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The familiar joy of streaming comfort

So many new shows are streaming now, it’s impossible to stay on top of it all.

With a surgery scheduled a few weeks ago, I’d been saving up – collecting some of the new seasons of my favourite ones, intending to binge through them while I was recuperating. But when the time came, I realized I didn’t have the energy to handle that kind of stress.

I just wanted to watch something comforting.

As a particularly anxious human who doesn’t especially enjoy socializing, the idea of quietly watching characters I know and love and identify with carry out their scripted lives in the same familiar way each time I watch is incredibly appealing. I’ve always turned to faithful standbys like The Office or Parks and Recreation to keep me company when I’m not up to dealing with real people or problems.

When I do venture into unknown territory with something new, I’m a big fan of spoilers. It’s much easier to watch a dramatic, tension-filled scene play out when I already know the outcome. I mean, I watch TV to unwind, not to add more stress to my life.

My unabashed fondness for comfort TV used to be weird. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to explain, when asked what I’ve been watching lately, why I’m revisting Parks and Rec for the 12th time. But as the state of the real world becomes increasingly depressing, shows like these – along with Friends, Gilmore Girls and Frasier – are among the most-viewed content on Netflix. Clearly, I’m not alone.

Sure, not everyone is watching these nostalgic shows for the express purpose of soothing their overwhelmed brains, like I am. For a lot of people, the switch from traditional cable television to a streaming service means no more brainlessly navigating to a rerun channel for background noise while you entertain yourself on your laptop or phone. Now, you have to choose something specific from a vast online catalogue – and you know you’re not going to be paying much attention to the latest episode of Stranger Things if you’re busy crushing candy or swiping Tinder.

And you’re not going to miss an important plot point if you answer a work email while Ross screams, “Pivot!” into the arm of a sofa – you’ve already seen him return to the store with said couch in two pieces. But comfort TV offers more than that. The familiar hollowness of the laugh track and the simulated warmth of spending time with old friends is therapeutic to all of us, even those who aren’t purposely choosing nostalgic shows for psychological benefit.

Maybe I’ll catch up on The Handmaid’s Tale after Netflix loses its rights to The Office. I’m sure I’ll have heard enough spoilers by then.