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.