Do you often rewatch old shows you’ve seen before? Do you think you’re alone? Well, you’re not.
In 2019, the most viewed series on Netflix was a show that had already been off the air for six years: The Office. Number two was a show that had ended its run a full fifteen years earlier: Friends. In fact, only two of the top ten that year were Netflix originals. The Office also held the top spot the following year (Friends, upon leaving Netflix, went on to become the most watched show on HBO Max). The most watched show in 2021 was Criminal Minds, a series that had just been canceled but would wind up being revived on streaming.
By 2022, in a post-pandemic world, the landscape had shifted a bit as Stranger Things, a Netflix original, became the most-streamed show of the year, but number two was another legacy show: NCIS. The top ten also included old hits including Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Gilmore Girls, and Seinfeld.
There are amazing new shows being created seemingly every day, so why do so many viewers prefer to watch shows that premiered decades ago? What is it about watching old shows that brings contentment to so many of us? After all, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. During the height of network television ratings, the idea that reruns would dominate the charts would have been laughable.
Some have posited that rewatching things creates a sense of order in the world and soothes anxiety, and there is probably some truth to that. More simply, at least for me, rewatching things is comfortable. You know you like it. You know how it will end. It’s relaxing.
Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t require a viewer’s complete attention.
We didn’t need to pay for another streaming service. We already had Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and Prime Video. In addition to our DVD collection, that should have been more than enough.
The only problem? None of them have Bar Rescue.
My wife loves that show. She’s never worked in a bar and only drinks socially. When it comes to her celebrating or taking the edge off after a rough day, oftentimes a bowl of ice cream is just as good as a cocktail.
Regardless, she is currently hooked on Bar Rescue. Her ritual is to google the name of each bar to see if it is still open since being rescued (there is a site that does this for every episode proving once again that there’s a website for everything). She doesn’t harbor any illusions about it. She doesn’t argue that it has revolutionized the medium of television or changed the cultural conversation in America.
It’s just a “reality” show that she finds entertaining. It’s formulaic, but the formula is what she likes, because it’s consistent. She’ll binge episode after episode but all while actively doing something else.
We are not only essential workers, but also parents of two children under 11, needing to keep up with the demands of a home, a yard, and side hobbies (not exactly hustles) like what you’re currently reading. We watch most things as a secondary input while doing other tasks, like peeling potatoes, folding laundry, or trying to pick up enough stuff so that the house doesn’t look like it had just been the center of a natural disaster. So it makes sense to put on something we’ve already seen because it can provide entertainment without having to focus on the screen.
They are perfect background shows — the things we put on when (a) we’re doing something else; (b) can’t decide what else to watch; (c) want to fall back into the familiar rhythms of an old favorite; or (d) all of the above.
We were rewatching series long before there were podcasts devoted to rewatching series (including those hosted by stars of the shows themselves), because there is comfort in doing so, like seeing an old friend and immediately picking up right where you left off.
For me, this includes Seinfeld and Community. For her, it’s Friends and, obviously, Bar Rescue. For both of us, it’s The West Wing or Arrested Development or Scrubs. The kids love baking shows, so I’ve seen enough Nailed It! and Sugar Rush to last a lifetime, although they also like Scrubs (the four year-old loves the theme song).
I’ve been doing this my entire life. My parents never understood how I could repeatedly watch something I had already seen, but to me it was no different than ordering your usual meal at your favorite restaurant. It may be predictable, but I knew I would never be disappointed.
It’s not just episodic series. The Godfather Part II is my favorite film and I make sure I revisit it at least twice a year. I’ll watch Clue the night before a stressful day. I watch Weekend at Bernie’s every time I’m sick. Anchorman became funnier with each repeat viewing until about the thirtieth time. I can vividly recall wearing out the dubbed VHS copies of Young Guns II, Juice, and White Men Can’t Jump that I had recorded off HBO when I was in junior high. These days, I’ll fire up The Big Short, Tropic Thunder, Margin Call, some early Marvel offerings, or Zack Snyder’s epic DC films rather than scroll through endless possible choices, very few of which intrigue me.
“Have you seen…?”
As soon as I hear those three words, I begin shaking my head. I don’t even need to hear the rest of the question. No, I haven’t seen the new show you’re about to ask me about. In fact, if it came out within the past ten years, there is a very high probability that I haven’t seen it.
Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? Succession?
No. No. No.
Stranger Things? Lost? Ted Lasso?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
I have not seen a single episode of any of them.
It’s not a form of protest or being contrary just for the sake of it. I want to watch them. It’s (still?) the Golden Age of Television. I want to enjoy them. I want to be part of the common discourse and understand current references.
But a new show is an investment, not only in time but also in concentration. When watching something new, I like to give it my full attention so that I can thoroughly appreciate it. It is, at minimum, about an eight hour commitment, much more if it lasts multiple seasons. A film, on the other hand, takes a quarter of that time.
Most of all, though, it’s our children.
There are a few televisions in the house, but the one in the living room is the main family TV. The kids don’t have TVs in their rooms and the playroom is just an extension of the living room, so that’s where we all gather to watch things. It sounds quaint but it’s the truth. The four of us are together most of the time. We like to have them with us. We cherish the garbage time. One of them is sitting next to me as I type this.
No one rewatches things as much as children, so I’ll sit through Octonauts or Jessie for the fiftieth time because being on the couch with them, soaking in these years that are exhausting and frustrating but also rewarding and fleeting, is far more important than catching the latest prestige show.
It’s comfortable on multiple levels.
Sometimes that’s all you need in life.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Find more of his writing at Medium and connect on Facebook. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.