Ross Geller opens the door and says, “Hey. I just got my teacher evaluations. Check out what this one student wrote. ‘I loved Dr. Geller’s class. Mind-blowing lectures. Dr. Geller, you are definitely the hottie of the paleontology department.’”
Chandler Bing responds, “Ah, hotties of the paleontology department. There’s a big-selling calendar, eh?”
It’s not a particularly memorable episode of Friends, just menial and vaguely amusing banter. I lift my eyes from my laptop screen at the bustling Voice office, people talking and editing and walking around in every direction—all sharing the same physical space but existing in separate mental spheres.
And I think about the type of TV I like to watch, how much it depends on my mood at any given time. Sometimes I feel like watching an action series; other times all I want to do is laugh at a mindless comedy.
But in addition to providing entertainment, TV also offers comfort and distraction.
At the end of my senior year of high school, anxiety attacks left me flat on my back for days at a time, weak and shaking, without the will or the appetite to recover.
So I rewatched The Office, all nine seasons.
If there were ever a convenient time for my mind and body to wage war against me, it was then. Schoolwork had calmed down, so I could watch episode after episode, guilt free. Laughing distracted me from my brain’s rebellious thoughts and the intense physical reactions they produced.
When my grandpa passed away at the beginning of last school year, I reread the Harry Potter series for the I-don’t-know-what-number time. He taught me to read using those books, inventing unique voices for each character. As I read, I could hear him speaking to me—with the strong voice he used to have, not the weak crackle it became as the storyteller lost the ability to communicate—and he is alive again, if only for a few hundred pages.
This summer, I started watching the Great British Baking Show to calm first date anxiety. The characteristically British humor of Mary Berry and the meandering music alleviated the tightness in my chest and dried the sweat from my palms, preparing me to confront intimidating encounters.
As well as effective distraction and comfort, I believe TV is communal, a vehicle for love and care that facilitates interpersonal bonds.
At the beginning of this year, I recommended The Office to an important person in my life. I wanted to share that source of comfort with him. With every episode he watched, I hoped he could feel me there, laughing alongside him. In return, he told me to watch Parks and Recreation, which I did, all the way through. Exchanging TV shows is an exchange of love.
And now, in the aftermath of the last few months, I find myself more than halfway through season 6 of Friends, not entirely sure how I got there. 3,083 minutes. 51.38 hours.
I integrate episodes into life’s calm, blank spaces—waking up in the morning, getting ready for class, eating lunch—the spaces that used to be filled. My headphones have become fixtures in my ears. I’ve started rereading the Harry Potter series again. I’m throwing everything possible at myself in an effort at distraction.
When you lose someone, all the pages that were once full are suddenly wiped clean. But it’s not that simple. The ink drips down your fingertips, curling over your elbow, staining everything. And it will remain for months.
But there’s no time to stop, to breathe. Overloading myself with mind-numbing brain candy, while it may make me feel better in the moment, means that I can’t process emotional turmoil. There’s just no space or time for it when my attention is constantly occupied by lighthearted comedy.
This overstimulation has led me to realize that I need to start using TV not only as comfort but also as catharsis.
I need an outlet, not just a distraction.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start forcing myself to watch rom-coms or sad movies to let the emotion out because that would be cheesy and inauthentic. But I do dip my toe into the ocean and start listening to music that hits home with me, songs that bring me joy. “Because the Night” by Patti Smith, “HAPPINESS” by NEEDTOBREATHE, “O Children” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Sticks & Stones” by Kings Kaleidoscope.
I watch “Hang the DJ,” the Black Mirror episode we promised to watch together. And I don’t cry—I just reflect and enjoy.
I share the album, the one that we discovered while side by side in my bed, with another, and there is no guilt or hurt. Just remembrance and love.
This summer, when I have more free time, I’m going to read. I’m going to devour page after page of books that enrich me, authors I’ve always wanted to read, authors I feel like I probably should have already read to maintain my English major street cred, and old favorites, too.
And I know that nourishing myself with ink and paper isn’t exactly giving myself the mental quiet time I think I’m supposed to crave, but I’ve realized I don’t need quiet—I just need space.
I need to process, to grieve for everything in my life that I never grieved before and to move past it. And to heal. Above all, to heal.
Image Credits: Sienna Brancato