Series Nostalgia: Why Watching 'Friends' Over and Over Brings Pure Joy

Also, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Sex and the City.
Photo/s: Jennifer Aniston/Instagram

Civil engineer Marlou Malabuyoc watched all 139 hours and 30 minutes of "The Big Bang Theory" from start to finish during the Christmas break for the nth time, choosing to spot Easter eggs instead of looking for what's hot on Netflix.

In the pandemic world of uncertainty, Malabuyoc craves reliving memories of the apartment switch quiz between Team Monica and Rachel and Team Joey and Chandler on "Friends" and the series finale of "How I Met Your Mother", where the titular Mother dies and Ted goes back to Robin.

"Medyo nahihirapan ako mag-start ng new series kasi if ever mag-start ako, kailangan ko ibigay 'yung full attention ko doon sa show unlike rewatching the shows, minsan kahit audio lang 'yung pakinggan ko, alam ko 'yung kuwento or nagpla-play sa utak ko 'yung scene," Malabuyoc told reportr.

There is comfort in something familiar, psychologist Joseph Marquez told reportr, and rewatching old shows is an effective stress-reliever.

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Series nostalgia is a coping mechanism

Nostalgia makes people happy, more so during the lockdown, according to a  Sept. 2021 China, U.S. and UK study.

"'Yung iba usually when they're stressed, they go home or visit their family or they would stay in their old room kasi that is something familiar sa kanila," said Marquez the psychologist who admits to rewatching his favorite "New Girl" episodes whenever he feels burned out.

On the first year of COVID in 2020, "Friends" was the most-watched comedy on broadcast or cable TV in the U.S., 16 years after it ended, according to a Nielsen report provided to USA Today.

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In second place was "The Big Bang Theory," which told the story of roommates Leonard and Sheldon, and their friends Raj and Howard, whose lives changed when they met their neighbor Penny. "Big Bang" ran for 12 years from 2007 to 2019.

Rewatching favorite TV shows when feeling stressed or anxious evokes feelings similar to getting cuddled by fulfilling a person's "nostalgic need," said Krystine Batcho, licensed psychologist and professor in a TODAY report.

While the audience are familiar with the stories in old shows, their "level of control over the experience", or knowing which parts give them the "emotional peaks" brings renewed appreciation to watching these shows repeatedly, a study on repeat consumption experience published in 2012 said

Then there's also "ambient TV", coined by Kyle Chayka of The New Yorker, where series like "Emily in Paris" offer thin plots with extravagant backdrops allowing you to relax, scrolling Twitter or TikTok while watching the show, without missing anything substantial.

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"Ambient denotes something that you don’t have to pay attention to in order to enjoy but which is still seductive enough to be compelling if you choose to do so momentarily," Chayka said.

New meanings, old experiences

Watching the same shows also gives audience room to discover new meanings to old experiences, according to the 2012 study. Remember how a same book evoked different reactions depending on when you read it?

"I watch it again to check my perspective. Tipong nakakatawa pa rin ba siya sa akin? If ever ngayon in-air 'yung palabas, may mga magre-react negatively sa joke or sa character na 'yun. Then sometimes I watch it to look for easter eggs or small details na hindi ko napansin dati," Malabuyoc said.

Series like "Friends" allow viewers to live their what-ifs on love and money through the lives of the six lead characters, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly.

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It's no surprise that 16 years after "Friends" signed off in 2004, fans turned to HBO Max to watch the long-awaited reunion episode which also drove rewatches of the cult series around the world.

According to Parrot Analytics, "Friends" became the fourth most in-demand show in the world, just behind "Game of Thrones", "Attack on Titan", and "La Casa de Papel" when the reunion special aired in May 2021.

"May ideal scenarios sa kanila. With 'Friends', nahu-hook sila sa ganun, bumabalik sa kanila na that [scene] is something relatable pala sa amin, hindi pala naiiba sa dati 'yung nangyayari sa amin ngayon," psychologist Marquez said.

While it's exciting for some to watch a new show, there are others who feel anxious about it. To cope, some "spoil" the series for themselves by reading the end of book or researching the synopsis of the show before it gets to the ending.

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Rewatching old shows is also more relaxing than waiting for a new show's plot to unravel, which sometimes meant waiting until the following week for a fresh episode, he said.

While there could be many psychological benefits to rewatching shows, one thing's for sure -- going back to the old favorites can simply be satisfying, said Malabuyoc.

"I think these shows give me the satisfaction kapag gusto ko matawa or gusto ko manood ng comedy and since napanood ko na sila before, alam ko mapapatawa nila ako."

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