It’s Walter White’s dramatic ascension from Mister Rogers to murderous kingpin.
It’s Michael Scofield’s thrilling battle to evade the clutches of law enforcement and shady government cabals.
It’s Jax Teller’s romanticised climb from angst-filled biker to the ultimate saviour of those dearest to him.
It’s Jim and Pam’s long and storied relationship blossoming before our very eyes.
There are shows that I’ve rewatched several times, from the pilot to the finale, and I haven’t grown tired of them. It doesn’t matter if they’re switched on as background noise or as dinnertime watching, it seems like there is a collection of television shows that I will never get bored of watching. When I picked up my first Netflix subscription in 2016, I was woefully unexposed to the wealth of watching that was out there, and within months, I’d fallen head over heels in love with several shows.
I’d joined the cast of Breaking Bad along a tumultuous and gut-wrenching path of self-destruction. I partnered up with the biker bros of the Sons of Anarchy on their crime-ridden familial capers throughout California. I’d laughed along with the nerds of The Big Bang Theory as they expressed their geeky personas. I spent weeks working alongside the cast of The Office as their lives unfurled alongside mine.
And yet, despite absolutely devouring every minute of footage laid out before me, I revisited each and every show, multiple times. I’d flick back to a previously-seen episode long before I’d turn on something new. When it came to casual watching, I’d much rather sit in front of a show I’d already seen five times than I would a newly-released saga.
In the infamous words of Ryan Reynolds in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle…
It’s worth bearing in mind that this habit doesn’t only apply to television shows, but also movies. As I’m sure you can agree, there are movies that we, as a collective, will rewatch countless times throughout our lives. Personally, I cannot accurately gauge the number of times I’ve watched Wolfgang Petersen’s 2000 thriller, The Perfect Storm. However, this question arose in my head while re-watching Breaking Bad for the tenth-or-so time, so here we are.
I did a little digging, and the answer turned out to be… Well, quite predictable, actually. It wasn’t something surprising, nor was it something remarkable — it all boils down to good, old-fashioned psychology. Reportedly, we while away the hours with a familiar television show because it makes us feel more comfortable. There’s no anxiety caused by a potentially unseen twist or turn, we recognise the characters on the screen, and we know parts of the script, word for word.
There’s nothing to surprise us, there’s nothing to learn, and in a way, we’re connected to the characters on screen. We’re already aware of their journey, the choices they’ll make, and the situations they’ll find themselves in. We know how it starts, and how it ends, and there’s no need to focus heavily on each changing scene as the episode unravels. It’s just comfortable.
At a time when stress levels are running dramatically high, depression is running rampant, and discomfort is forcing people through the floor, a little comfort is exactly what we need. When we suffer from anxiety, knowing what comes next is something that our brain craves. We need that predictability factor. It’s also thought that there’s a connection between rewatching a show and the desire to experience nostalgia.
Do you remember the first time you watched your favourite television show? How you fell in love with the story, the characters, the setting, and the events that unravelled as time went on? In some way, rewatching that show is your brain chasing the desire to relive those emotions, to rediscover even a single spark of what you once felt when you experienced the show for the first time. And, in many cases, you achieve those desired outcomes.
You’ll still cry at the heartbreaking scenes, you’ll still laugh at the same jokes, and you’ll still sit on the edge of your seat when the finale is taking place. There’s still a sense of catharsis that spills from within you following certain scenes, and that feeling never really goes away. It can lessen with time, but it will always be there, lurking in the background, ready to switch on and dive back in to the show.
For me, I have a slightly different way of looking at it.
When I rewatch television shows and movies, part of me is almost subconsciously praying for a different outcome; for a continuation of the events that I know need to end soon. It’s impossible, I know, but there are so many scenarios that I’d love to rewrite, to repeat, or to follow up on. There are unanswered questions, alternate endings, and a deep desire to see the characters on screen just that one last time.
Spoilers ahead — you’ve been warned.
For example, in the closing episodes of Breaking Bad, I urge Hank to not find Gale Boetticher’s book in Walter White’s bathroom. When I’m watching Sons of Anarchy, I plead for Jax Teller to not climb aboard his late father’s Knucklehead. As The Office enters its final scenes, I beg the documentary crew to keep on shooting the everyday lives of the staff.
When I rewatch these shows, a minuscule part of me believes something different will happen. There’ll be a different result, an alternate outcome, a more preferable ending to an otherwise heartbreaking scene. Of course, it never arrives, and I’m left wondering if perhaps the next time I watch it, something will be different.
Thank you for reading.
About the Author
Grant Taylor-Hill is a freelance writer, podcaster, and motivator, with a background in support and team management. He’s a writer by trade and a gamer by passion, and he absolutely loves inspiring others. In his spare time, he produces three podcasts and is constantly expanding his network. Connect with him on social media; just search Grant Taylor-Hill.