What to watch: 14 comforting TV shows we all turn to when times are rough

Posted by for Life

Psychologists have said that watching certain TV shows can help us to feel calm in an increasingly anxious world. 

Updated on 17 August: the coronavirus pandemic has, understandably, left many of us feeling anxious. And, while lockdown restrictions are slowly being eased across the world, many people are still concerned. They’re worried about a second Covid-19 spike, about the increasingly muddled social distancing guidelines, about forgetting their face masks when they pop to the shops. 

They’re worried about what all those months inside have done to the economy (the UK is in recession for the first time in 11 years), and they’re furious over the government’s decision to grade A-level students based on predictions rather than exam performances. And they’re becoming increasingly concerned about job safety, too, especially as a Freedom of Information request shows that in June 1,778 firms said were intending to cut more than 139,000 jobs in England, Wales and Scotland.

It makes sense, then, that Netflix and Amazon Prime have reported a surge in viewing figures – especially when you consider the fact that we’re all binge-watching TV classics, such as Friends and Gilmore Girls.

Indeed, Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist and a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York who researches nostalgia, has pointed out that watching our favorite old TV shows satisfies our “nostalgic need” and packs real emotional benefits.

“When people are stressed, or anxious, or feeling out of control, nostalgia helps calm them down. It’s comforting. It’s analogous to a hug from your mom or dad or being cuddled,” Batcho told TODAY.

“It’s harkening back to what we might, even erroneously, perceive as a simpler time in our life with fewer responsibilities and obligations and fewer worries.”

With that thought in mind, then, we decided to share our ultimate comfort TV picks, in order to help steer you towards a soul-soothing watch. 

You can thank us later.

Modern Family

Moya Crockett says: “I hadn’t watched Modern Family for years until it arrived on UK Netflix in May. Now, I find myself turning to it whenever I’ve had a long or stressful day. It’s not a perfect show: despite its progressive gloss, the early seasons are peppered with uncomfortable jokes about Asian and Hispanic people, and the relationship between gay couple Cam and Mitch is kept oddly and deliberately sexless. But my god, is it comforting. 

“The relationships between the various members of the Pritchett-Dunphy clan are sharply relatable, except everyone’s richer and more attractive than people in the real world – and the storylines are both low-stakes and ludicrous (meaning it’s both relaxing and entertaining). It’s got that reassuring American TV sheen that tells you every loose end will be tied up in a bow by the end of the episode, which is exactly what I want at a time of international crisis and collapse. I wouldn’t want to live in the sunshiny world of Modern Family, but it’s very nice to visit.”

The Vicar of Dibley

As reported on 10 April, Hollie Richardson says: “I remember watching The Vicar of Dibley as a kid with my mum and brothers on a Sunday night with our sandwiches, crisps, cake and cups of tea. I barely knew what was going on but we would all be laughing. So now it brings me that nostalgic comfort that I need and it is SO, SO, SO FUNNY.”

Gilmore Girls

Helen Bownass says: “Whenever I need to distract myself from the impending doom I keep feeling, I put on an episode of Gilmore Girls. I’ve been working through the show – which I have never watched before – over the last few weeks. It’s about a mother and a daughter who live in a lovely town, and drink lovely coffee and have lovely chats and just really enjoy each other’s company. I also didn’t realise when I started it that there are hours and hours of this show, which is handy. I’m very happy with past me’s decision not to watch it.”

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air

Jazmin Kopotsha says: “I’m a sucker for a 20-minute TV show because it means I can power through seasons more efficiently when I’m in one of those all-or-nothing moods. But Fresh Prince has long been a safety net of mine because why wouldn’t it be? Young Will Smith in his prime, excellent outfit inspo from all of the Banks women and the warm embrace of a nostalgia that doesn’t feel that long ago is the perfect pick-me-up recipe.”

Location Location Location

Caroline Carpenter says: “I don’t know if it’s the gentle banter between Kirsty and Phil, or the aspirational nature of being able to consider buying property I could never afford IRL, but old episodes of Location Location Location are proper comfort-watching material for me.”

Friends

Alyss Bowen says: “I’ve seen it a million times like the rest of the world, and I’m sure I’ll see it a million times more (also like the rest of the world), but nothing brings me more joy than sitting down with a blanket and an episode of Friends. I laugh, cry, recite all the lines and it’s great all round.”

The Simpsons

Lara Faye says: “The cartoon that ruled my childhood, I’m still as obsessed with The Simpsons now as when I was seven years old. Whenever I need to get out of a funk, four episodes and a pizza (arguably, optional) is my instant good-mood tonic. Not only does binge watching the first few seasons serve some seriously comforting childhood nostalgia, but if you haven’t revisited since the 90s you’ll finally get the references that went over your head the first time around.”

Frasier

Kayleigh Dray says: “From the jazz intro, to Kelsey Grammer’s melodic voice, everything about Frasier screams ‘comfort food TV’. Every single one of the show’s core characters is perfect, their relationships feel incredibly real, and I’ve fallen in love with them all over again. During this Covid-19 situation, I’ve been steadily working my way through the entire series and I have genuinely laughed out loud so many times. I’ve cried, too, but the good kind of crying: the happy kind, you know? It’s just… watch it. Rewatch it. You will not regret it.”

The Office US

Sarah Biddlecombe says: “My ultimate comfort watch is, without a doubt, The Office. I’ve watched the entire series so many times I can literally quote it word for word, and there is something immensely soothing in always knowing exactly what will happen next… especially when things in the real world are so uncertain.”

Ru Paul’s Drag Race

Hanna Ibraheem says: “I can always rely on RuPaul’s Drag Race to perk me up. The challenges are comedic gold, the runways are STUN-NING, the Queens are all hilarious in their own unique way and the lip sync battles are always epic. Just google ‘Sasha Velour So Emotional’ and thank me later.”

Sex & The City

Sarah Jessica Parker with her Sex and the City co-stars.

Felicity Thistlethwaite says: “I love Sex & The City. I watched all of season three on my lockdown birthday!”

Gavin & Stacey

Tom Gormer says: “When life is generally rubbish, I always ALWAYS watch Gavin and Stacey. It might not be a full episode, often it can be a compilation on ‘The YouTube’ of Pamela’s best bits or Sheridan Smith and James Corden rapping to Estelle’s American Boy in a supermarket car park, but right now, I seem to be watching LOTS of THE greatest comedy ever made. And that’s no bad thing: if we can’t hug, laugh or eat a curry with our friends and families in real life, at least I can do it via the medium of telly.”

Schitt’s Creek

Lauren Geall says: “When I’m feeling a little bit mopey and need a quick pick-me-up, I will immediately turn to Schitt’s Creek. The first five seasons are currently on Netflix (the sixth and final series is set to drop later this year) and it’s the most cheerful thing ever. If you were to look up feel-good in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of Schitt’s Creek. The characters are hilarious, the plot is incredibly wholesome, and every episode offers numerous laugh-out-loud moments. It’s escapism at its very best.”

Scrubs

Megan Murray says: “Scrubs has always been one of my favourite shows for one simple reason: its silliness. The scenes are endlessly creative and bonkers, the characters are hilarious and the fact that the setting always remains the same seems to calm me. It’s an absolute go-to if I don’t know what I feel like watching.”

Parks And Recreation

Anna Brech says: “Starring Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, an irrepressible small-town bureaucrat, Parks and Recreation is comfort-viewing on tap. With an eccentric and loveable crew of characters at its heart, it’s bursting with wit, warmth and laugh-out-loud observations that just get better as each season progresses. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this yet, get stuck in. Sweet and smooth, it’s the TV equivalent of a vanilla ice-cream shake; you just won’t be able to resist reaching for more.”

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Main image: Chris Cuffaio/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Images: Netflix/HBO/Getty

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray