Why good TV is so energizing

I’ve always wondered about people who don’t watch TV. Like…what do you do instead in your free time? Scroll through your Instagram feed? Stalk people on Facebook? Exercise? Cook? Read? Socialize?

Ok ok, so there are actually loads of alternate options to binging the latest Netflix series. Some of these options are healthy, some not-so-much. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that aside from exercising, cooking, reading and socializing, and whatever else you might be doing, you end up with a couple of hours of spare time in your day. Or, if you’re one of those people whose day is jam-packed with activities far outside your 9-to-5 job description, let’s go with thirty minutes to an hour of free time.

Option A: You choose to spend that time delving into the lives of strangers on your Facebook news feed. You wind up stalking your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s profile pictures, and ultimately questioning why your own life isn’t displayed so picturesque on the great wide web (and then spiraling into thoughts over why said ex-boyfriend is an ‘ex’, momentarily forgetting that he’s actually a slime ball with a penchant for leaving the toilet seat up).

As you can see, it becomes a draining process, one very much unlike the Option B that I propose and personally indulge in: immersing oneself in the captivating stories of fictional TV characters, depicted via your computer, your television set, your Kindle, your iPad, or your whatever device.

Maybe I’m the anomaly here but I’m apt to think that I’m not the only person who feels energized after watching a really, really great show. It’s like a high, but without all the uncomfortable after-effects of actually getting high off of a drug. There are no withdrawal symptoms because fortunately for us binge-watchers and subscription addicts, there’s always a new great show around the corner and at your fingertips (literally). And there is a show for almost every mood you either would like to be in or would like to get yourself out of. For example, when I’m feeling blue about life and need a pick-me-up, I turn to reruns of Friends or Gilmore Girls. But when I’m feeling like I want to concentrate hard on something and get swept away by an engrossing, mind-bending, twisted arc of a story, I turn to the latest Netflix / Hulu / HBO / Amazon original series.

Television, in all its wonderful forms, is a form of therapy.

It’s no wonder I walk away (or let’s be honest — stretch out because one episode just won’t cut it) from an episode of a show that is so well-written and scripted with a renewed sense of energy.

It’s not just the show that causes this feeling but television itself — the act of sitting down and deliberately turning off your brain for a period of time, eliminating contact with the outside world, and relaxing your muscles. For me, this has always been a form of therapy.

My mom loves to tell the story of how I refused to take a nap when I was a baby so instead, she would prop me up next to her and I would watch her favorite soap opera Guiding Light, my eyes glued to the television and seemingly interested in the messed up love life or convoluted professional life of the characters on screen. From an early age, I guess TV was my way of connecting with others. If I need to cry while I’m watching TV, I’ll cry. If I need to laugh, I’ll find a show to make me laugh. The point is that I am alone in the process of watching (most of the time) and this is my own personal time to spend however I would like.

There is a technical term for watching an actor’s life unfold on-screen as a form of therapy: cinematherapy. And while this applies more broadly to film, the overarching theme is the same — the benefits of watching something, whether that be a film, a TV show, a documentary, you name it — are extensive. This, of course, doesn’t apply to all TV shows or films but the gist is that TV is used to communicate with its audience by crafting relatable material and authentic, honest characters. In other words, we want to see a character react to a situation the same way that we would and when we do see it happen, we know we are not alone in this crazy world. TV is one of the only mediums that can tackle issues of race, religion, sexuality, education, politics, etc., with total liberty and freedom. There are no limitations.

In conclusion, I suppose the number one reason I was inspired to write this piece was after finishing an episode of a show that resonated with me so profoundly: I won’t spoil anything but if you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale yet, I suggest you put on your comfiest sweat pants, curl up in your favorite spot, and spend one blissful, therapeutic afternoon indulging yourself.

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