Ten minutes before sitting down to write this, I finished watching an episode from New Girl’s second season on Netflix. More appropriately, I finished re-watching the episode. I picked the episode after scrolling through the hundreds of other miniature rectangles that bear a different program’s name on Netflix, rectangles that when clicked, lead to something I had never seen before. Some of the titles I didn’t pick looked interesting, like the true crime documentary series The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Some of them looked good, like the mind-bending meta-science fiction series, Black Mirror. Some of them even looked good for me, like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a show that I imagine could finally teach me how to throw away that plaque I got for Having the Best Smile on my third grade soccer team that keeps loitering on my desk. I didn’t click any of the rectangular digital posters that led to these new pieces of content. Instead, I retreated back to the “Keep Watching” tab and clicked play on an episode I had already seen.
The worst part of it all is that I don’t even like New Girl. I have nothing against the show itself, it’s just not my taste. I didn’t particularly like the pilot, and I didn’t really enjoy the second episode, but I kept watching for some reason. Soon, I was done with the first season. I was taken away with the rhythm of the show, like a song I couldn’t get out of my head. Finally free from the hypnotic hold it had on me, I got to the end of the series and felt vindicated for all that time I wasted. I vowed to myself to never walk down that path again. I clicked on the pilot again two weeks ago.
Living in a media age that’s travelling at warp speed, wasting time re-watching bad shows seems like the cultural equivalent of deciding to take up chain smoking, or for that matter, deciding to listen to the Chainsmokers. I know that it doesn’t have any inherent value, but I always find myself doing it anyway. So why do I do it?
The most obvious reason, and the reason I use as an excuse most of the time, is that I re-watch shows to relax and lull myself to sleep. I don’t have any science to back this up, and if I did, I’m sure it wouldn’t be in my favor, as I sleep terribly almost every night. Still, a familiar sound that’s just loud enough to make me stop thinking about how cars from the movie Cars have children and just soft enough to allure me into a state of sweet slumber seems like a good idea, so I keep doing it.
Another reason may stem from the way I experience nostalgia while watching something I’ve already seen before. Ah, nostalgia, that feeling we get from visiting our childhood homes or listening to “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend. The nostalgia I experience from re-watching shows is harder to pinpoint than these two examples though. The sensation doesn’t seem to come from the episodes themselves, but somehow from space between each episode. I can’t pay attention to the plot of the episodes – I already know what’s going to happen. I like the idea of the episodes, though. I can remember the feeling I had before, during and after watching them, and maybe that’s why I keep clicking play, to chase those feelings I semi-remember.
Is there a point to all of this? Probably not. However, I think it’s important to be conscious of it. Re-watching, re-re-watching and re-re-re-watching The Office isn’t inherently bad, but it does rob someone of new and exciting content. Sure, the cost might be losing that warm safety of dialogue you can quote by heart, but the benefit might be the stimulation of creativity and encouragement of deep thought from new forms of content. My advice? Let that queue get weird.