In an era when a new form of literature is emerging, the simultaneous release of two works - today - heralds its arrival.
But they're not books, they are DVDs, collecting the first seasons of two TV shows, Heroes and Friday Night Lights.
Tom Maurstad of the Dallas Morning News writes that the effect of watching these two collections - the depth, the intensity of the experience - will make you want to press your well-worn copies into the hand of a close, but uninitiated friend the way you once would have done with a beloved novel, delivered with an updated version of the timeless imperative: "You've got to watch this."
Amid the seemingly constant barrage of reports and rumors of breakthroughs and paradigm shifts, it sounds kind of funny to attach words like "new" and "emerging" to the old-world media of TV, even if it is nudged along the timeline by being presented in the mid-world format of DVD.
But Friday Night Lights and Heroes are two shows that represent examples of a new kind of TV viewing experience, a distinction heightened by their packaging as DVD collections.
In the opinion of many fans, to watch one of Friday Night Lights or Heroes is to want to watch another... and another, until you've exhausted them all.
And while there are always the Internet and on- demand services, DVDs remain the ultimate expression of this power-viewing style of consumption.
Both collections were made with a keen understanding of this, although, as with the shows themselves, they take opposing approaches.
Heroes wears its self-knowingness on its sleeve, tagging each episode as a new "chapter," feeding its roots in the comic-book / online world with its lifeblood pursuit of everything behind-the-scenes and in-the-margins.
It includes oodles of audio commentaries, how-they-did-it documentaries and treasures such as creator Tim Kring's cut of the "unaired pilot."
The Friday Night Lights DVD, meanwhile, like the show itself, is all artful restraint and understatement. Packaging is minimal: a few snapshot-style cast-in-character photographs culminating in an inner-jacket, multipanel portrait of stadium lights against the wide Texas sky.
As for extras, by DVD standards, there almost aren't any. There is only one documentary - "Behind the Lights: Creating the First Season of Friday Night Lights" - and a few episodes offer deleted scenes.
Each approach, as with almost everything with these shows, is just right.
Heroes, with its coils of characters and subplots, its conspiracy theories, benefits from the bag-of-tricks approach. It's fun to have more stuff to pore over; it's great to hear Kring and company talk about all the minute choices, all the incidental details about this scene or that storytelling twist. It all feeds the fantasy.
Likewise, you don't really want to see a lot about the making of Friday Night Lights. This show is like a great magic trick, or even better, a beautiful dream. You don't really want to know how they did it; you don't want to wake up. You just want to be carried away by this amazing group of characters.
Watching these two shows, what breaks through aren't the differences but the similarities. Friday Night Lights is small-town Texas and football; Heroes is multinational and destiny. But under those two very different facades beats the same human heart.
- Both are all about the emotional lives and complex relationships of their characters.
- Both have recurrent images and symbols to create a visual language to instantly put you "in" the story.
- Both have mantras that emerged in the first season to sum up the essential spirit. With Heroes, it was "Save the cheerleader, save the world." On Friday Night Lights, it was "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose."
Watch either, watch both. This is television at its best, following the trail blazed by the brilliant shows - The Sopranos, The Wire, Arrested Development - that came before.
These programs go further into a future in which TV shows are a new kind of novel, taking the viewer deeper and deeper into the hearts and minds of its characters. Enjoy. Over and over.
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