reflections posted as the final season was ending its DirecTV run, from critics like Time’s James Poniewozik and HitFix.com’s Alan Sepinwall and AolTV’s Maureen Ryan, among many others. (We strongly recommend you check out the full articles the quotes are pulled from, too.)
Finally, rather than have me try to introduce the book myself, we turned to Will Leitch, founding editor of Gawker sports blog Deadspin, current contributing editor at New York magazine, and all-around great writer and essayist, to write the book’s introduction. His discussion of Friday Night Lights’ heightened reality, and the deeply personal effect it has on viewers, himself included, sets the tone for the collection perfectly: it’s a fusion of the personal and the analytical, of passion–of love–and critical distance, and a great illustration of how, at least when it comes to FNL, the two can never be fully disentangled.
NBC airs the finale later this month (and speaking of, we hope you’ll join us in watching on Twitter; we’ll be giving some books away). The e-book of A Friday Night Lights Companion releases 7/5 (this coming Tuesday!); the print book’s official pub date is 8/2, but chances are it’ll be available (and arrive at your home, if pre-ordered) more like mid-July. You can find it on Amazon, B&N.com, Borders, IndieBound, etc.
We’ll also be hosting, as a countdown to the finale, a March Madness-style tournament to determine your favorite Friday Night Lights character. (Want a reminder so you don’t miss it? Sign up for updates below; we’ll shoot you an email to let you know when we kick things off!)
We’d be honored if you chose to let us join you in saying good-bye to a show we know has meant so much to so many–to us, and to this book’s contributors, as well.