Low-quality TV series prove perfect for binge watching, finding comfort

Illustration by Maya Winshell

Father, I have a confession to make: I have watched seasons five through 13 of “Grey’s Anatomy” more than a dozen times. And I know I am not alone. So here is the question: why do people binge watch shows, like “Grey’s Anatomy,” repeatedly? What is the point of rewatching the same series when  new shows and movies continue to be released? I have found that people, particularly college students, tend to rewatch the same shows not because they enjoy the plot, but for mental and emotional comfort. 

Part of the reason I watch “Grey’s” over and over again is because of my favorite “comfort character,” Dr. Arizona Robbins. She first appeared in the show in season five, episode 11, and has become one of the longest-running lesbian main characters in TV history. When I started watching the show when I was 15, I was really drawn to Robbins due to her peppy character and positive attitude; I wanted to be her. Then, as I entered my awkward teenage years, I came to the realization that I did not want to be someone like Robbins; I wanted to be with someone like Robbins. 

This story is not unique. Many TV watchers across the globe have had their sexuality awakened by the LGBTQ+ characters on their screens. For me, watching Robbins not only helped me come to terms with my sexuality, but her character enabled me to recognize the growing presence and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, both on-screen and off. To rewatch the show and know how Robbins develops and prospers throughout the seasons, makes me hopeful about my own potential development and prosperity, both as a bisexual woman and a human being.

B-rated shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” allow viewers to escape the brutal nature of reality. I find it rather comforting to watch beautiful and fictional doctors save lives, especially during a pandemic. The show is currently on its 17th season and focuses on COVID-19. In a time when thousands of lives are lost every day, I found myself logging onto my computer to watch a show where just a few fictional lives could be saved. 

I think that is one of the beautiful things about film and television: when reality bites and feels difficult to deal with, we have an opportunity to escape it, even for just a little while, in the comfort of our living rooms. I think having a distraction from the real world is okay, and is sometimes necessary, but these very outlets can remind us of the reality we wished to escape. Watching fictional doctors save lives brought me back to the beautiful real doctors and nurses saving lives in the real world. 

Another reason why college students, like me, binge watch shows repeatedly is because of the good old romance plot. As much as I hate calling myself a romantic, watching characters finally get together makes me swoon. “Grey’s” consists of numerous and complicated relationships, some lasting longer than others. Watching these relationships come to fruition following a tumultuous journey gives me hope for my own relationships. Like many people this year, I have found it incredibly difficult to date and put myself out there. Currently, I am trying to navigate how to date during a pandemic when the person I am seeing lives in a different house. After spending far too much time doing mental gymnastics on how to manage my own romances, choosing to watch romantic plots that persevere despite the odds makes me a little more optimistic.  

As college students, our brains are hardwired in academic theory and intellectual engagement. While this is an incredible privilege, it gives us all the more reason to consume media that is easy to absorb. According to the article “Binge watching and college students: motivations and outcomes,” from the University of North Texas, “social interaction, escape from reality, easy accessibility to TV” incentivize college students to pursue binge watching. A considerable number of college students struggle with anxiety, including myself, and I personally find it comforting knowing how the stories in “Grey’s” will end. Maybe rewatching repeatedly is not setting me up for the real world. Maybe I am instilling bad habits rather than practical coping mechanisms. Regardless of these critiques, if I have learned anything from this past year, it is to do what makes you happy and indulge in the things that give you comfort, because these very things might be the tools that keep you together when your world is falling apart. 

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