Forget the (now defunct) TB Times. There’s a new animated series in New England.
Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has started sharing short videos recapping New England’s most recent game via his Instagram account every Friday. Unlike the TB Times, the “Flash Friday” clips are published after both wins and losses. Fraser Munden, the director of the animated series, started the concept when Gordon was still a member of the Cleveland Browns at the beginning of the season.
“I’ve actually been a longtime Josh Gordon fan,” said Munden, who lives in Montreal, Canada. “He’s always had this air of mystery around him ever since he came through the supplemental draft [in 2012].”
After tracking the troubled receiver throughout his rookie year, breakout 2013 season, and ensuing twists and turns, Munden said he had been awaiting Gordon’s return to the league “with bated breath.” While watching Cleveland’s season-opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a light bulb went off.
Why not harness his sense of loyalty toward Gordon into a professional project?
Munden and his team — comprised of himself, lead animator Catherine Dubeau, and sound designer Michael Pinsonneaul — had already been in search of a creative exercise to work on in between animation contracts. With weekly deadlines built into the structure of the NFL schedule, the group agreed a project focused on Gordon’s circuitous journey would provide a unique opportunity.
“This was the first season, in a while, where he’d be playing in the first game of a season,” Munden said. “He did play [in 2014 and 2017], but it was only the last four or five games of the year. We’ll finally get to follow his full journey.”
Gordon’s season — and the project — got off to a tantalizing start, as the 27-year-old reeled in a touchdown in a tie against the Steelers in Week 1. Within hours of the release of the first short, however, Munden learned via social media that the Browns had announced their intention to part ways with Gordon.
The curveball didn’t wreck his ambitions, though. Munden said he and the team were “internally committed” to documenting Gordon’s year “no matter what happened.” The group had hypothesized a few alternate timelines, such as a stint in the CFL, but Gordon ended up getting traded to the Patriots two days later. Munden’s short following Gordon’s departure still took place in Cleveland, where he wanted to “convey the city-wise disappointment about the loss of this incredible talent.”
As Gordon acclimated to New England, Munden and his team kept up with their animations, creating storyboards, watching press conferences, and gathering information so that they could present an accurate artistic representation of the week. While working, the trio abides by an “internal Bible” to try and avoid an over-reliance on the usual trappings of sports-related art. Among their rules: no montage-style music, no cliché costuming, and no unnecessary sentimentality.
“You know how in the movies, you see this guy is about to run the final meters of a race and as he’s approaching the finish line, he’s unsure of himself, so he looks at this kid in the front row and the kid smiles and then you see there’s a change in the expression on the runner, like, ‘OK, now I’m going to win the race,'” Munden said. “That’s like actually a very bad message to send culturally because I think it completely misrepresents and insults the entire process of an athlete — and perpetuates the idea that these guys rely on last-minute adjustments.”
Keeping things like that in mind, Munden and his team have developed 12 original shorts and counting. Each represents a possible interpretation of Gordon’s game. After New England’s Week 8 win over the Buffalo Bills, for example, Munden depicted both Gordon and Tom Brady in their postgame outfits fielding questions at the podium. Brady then puts his fingers to his temple, causing four wisps to emerge.
“The stuff that actually bursts, if you were to freeze-frame it, are the four routes [via Next Gen Stats] Josh actually caught passes on,” Munden explained. “So while all this stuff is happening with the press, the idea is that what Tom’s really thinking about is how to get Josh more and more integrated.”
In the short, Gordon’s head then rises out of a body of water, which is supposed to represent Brady’s subconscious.
There are Easter eggs hidden in other weeks, too. In Week 6, for example, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is seen entering 1:41 on a microwave, which represents the number of receiving yards (141) Gordon had at that point of the season. As the dish is heating up, the pasta creates Gordon’s face — signifying that McDaniels is seeing the receiver in everything as he works to involve him more.
Munden had been sharing the videos solely on his Instagram account (@frasermunden) before he started also posting them to the Patriots’ sub-Reddit. Soon after, Gordon liked two of the videos.
“It was the most gratifying feeling,” Munden said. “I was telling myself, ‘At the end of the day, it’s not important whether or not he sees it.’ But you realize you’re lying a bit to yourself because when he does like it and a wave of euphoria comes over you.”
Gordon’s representation got in touch with Munden, and now the shorts are syndicated on Gordon’s Instagram as part of “Flash Friday.” At the end of the season, Munden and his team plan to weave the episodes into a short film.
Until then, the group will continue producing the weekly short and watching Gordon compete from afar. Munden said they don’t have any plans to attend a Patriots game this season, but if the opportunity presented itself, he wouldn’t say no.
“I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be awesome.”