The friends are there on that iconic orange sofa at the coffee shop. While they revel in being goofy, I sit on my red couch in my drawing room laughing with them. If you are still in the dark, well, I am talking about "Friends", the widely loved US sitcom. What else?
To be frank, I am rewatching the show for the ninth time. And I am not alone. If we go by statistics released by streaming services, industry bodies and media periodically, old TV shows like; "Friends", "The Sopranos", "The Office", "The Big Bang Theory" and so on… Continue to hold sway over their fans the world over. Some of them are even giving new ventures on OTT platforms a run for their money.
OTT platforms have certainly made our favourite TV shows more accessible. But, why do we rewatch old shows in the first place? To be sure, there’s no dearth of fresh or experimental content on OTT platforms these days. Yet why do we repeat, rewind or re-binge on old TV shows?
Of course not all TV shows of yore garner the same kind of unwavering attention. It will be hard to find viewers who binge on, say, Johnny Soko and his "Flying Robot" (1967-68). Firstly, accessibility to such cult classics can be an issue; it seems not all streaming platforms are willing to spend a fortune on old shows that had niche audiences. Add to that the fact that DVD box sets are a thing of the past and YouTube is not exactly a repository of TV classics. Secondly, shows that were created more than, say, 50 years ago may not resonate with contemporary audiences. Take for example “I Love Lucy”.
Psychologists and media theorists have time and again elucidated the complex reasons behind why people continue to rewatch old TV shows, be it in English or in any other language for that matter. Several studies have examined the cause and effect of our rewatching habit.
Here are some basic reasons that I can put forth, based on my own rewatching experience.
To begin with, we rewatch old shows because they are good shows. Kind of obvious, one may say. Nevertheless, I am one of those who rewatch, primarily because some of the old shows I have a predilection for have amazing scripts; they are incredibly well-written. The characters are loveable and supremely talented actors have essayed the roles. If we talk about “Friends”, the fringe characters, such as Gunther (played by James Michael Tyler) and Janice (played by Maggie Wheeler), are as interesting as the main characters, Joey, Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and Ross. If we look at “The Big Bang Theory”, who can forget Howard’s mother, who had never physically appeared in the show? Or Bert the geologist? Or even Raj’s crazy exes?
You can also call it the allure of the familiar. Old, familiar faces even on OTT screens are comforting. Known plot twists are delectable. We seem to enjoy the predictability or the wave of nostalgia. Also, let’s face it, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed with too many options on OTT platforms; browsing through new shows or watching countless trailers can be a tad tiresome and confusing. What if a new show doesn’t live up to our expectations? I for one hate losing my way in the jungle of OTT content. So, when we can’t decide what to watch, we tend to stick to the familiar. Long live comfort food!
On top of everything, familiar fictional realms can provide us with an escape route. They can ameliorate the pangs of uncertainty, anxiety or even loneliness. When killing time becomes an unbearable exercise, old, familiar TV shows can break the monotony. After a hard day’s work, when you can’t take any more surprises for the day, hitting the repeat button is exhilarating.
Some may argue that rewatching old shows cannot simply solve such complex issues as anxiety or loneliness. This habit is all about escaping real-world problems, they may say. Others may contend that binging on OTT/TV shows, old or new, can only add to the health challenges posed by our sedentary lives.
Needless to say, the debate on the merits and demerits of rewatching old TV shows, sitcoms or otherwise, will continue in the years to come. I have picked a side: I plan to rewatch "Boston Legal" (2004-2008) soon, for the third time.