Coping through the panic and anxiety of the pandemic with your nth revisit of your favorite comedy series? You are not alone. We, too, are getting by with a lot of help from our TV friends.
Full disclosure: as I pound my fingers at rapid speed on my trusty, nearly decade-old laptop, an episode of Friends is running at the background like white noise on my smartphone. I’m not necessarily paying full attention, but it’s oddly comforting to hear Monica, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, and Joey go at each other’s throats about their quirks for the most part, flicking my gaze on the separate screen just as Chandler puffs out a ribbon of smoke as he circles their prime mid-café spot at New York city’s Central Perk in sarcastic glee. This isn’t my first orbit around the multiple-camera comedy series that was part of the cultural zeitgeist in television landscape sometime during the late 90s and early 2000s—nor is it my second or third, well, you get the point. Chalking up five months in a pandemic-induced quarantine, this binge-watching pattern has only intensified from reminiscing the sitcoms of my youth like The Nanny and Ally McBeal to rediscovering shows that informed and inspired my formative adolescence such as Will & Grace and Sex and the City with a different, much more grown-up perspective, all in the full season order, way after I had sworn to stop after just three episodes each night.
With the concept of time being more ambiguous in the era of entertainment amid the COVID-19 crisis, where the days and nights coalesce into one lingering blur of teetering on the fulcrum of the work-from-home norm, raging fits of anger brought about by the inane incompetence and misplaced, misinformed aggressions by the strong-man heads-of-state or you know, the headless chickens that they are running around, and debilitating bouts of anxiety, there has been a noticeable shift for revisits, re-watches, and reruns that surprisingly function more as a moor to reality than a mere reconnaissance of retro nostalgia. With the world plumbing into new depths of depression and deep wells of banality, there has been less and less to hold on to and control, which explains why the seemingly mundane and symbolic ritual of watching familiar comedy series has an immediate soothing effects that placeboes from charmed to calmed down. “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, author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions in a conversation HuffPost. “Our everyday is humdrum, often even absurd. Nostalgia can lend us much-needed context, perspective and direction, reminding and reassuring us that our life is not as banal as it may seem. It also tells us that there have been—and will once again be—meaningful moments and experiences.”
In the context of our current reality, where everything is not only bleak and seemingly hopeless, with that constant worry and fear looming over on us like that pesky cloud of gray that tails Eeyore everywhere in the Hundred Acre Woods, the nostalgia of these TV shows, particularly comedy series is that it permeates your consciousness and leverages a form of levity that is severely lacking in the world today. Think about it, when was the last time you really laughed just because? I’ll take that considerable pause as a telltale answer, because honestly, same. As escapist as it may seem to be, it is a fuelling form of consolation that you can tap into whenever you feel dissatisfied, helpless, and crippled with anxiety, sometimes all at the same time. “It feels good to reminisce, and even better to escape the current reality,” affirms Burton. “The best part? The effort to do so is moderately low and the reward (as recognized by the brain) is high.”
As abstracted as nostalgia may be, and the dose of laughter it carries with it as you enjoy the best of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda (even in the surprisingly reassuring movie version and its unnecessary sequel), or Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen (again in the revival 11 years after, which completely breathed a brave new life to the fantastic foursome), these triggers of happiness in the realm of the comedy series are warm and comforting, and also, there is not much room for stress and anxiety to pilfer through the bubble of retrospection, because at this point, you know what happens next. “Each time they watch an episode, it’s like meeting up with their friends, catching up with the gossip and having new adventures,” Burton says. “But, of course, there are only so many episodes, and once they run out, well, what else to do but to re-watch them?” Here, the anticipation becomes something you tolerate, which in turn can help make you feel more optimistic about the future and to dispel loneliness and sadness even if at some point, watching these beloved, often unassumingly barrier-breaking comedy series, will inevitably bow out in a heart-tugging curtain call.
Being creatures habit, this is perhaps one of the last firm grips we have in a life that has completely eroded almost everything we once knew to be true. And as the uncertainty and anxiety brought upon by the pandemic have violently punctured the routine we have built to our selfish standards, this emerging coping mechanism of re-watching comedy series or reliving pockets of long-lost passion is what keeps us sane, so much so that when you look up from the hypnotic hilarity on your point-of-view, the sun will have likely sliced through the door left ajar. Suddenly, the drawling sands of time have gone by and settled into a new day. You survived one more, which you etch into the wall of prison-like sentence in numbers that are at this point, too hard to ignore.
And then you see them in full view, smiling, giggling, cheering from the screen in front of you, most likely with a round of drinks in hand, and suddenly all feels right in the world, even for just a while. There’s a reason why we go back to the things we truly love, despite the increments of time in between. It’s simply the best? Sure. Unforgettable? Just as they always are. And even if no one told you life was going to be this way, you knew they’ll be there for you—always, just as they are now when you need them the most.