The psychological reason why we rewatch TV shows in quarantine

In quarantine, I watched more TV than I ever have in my life.

I didn’t even watch anything good. I didn’t watch documentaries or finally binge The Crown, and yes, I’m still a member of the proud 1% who hasn’t seen Game of Thrones.

I alternated between three shows for three months straight, all of which I watched start-to-finish at least twice prior in my lifetime. If it wasn’t Friends, Lucifer, or New Girl, I wasn’t tuning in.

And I was fine with it. With as much fat-shaming, snack-shaming, work-shaming, and workout-shaming going on during lockdown, I felt my only duty was to be kind to myself. If all I had to offer society was laying horizontal on the couch whilst pretending to gasp when Ross says I take thee Rachel, then I was going to be ok with that.

And I was. I was ok it with it until I was no longer ok with it.

There is a very slippery slope when something that once made you feel good, suddenly makes you feel gross.

And I fell down the goddamn hill. I don’t know when it happened. All I know is I started going to bed at night thinking, “Is this really how I want to spend my days? Watching shows where I already know the ending?”

I’m not certain about many things. I’m 31 years old and still don’t know what I want to do with my life. But I can confidently say what I don’t want: to think those two sentences following a day on Earth that I won’t get back.

When I was tired of feeling gross, and decided to feel good again, I talked to my friend Danika. Danika, like me, is an urban hippie who has never taken home a W2 in her life. Like me, she’s paid to be creative, although she writes songs while I write websites.

And, like me, she didn’t write a thing during quarantine. But rather than give me a pep talk, tell me to suck it up, or point out that no one is batting 500 in quarantine, she told me this:

“What you’re dealing with is a psychological phenomenon. You are only absorbing information you know the outcome to. Because the world is so chaotic, so unpredictable, you are only willing to take on predictability in your life.”

Rewatching television gives us a sense of predictability in an unpredictable life.

When we feel like everything is out of control (you know, like a global pandemic is going on), re-watching shows gives us a sense of comfort and stability. Unlike lockdown, where we never knew what the next 24 hours would bring, we know exactly what to expect from our favorite characters. No matter what changes or chaos take place outside the safety of our living rooms, we can count on the fact that Cici and Schmidt will still end up together—just like the first three times we watched it.

We may not know what will happen when flu season hits come November, but we know an episode of a re-watched show will have the exact same ending as before. And in a sad but understandable way, we take comfort in that.

I’m finally ready to participate in my own chaotic and unpredictable life again.

Before the Happiness Patrol tells me to be easier on myself, that streaming services and Zoom single-handedly kept the country moving during quarantine, let me cut in: I know. I do not regret or fault myself for binging 90’s sitcoms any more than I regret making mimosas at 10AM on a Tuesday (both were worth it).

I’m just saying I’m ready to come out of it—to start participating in my own life again.

Life is unpredictable but it is meant to be unpredictable. It is supposed to be messy and uncomfortable and chaotic and disappointing. And if I wanted a life where I only know the outcome, I wouldn’t have the wonderful home, friends, or experiences I have. Shit, I wouldn’t even have Danika to talk me off a ledge.

2020 is a shit show. We all know that. But while some truly horrible things have happened, a lot of wonderful things are happening—things that have been a long time coming. But when we stay trapped inside our predictable bubbles, we don’t just tune out the chaos—we tune out the good things too.

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