Deja view: why do we rewatch TV shows?

Kate Baguley and Joe Molander tell us about their comfort watches, and why we always gravitate back to the same TV shows

multiple writers
18th April 2020
Credit: Netflix on YouTube
We live in a world of instant gratification, especially when it comes to film and TV. There’s always something new to binge watch. So, when we have sites like Netflix holding entire box sets at the click of a button, why do we re-watch the same shows?
Credit: IMDb

Everybody has that one show. The one you always return to, like an ex-boyfriend you can’t get away from. You press play, the theme tune starts, and you are sucked into the fictional world all over again. For me, that’s Gilmore Girls. I can’t even count how many times I have seen all seven seasons (plus a few watches of the reboot). It’s at least twice a year. The show wraps me in a blanket of warmth and safety like no other. But whether you have watched it or not, I know this feeling is common. Whether you binge Friends every six months or have The Office constantly in the background, you know exactly what I mean.

The mere mumbling dialogue in the background lulls me into a feeling of safety.

However, some people really don’t get the attraction of sentimental rewatches. ‘But you already know what happens’, they say. But isn’t that the key to why you love it so much? The familiarity? Gilmore Girls provides seamless escapism for me because I know it so well – I can jump straight back into the world of Stars Hollow and not even have to concentrate. It can accompany me while getting ready for a night out or while I’m cooking. Little effort is needed. The mere mumbling dialogue in the background lulls me into a feeling of safety. You are back with your favourite characters. And the one good thing about knowing what’s coming? Skipping bad episodes. But could this familiarity not also be a testament to today’s binge-driven online libraries? There is simply too much choice – so here I am, back with the same show, again.

Milo Ventimiglia and Alexis Bledel in Gilmore Girls. Credit: IMDb

Moving past this practical element, these shows have sentimental value that keeps us coming back. The characters, the relationships, and the places all have meaning. We are invested. Sentimentality comes from a connection, through recognising human emotion. By connecting with characters, we root for them, and want to see how their story unfolds. Then we go and relive the whole thing again. For me, seasons 1-3 of Gilmore Girls are my favourite. The nostalgia of going back to the start of a show arises from knowing everything – how relationships develop and if the characters get what they want.

The episodes leading up to season 3 episode 7 “They Shoot Gilmore’s, Don’t They?” encapsulates this – I remember exactly how I felt the first time I watched the Jess/Dean drama, and a rewatch of these reasons allows me to relive that feeling. Another great part of Gilmore Girls (and other shows like it) is that it’s so long - 7 seasons, with around 22 episodes in each. By the end of the show, you’ve forgotten so many things that it doesn’t feel repetitive to return to. You can appreciate different aspects that you missed last time, enhancing your connection to the show as a whole.

TV shows become a religion, and their key characters, scenes, and quotes become the Bible

There’s a scene in Gilmore Girls where Dean asks ‘So, it’s a TV show?’ about something on TV, and Lorelai and Rory (the Gilmore girls…) reply ‘It’s a lifestyle’, ‘It’s a religion’. Is this not what all TV shows become like? A religion with devoted followers? Take a look in Primark – there’s Friends merchandise everywhere, with water bottles engraved with ‘you’re my lobster’ and t-shirts with ‘pivot!’ on. TV shows become a religion, and their key characters, scenes, and quotes become the Bible. We love TV shows so much because of the world they provide, the characters they create, and the feeling that they give us.

I think it’s time for a rewatch, don’t you?

Kate Baguley

Doctor Who and The Simpsons

Cast your mind back to the beginning of lockdown; you probably had grand schemes for what you were going to do with all the time you suddenly had. When socialising was still legal, I remember telling friends I was going to read, study and better myself.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m watching Netflix in my underwear. To be clear, I’ve not been watching anything new that could broaden my horizons, but the stuff I’ve seen fifty times. Interestingly, though, I am picky, which suggests I’m not re-watching purely for the sake of re-watching. What’s also driving my TV choice is nostalgia. Where does that come from? Why do we get so sentimental about certain shows?

When the path forward gets foggier, there’s a comfort in looking back, and seeing what made you

David Tennant in Doctor Who
Credit: BBC, IMDb

The first example I have is Doctor Who. I talk about this show to whoever's foolish enough to listen, because it’s brilliant. Well, it isn’t, but that’s the point. It’s a cheesy romp through space and time, but in taking us on that journey, the show makes a compelling argument for curiosity and kindness. As I’ve got older, I’ve got less certain: plans have melted away, friends have grown apart, and sometimes – and this will sound far-fetched – epidemics have started. While I might sit down to Doctor Who thinking I need my fix of Daleks and running down corridors, what stays with me is always the more human side. When the path forward gets foggier, there’s a comfort in looking back, and seeing what made you. It’s impossible to know if your influences in the future will be good or bad, but to see a key part of your childhood stuffed with good will and intentions inspires a weird kind of peace of mind. There’s also an episode with an Ice Warrior on a submarine, and that’s really cool.

Credit: CR:FOX, IMDb

The other show I am unable to stop talking about is The Simpsons. The cartoon favourite’s first eight or ten seasons (depending on who you ask) are a tour-de-force in counter-culture that manages to stay just on the right side of mainstream-enough-for-broadcast. In an age where certain parts of the comedy landscape try a little too hard to be offensive, it’s hard not to use the word ‘edgy’ without cringing, but The (early) Simpsons earn it. They weren’t afraid to upset, but crucially knew when it was best not to. It reserves its bite for only truly deserving targets, and as such gave an entire generation a masterclass in acerbic humour. Basically, if I’m not funny, it’s The Simpsons’s fault.

At the risk of sounding reductive, then, we get sentimental over TV shows because we watched them as kids, but nostalgia’s nothing to be ashamed of. Where we get that warm glow hints at what most shaped us, and which parts of our childhoods made us happiest. Influence and upbringing are often little understood: it’s nice to have something we know for sure made us a bit better as people.

Joe Molander

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