505 Hours and 45 Minutes of Comfort in Times of Uncertainty

By Caroline Densch

“Make Em Laugh : Sit­coms” by Austin Kleon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

505 hours and 45 min­utes – that’s how long it takes to watch all of my favorite TV shows. Ever since the first nation­wide lock­down began in Ger­many last March, I’ve been doing some seri­ous re-watch­ing. Among the shows I’ve been bing­ing is the entire sea­son of Friends (10), Parks and Recre­ation (7), The Office (9), Mod­ern Fam­i­ly (10), How I Met Your Moth­er (9), New Girl (7), and Brook­lyn 99 (8) – and some more than once.

Accord­ing to The Huff­in­g­ton Post, watch­ing some­thing famil­iar trig­gers a feel­ing of nos­tal­gia, which has a pos­i­tive effect on your men­tal health. For instance, your mind may recon­nect with the set­ting, the peo­ple you were with, or the feel­ings you had when you ini­tial­ly watched a cer­tain episode. In my case, re-watch­ing TV shows trans­ports me back to the time before the pandemic.

I’ve always been some­one to watch a good TV show mul­ti­ple times or read a good book more than once. At this point, how­ev­er, the rate at which I re-watch a film or show has reached a new height. Why is that? And what do all those TV shows have in com­mon, apart from being suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can sitcoms?

I’ve final­ly fig­ured it out: They all, in one way or anoth­er, cen­ter around a group of friends who are lead­ing rel­a­tive­ly ordi­nary lives. Parks and Recre­ation fea­tures col­leagues-turned-friends who work in the Pawnee local gov­ern­ment. The Office, set in a paper sup­ply com­pa­ny, humor­ous­ly por­trays the friend­ships and quar­rels among office work­ers. Brook­lyn 99’s main char­ac­ters work in a police sta­tion, and – in addi­tion to pro­vid­ing reveal­ing insights into the pro­tag­o­nists’ lives on and off the job – it’s the wit­ty back-and-forth between the char­ac­ters that makes this show so enjoy­able. In New Girl, How I Met Your Moth­er, Mod­ern Fam­i­ly, and Friends the pro­tag­o­nists’ jobs are sec­ondary. Instead, we become part of their pri­vate lives, their part­ners, friends, and family.

I think the rea­son those shows appeal to me even more now is because my day-to-day life has changed so con­sid­er­ably since the start of the pan­dem­ic. The social dis­tanc­ing mea­sures – while extreme­ly impor­tant in the strug­gle to decrease the spread of Covid 19 – have left many peo­ple, myself includ­ed, feel­ing not only social­ly dis­tanced but also social­ly iso­lat­ed. Re-watch­ing TV shows has helped me cope with this kind of iso­la­tion. In Parks and Recre­ation, Tom Haver­ford pro­vides a cer­tain amount of com­fort by sug­gest­ing you “take care of your men­tal health” when­ev­er pos­si­ble. Brook­lyn 99’s Sergeant Ter­ry Jef­fords cel­e­brates the ordi­nary when he exclaims: “I’m play­ing Kwazy Cup­cakes, I’m hydrat­ed as hell, and I’m lis­ten­ing to Sheryl Crow. I’ve got my own par­ty going on.” In case that doesn’t work for you, try Phoebe’s (Friends) advice: “I invite you to count the col­ors of your bedroom.”

New rit­u­als have tak­en the place of old ones. For me, this means re-watch­ing shows, shows that in the past have pro­vid­ed com­fort. After a while, I know the char­ac­ters and their idio­syn­crasies pret­ty well. They feel famil­iar, even real. ‘Know­ing’ them and the plot­lines offers a sense of sta­bil­i­ty and joy that new shows are unable to pro­vide. It’s almost like join­ing a cir­cle of old friends. This will have to do – until I can final­ly meet my ‘real’ friends once again.

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Car­o­line Den­sch stud­ies Eng­lish Philol­o­gy and North Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Göt­tin­gen Uni­ver­si­ty. She wrote this blog post as part of an enjoy­able course on “The Amer­i­can Stud­ies Journal/Blog: Edit­ing and Blog Writ­ing,” taught by Dr. Mar­ti­na Kohl in the 2020/21 fall semester.