Warning: this article contains The Good Place spoilers.
“Are you still watching?”, the words on the screen ask, almost in an accusatory way. Yes, I am, and I have been for some time… the past few years even. For a while now, I’ve been stuck in a loop. I rewatch the same films and TV shows as well as reread the same books.
When else do I have the luxury of knowing exactly how things will play out?
After a long day of putting out fires at work and riding the unpredictable wave of managing relationships online, all I want to do is sit down and rewatch How I Met Your Mother. Retreating from the day, I want to watch Ted hold up that blue french horn in front of Robin’s apartment for the 765th time because I know she’ll smile and start to tear up. I find solace in this certainty. It’s almost like I share a secret with the story and its writers. As I watch Ted fumble with romance, I know where his life will inevitably take him. When else do I have the luxury of knowing exactly how things will play out?
I enjoy the predictability of it. I’ve given Dead to Me multiple tries, but I can’t seem to get past the second episode because I didn’t enjoy the feeling of being left out. Not knowing what comes next, I struggled to become invested in the characters.
Often, when my life is a flurry of activity and I’m working on multiple things at once, I feel the least inclined to put my faith in a new show. I need to be completely sure that I will enjoy it, and how can I do that when I have no clue what’s in store?
More than that, I like how I sometimes respond differently to the shows when I encounter them again at another point in my life. The Good Place, half a year after I initially watched it, hit me differently. After parting with college friends I had grown close to, not knowing when and if we would see one another again, I grew to understand Eleanor’s reaction to Chidi wanting to leave the ‘Good Place’. Her denial seems less like selfishness and more like wanting to hang onto someone who she cares about.
It’s almost like I share a secret with the story and its writers.
I can understand her now. I welcome that as proof that I am changing. The woman that watched the finale of The Good Place during her winter break may look similar, but she is a far cry from the one that rewatched it following her college graduation. I hope the same will be true when I eventually revisit it by the end of this year.
Another comfort I draw from partaking in this rewatching loop is that I catch the little things that I had missed before. I suppose it’s normal not to want to miss anything in your life. Every moment, once it’s over, cannot return. Given that I’m an extremely detail-oriented person, I often feel overwrought with anxiety when I feel that I’ve missed out on something; missing out often leads to a misunderstanding somewhere down the line.
With the way that we watch movies and TV shows, there are endless opportunities to go back to a moment and relive it. My roommates can attest to the crazy number of times I’ve rewatched a scene in Shutter Island, in which a patient picks up an invisible glass which reappears in her hand in the next scene. I called them all to the living room, crying out about Scorsese’s mind-blowing attention to detail more times than necessary.
Catching things like that make me feel like I am sharing an inside joke with the director and the characters. They also quell my worries that I am overlooking details of my own life by being distracted by other things. There is also low commitment involved in rewatching, as I can pick up and start whenever I like, given that I know the sequence of events.
At the end of the day, I want to turn to the things I can expect. I know how I will feel when I watch Elanor walk through the exit, finally content with the life she’s led. When I click ‘play’ on the final episode, that bittersweet joy is how I want to feel at that moment. Rewatching can transport you back to old feelings.
At the end of the day, I want to turn to the things I can expect.
In a day and age when there is so much content to stream that the choices feel endless, and there is a pressure to stay on top of every new release, I see that re-experiencing familiar stories can actually be incredibly comforting. So am I still watching? Yes, Netflix. Yes, I am.