If you described a channel that only aired shows I’d already seen — the same characters, same conflicts, even the same jokes — I’d guess you were talking about paradise…
My habit started in middle school, when I discovered gossipy CW dramas at the corner video store. During important moments — a crush, school dance, seventh-grade social crisis — I knew of a season to either coach or console me. These days, if I have a particularly rough day or the radiator clanks in the middle of the night, the familiar company of a tried-and-true sitcom is only a few clicks away. (Nothing bad can happen when I’m watching Gilmore Girls, I tell myself.)
I’m not alone. My friend Christine has watched the entire series of Friends, start to finish, at least 20 times. “I turn it on while I’m puttering around my apartment. I can sense an upcoming joke, but it still makes me laugh,” she says.
But how is the initial appeal not lost when watching something over and over? “Psychologists have found that repetition breeds affection. Familiar fare requires less mental energy to process,” writes Derek Thompson. “And when something is easy to think about, we tend to consider it good.” For my friend Kara, it’s about knowing exactly where a show will take you, no surprises. “Life’s unknowns have always made me uncomfortable — outer space, the deep sea, Game of Thrones,” she says. “I have probably watched more episodes of Friends than of all other television watched in my life.”
Another reason we enjoy re-watching something is the actual content. “The things that we do feel compelled to re-watch or re-read are those that provide us with either comfort or perspective,” explains psychologist Neel Burton. My friend Jade still finds The Office funny even though she’s seen it so many times she’s lost count. “After a bad breakup, I was looking for a laugh, and that’s when my love affair began,” she says. “I get the giggles just thinking about the show. The cast feels like a part of my life. I love them like Stanley loves crosswords. I love them like Dwight loves beets. I love them like Jim loves Pam. I could go on and on and on.”
Maybe most important, though, is the nostalgia we feel, whether it’s for the on-screen experiences or the memory of the years when we first saw the show. Watching the series “tells us that there have been — and will once again be — meaningful moments,” Neel says. They also hark back to simpler times, like the lack of social media on Friends. But, as Christine points out, “It’s hilarious to realize how there would be zero problems if they only had cell phones.”
The other day, while I was grocery shopping, the Dawson’s Creek theme song played over the store’s speakers. Some of the shopping patrons sang along, and two workers restocking kale even began to reminisce about the show. “I don’t want to wait to watch this tonight,” one joked loudly, and the entire produce aisle shared a collective laugh. It was the kind of scene I wished I could watch again later.
What about you? Do you watch any TV shows over and over? Or do you refuse to watch something twice?
~ Albert Einstein