I have been rewatching Parks & Recreation since around November of last year. Before Parks & Rec, I was rewatching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And before that, Schitt’s Creek. Are you sensing a trend yet? I’ve realized that during the semester, I rarely choose to watch new TV shows unless I can binge them over a weekend. Instead, I go for the nostalgia and easygoing nature of sitcoms, settling back into the comfort of low stakes and lovable characters. There is simply not enough spare emotional capacity or brain cells to process something like a mystery or thriller or drama alongside the pressures of a typical academic semester.
Comfort media, whether it be TV or movies or music, has become something we widely acknowledge. People often tend to go for something familiar and reassuring when they’re looking for low-investment, low-stakes entertainment. The sole purpose, in these instances, as the term suggests, is comfort.
There are several reasons for our tendency towards consuming “comfort media.” For some, it’s an escape into an alternate reality where nothing truly bad happens, where plagues and constant political upheaval is non-existent. And, even if there are threats and conflicts, the day is always saved. Escapism is a big reason why we consume media, and given the last few years, escaping to a world with fewer existential threats and big scandals sounds pretty good to me.
Another reason is the familiarity. Shows like Friends or The Office that have been around for a couple of decades are sought for their nostalgia and predictability. Elizabeth Cohen, an associate professor specializing in media psychology at West Virginia University, states, “There’s a lot of comfort in knowing when something’s going to happen. You don’t have to exert a lot of cognitive energy, so it doesn’t feel taxing.”
It helps that you can turn your brain off in-between class and work and homework, while you watch a couple of episodes of a show you already know and love. Sometimes, people may just need background noise to accompany them as they do homework or chores around the house. Familiar TV shows can provide a comforting presence that you can tune into without needing to dedicate all of your attention.
For those of you who find comfort in genres like horror or dystopia or psychological thrillers, fear not! There’s a reason for that too. Sometimes, feel-good entertainment can be alienating when you feel anything but good. True crime exacts more energy certainly. But you can derive comfort by witnessing situations that reflect your emotional distress or ones that are worse than what you’re currently in. It definitely helps to put things in perspective.
We’ve seen streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ bet on nostalgia and comfort again and again when acquiring content. For example, Netflix acquired the streaming rights to Friends in 2015 for $100 million. Since then, according to Nielsen, it has become one of the platform’s most streamed shows. In fact, CNBC reported 32 million minutes of Friends (that’s more than 53 thousand hours!) have been streamed on Netflix. Later, WarnerMedia acquired the show to make available on HBO for $500 million. Friends is pretty much sitcom royalty, and it remains immensely popular more than a decade after its finale aired, generating views and inviting new audiences while continuing to entertain its old ones. It’s pretty much the epitome of comfort TV.
So, if you find yourself watching the same show again and again, remember that it’s ultimately a form of self-care. Indulge yourself in your comfort TV because given the state of the world, it’s the least you deserve. Sometimes our brains just need a break or our hearts need to feel reassured, and if TV can fulfill that need, why not allow it to?