For the past month I’ve been existing mostly on Broadchurch, Frasier, and the earliest seasons of The Great British Baking Show, to the dismay of the needy, precipitous pile of unwatched screeners in my various digital libraries. Apologies, new shows, but bleak times call for comfort television: familiar, pacifying, predictable episodes of 1990s sitcoms, crime procedurals, and cooking contests. I don’t want active emotional engagement, or intricate plotting, or even particularly well-crafted performances. I want David Tennant frowning ominously and slurring several extra syllables into the word Miller. I want grandmotherly math teachers constructing full dollhouses out of pâté sucrée and fondant. Most of all, if I’m going to be inside for several months, I want regular access to Frasier’s apartment.
Comfort TV, at this point, is such a well-worn idea that it’s spawned countless lists over the past few weeks, all guiding viewers toward low-investment, high-reward shows such as Schitt’s Creek, Parks and Recreation, and Bones. On Twitter, people have posted their own lists, heavy on decades-old sitcoms (Seinfeld, Cheers, The Golden Girls), teen-oriented dramas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars), and gloomy network staples (Law and Order: SVU, The Twilight Zone). Apart from the fact that almost all of these shows are old and reassuringly familiar, they don’t have much in common. This isn’t as strange as it might seem: People cope with trauma and anxiety in very different ways, which makes the shows they turn to for comfort equally incongruous and dependent on the emotional response they’re hoping to provoke. In any given moment, one woman’s palliative might be another’s saccharine TV toothache.