There is an incredible amount of tv shows, movies, and documentaries out there in the world. A movie about golden retrievers who play basketball? Yep. An exposé of Seaworld and it’s harmful impacts on it’s orcas? You betcha. A cartoon sponge working a minimum wage job? That exists as well. You could never rewatch anything in your life and you still would only consume a fraction of a percent of all there is available. That fraction gets even smaller when you find yourself rewatching the same shows, over and over. You know what happens in these shows. Every twist and turn, every heartfelt moment, scandal, and punchline, and yet you still find yourself watching it all the way through, time and time again. These are called “comfort shows.”
Comfort shows are exactly what they sound like; television shows that are comfortable to watch. I am sure there are people out there who have dramas or documentaries as their comfort shows, but I think it’s safe to say the majority of people have feel-good sitcoms, comedies, or maybe even a cartoon as their go-to comfort show. You can always count on these shows to provide familiar plots and characters. They fight and make up. They babysit a child, lose the child, and find it at the last minute. Someone forgets their contacts and gets made fun of for wearing glasses. Jim Halpert keeps pranking. Jessica Day keeps being eccentric. Phil Dunphy keeps being clueless.
I first realized that I had comfort shows when I had a nasty eye infection and spent several days in my parents’ basement recovering. The pain was so bad I couldn’t even open my eyes and even the light from behind my eyelids made the pain worse. So while laying in the dark I had to come up with something to distract myself from the pain and entertain myself so I didn’t die of boredom. My solution? Listen to episodes of The Office. My thought process was that I had seen every episode enough times that I could easily envision them in my head and it would keep my mind occupied during those terrible days. It worked! When I wasn’t sleeping I was listening to my beloved Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam. I knew the plots like the back of my hand and yet I was still entertained and comforted by the show.
There is more than just antidotes to explain the existence of comfort shows. According to The Huffington Post, nostalgia is among the reasons a particular show can have such a hold on an individual; “[N]ostalgia permeates your inner life by being a source of consolation you can tap into anytime you feel lonely or wistful for a period of time that’s already passed. It feels good to reminisce, and even better to escape the current reality. The best part? The effort to do so is moderately low and the reward (as recognized by the brain) is high.” Another reason is humanity’s love of repetition and predictability. Colors New York explains this “[P]eople like repetition in their lives because it caters to their need for stability and security. It feels “safe” to live a repetitive life. When you do the same things over and over again, there is very little uncertainty and risk involved.” The last reason I will mention is the connection you have with tv show characters. You know they aren’t real people but subconsciously you care about them and feel a sort of friendship. You know their inside jokes, their strengths, their weaknesses. You’ve been to their birthday parties and weddings. You’ve watched them fall in love and have their heart broken. You are invested. Starting a new show requires an emotional effort to connect with new characters. Once you care you have to go through all the bumps in the road not knowing how it all works out. I mean when Jess and Nick break up, I felt that.
So if you’re feeling guilty for starting Season 1 Episode 1 of a show you can recite my heart instead of watching the countless shows and movies suggested to you by friends, just know you aren’t lazy or a bad friend – you just have a comfort show.