By Lily Riley
I recently came across an Instagram post that read ‘people with anxiety LOVE rewatching old TV shows and movies they have seen millions of times because there is no ounce of anxiety in wondering what the end result is.’
As kitschy as the phrasing may be, I found myself saving the post almost involuntarily. It was one of those moments where a behaviour that you barely even notice is explained to you in that incisive, cogent manner of the Gen Zers. Arguably, we seem to be the most self-aware of the generations. The thing is that this rationale, this wholly unsubstantiated post featured on a Friends fan account no less makes complete sense and taps into a need for the familiar that extends far beyond simply having a favourite tv show on in the background.
As I am writing this, I have the US Office paused but perpetually hovering in a tab at the end of my search bar. The Office is just one of the shows that I return to on a daily basis. It’s an easy, on-the-nose comedy as familiar as my own voice, which I often find mouthing the lines along with the actors. Other security blanket sitcoms include Miranda and Gilmore Girls, each one giving me that feeling of comfort that only comes from knowing a show inside out. I suppose this stems from the sense of a return that each re-watch gives, being able to choose the exact episode that will be the tonic to your bad day.
This sense of homecoming each time you pop that favourite show on in the background does indeed seem to speak to a perpetual need for constancy. The Instagram post attributes this tendency to ‘people with anxiety’ but I would extend its sentiment to most. Irrespective of your attitude to change, I would posit that it is true for most people that some sense of nostalgic familiarity provides a source of comfort. Whilst we are often cautioned against dwelling on the past, it can be grounding to revisit those things associated with warmth or the feeling of knowing you will always be invested in these narratives no matter how many times you experience them.
My own tendency to switch between my established roster of sitcoms instead of beginning something new would seem to flag up a resistance to change. I am not wholly averse to starting new things, for instance I jumped on the Suits bandwagon this summer (a bandwagon that began rolling nearly ten years ago admittedly) and am thoroughly enjoying the high stakes drama of a law firm that seems forever in strife and has had more name changes than Prince.
However, in moments of stress (such as the whole of the last five months), it is always my trusty favourites that I return to. There is a unique certainty in knowing the exact moments in which peril, mild sitcom peril but still, will occur. As the Instagram post recognised, ‘there is no ounce of anxiety in wondering what the end result is.’ For the time that you invest in re-watching old favourites, you become this all-knowing viewer; you know the best bits and the bits that you’ll skip through to get to them. It’s like a favourite jumper: it’s not new anymore, it isn’t as pristine as when you first bought it but it’s comfortable and still holding its shape all the same.
It feels as though a sort of equilibrium has been reinstated; the comfort derived from repetition undeniable. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, in times of such uncertainty where the word ‘unprecedented’ has made an almost bi-wordly appearance, donning that familiar jumper has never felt more comforting.
When the world is being daily defined by varying forms of chaos, re-watching my favourite shows has given me a source of constancy that real life just isn’t supplying right now. Whilst 2020 has certainly created a lot of anxiety as we find ourselves ‘wondering what the end result is’ – familiar favourites will always be there, comforting in their constancy.
Illustration: Amber Conway