I’ve got a long, long entertainment to-do list.
“The Wire,” “Six Feet Under,” “Pose” — they’re all on it. I read about a show or movie, develop a passing interest and confidently declare that surely I’ll tackle it someday, “if only I had the time!”
Eight months into a pandemic, and I’ve essentially got nothing but TV time. Surely, I would have cleared out that to-do list by now.
So why, of all things, am I rewatching the far-from-critically acclaimed “Gossip Girl?”
CNN, The Guardian and PBS have all published stories on the phenomenon of the “comfort watch” in recent years. If you’ve indulged in “Law & Order” reruns you’ve seen before or put on “Golden Girls” for background noise, you’ve experienced the comfort watch, too.
There’s a psychological reason behind this concept. In trying times, especially unpredictable ones, we long for scraps of normalcy. When life is tumultuous enough, we don’t always want more twists and turns from our entertainment. Rather, there’s comfort to be found in the predictable nature of shows or films we’ve already seen, or feel so familiar it’s as if we’ve seen them. (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Christmas movies.)
While 2020 is ripe for comfort watches, this idea precedes the pandemic. People have been watching reruns of “Friends” and “The Office” for years. My friend swears by “The Odd Couple.” My brother is currently rewatching “Schitt’s Creek.”
So, why does my heart long for the petty drama of teenage Upper East Siders?
To quote “Mad Men’s” Don Draper: “Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent.”
While I was a little late in my first watch of “Gossip Girl,” the show brings back memories of my high school years. The satin headscarves, clunky becharmed handbags and angular side bangs were the gold standard of style. (I surely didn’t look as good as Blake Lively or Leighton Meester, but a girl tried.)
Watching the characters answer their T-Mobile sidekicks brings back memories of trying to surreptitiously send a text under the desk in class. In an early episode, Serena (Lively) throws a flip phone in the trash because it contained pictures with a past flame, an absurd encapsulation of both her character’s wealth and how little we understood technology.
The soundtrack is a work of art in itself, capturing the time’s best pop and indie rock hits. My fiance — far from a fan of the show — stopped in his tracks as he overheard me finishing an episode. He hadn’t heard a particular Albert Hammond Jr. song in years.
“Gossip Girl” also gives me an excuse to enjoy one of my many celebrity crushes, Penn Badgely, long before he was most-often associated with playing a serial killer on Netflix’s “You.”
Of course, this nostalgia is my own longing for a simpler time. Before I knew what a face mask was outside of the doctor’s office, before I had to decide if it was safe to see my parents on Thanksgiving, before I used terms like “incubation period” as if they were second nature.
It may seem silly to say, but prior to this year, the concept of a “comfort watch” made me feel guilty. We’re living in the Golden Age of TV, I thought. All of my leisure time must be consuming something new, so I can see as much of this excellence as possible.
But thinking that way isn’t only needlessly self-punishing; it’s ignoring the actual purpose of entertainment itself.
So if I want to watch filthy rich twentysomethings play filthy rich teenagers arguing over brunch, so be it. Whatever your “comfort watch” is, I hope you indulge too. We’ve got to take our joy where we can get it these days.
XOXO, Gossip Girl.