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What Does 'Comfort Watch' Really Mean Today?

A Gen-Z case for why streaming The O.C. can be just as comforting as rewatching The Office.
  • Clockwise: The Office, The Great British Baking Show, Bluey, Gilmore Girls (Photos: Everett Collection/Disney+)
    Clockwise: The Office, The Great British Baking Show, Bluey, Gilmore Girls (Photos: Everett Collection/Disney+)

    Whether it’s How I Met Your Mother, Law & Order, or Gilmore Girls, everyone seems to have a comfort show. Like that one snack that always sounds good, it’s a show you know you can count on time and time again. You never really get tired of watching it, and you just feel better after indulging in an episode (or two, or three, or seven). But what exactly defines a comfort watch? What does a comfort show even look like in today’s streaming-dominant world?

    I can understand why many people immediately associate “comfort watch” exclusively with the likes of Friends and The Office. Sitcoms like this not only provide familiarity, but also simplicity. It’s nice to imagine a world where conflicts miraculously get resolved in 30 minutes or less, there’s hardly any real, lasting consequences, and everyone sits down for a nice dinner together at the end. 

    As a Gen-Z cusper, I grew up with these sitcoms on in the background; aware of their existence, but not really absorbing the jokes. My parents occasionally let me sit down to watch The Office with them as it aired, then I later revisited the series via streaming in college. I have faint memories of tuning into the Friends series finale with my mom as a kid, and I still binge the Thanksgiving episodes with my family every year. But although I enjoy these shows, I’ve never really considered them to be my comfort watches.When I think of “comfort shows,” my mind doesn’t jump to classic sitcoms — instead, I think of 2000s teen dramas. 

    I didn’t watch these shows in real time; I was only a child when they aired. Instead, I discovered them on streaming services as a teen. When I was about 16, I stumbled upon the pilot of One Tree Hill and quickly became invested in the world — I fell in love with Nathan, tuned into Ravens games with the dedication of an avid basketball fan, and felt personally betrayed when Lucas cheated on Brooke. Although my teen years looked very different from the early ’00s (I grew up on Instagram and Facebook rather than webcams and blogs), I deeply connected with the characters because I was navigating so many things for the first time right alongside them: first loves, heartbreak, the works. 

    I discovered another classic teen drama, The O.C., the summer before I left for college. It was a way to pass the time, but also to subconsciously quell my anxieties about what lay ahead of me that fall. While I was past my high school years (which the bulk of the show takes place during), I remember feeling this big question mark about my future — I had no idea what to expect, and it was both exciting and scary. There was something about watching Ryan navigate the unfamiliar world of Newport that spoke to that feeling.

    Although these shows certainly brought me comfort, I don’t think I would have considered them comfort watches at the time. Back then, I probably would have just called them my favorite shows. As a teen, I watched these shows because I related to the characters. As an adult, I revisit these worlds because they transport me back in time — not to a specific place or era, but back to a particular feeling; one of innocence and youth. To me, The O.C. is a comfort watch because it takes me back to when I was 18 and felt like I had the entire world at my fingertips, like absolutely anything was possible. Rewatching these shows is like putting on an album that you loved in high school — the songs may not hit the same way, but listening unlocks a feeling from deep within your brain that you’d forgotten existed. 

    I find classic teen dramas comforting not only because they remind me of what it was like to be younger, but because they also affirm how much I’ve grown. As a teen, I thought the house parties on Skins were the coolest thing in the world; now in my late twenties, I feel hungover just from watching these kids. 

    Back then, I thought love meant having an all-consuming relationship like Chuck and Blair’s on Gossip Girl, but now I couldn’t think of anything worse. I’m not alone in this feeling, either — Cristel Russell, a professor of marketing at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University, spoke to Vox in 2023 about why the appeal of rewatching shows isn’t just rooted in nostalgia, but also perspective. “You see [the show] differently and that allows you to be like, ‘I’m a different person than I was then,’” she explained. 

    While the criteria for a comfort watch can obviously vary widely, I think a lot of us tend to gravitate toward the safety of familiarity, no matter the genre. I don’t necessarily mean rewatching shows, but tuning into something that feels somewhat predictable. Although I don’t personally find something like NCIS relaxing, I can understand why other people seek comfort in the reliable structure. Despite the intense subject matters featured on programs like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Grey’s Anatomy, and Chicago P.D., many viewers find the formulaic nature of them calming. In a similar vein, 2000s teen dramas may have twists and cliffhangers, but they also tend to be fairly formulaic: You know there’s going to be a prom, someone will probably get pregnant, there will be a love triangle, and they’ll eventually graduate. There’s something to be said for having an idea of what to expect.

    To me, comfort watches are also distinct from feel-good shows. Like many people, I’m obsessed with Netflix’s queer YA drama Heartstopper. While I do love seeing LGBTQ+ characters get to experience joy, I also understand why the series may stir up more complicated emotions for older queer viewers who didn’t get to have the same positive experience. It’s a “wholesome” show, but not necessarily an easy watch for everyone. Similarly, the Australian kids’ cartoon Bluey is the definition of comfort media, but “The Sign” has adult viewers bawling. Escapist shows also feel like they fall into another category — to me, the difference is that I watch something like House of the Dragon or Love Island as a distraction from reality, while I watch something like The O.C. to evoke a specific warm feeling. 

    If I had to pick a modern-day comfort show, I’d go with Prime Video’s The Summer I Turned Pretty. The cozy beach vibes are a big draw, and it feels simple in a way that many streaming-age teen dramas aren’t — there’s no supernatural vibes or serial killers or cults, just a messy love triangle and classic teen angst. It both makes me remember what it was like to be Belly’s age and be glad I’m not her age anymore. 

    Rewatching The Office on Peacock may meet someone else’s definition, but for me, “comfort watch” ultimately comes down to something that reminds me of a specific time in my life, makes me hopeful about the future, or just feels safe overall. While The WB is long gone, streaming at least means I can take a trip down memory lane any time I want. I definitely don’t long for the 2000s, nor do I want to relive my high school days — but I’ll never turn down a chance to revisit the sandy beaches of Newport with Ryan, Seth, and Marissa or walk the River Court with Lucas and Nathan.

    Kelly Martinez is a TV Reporter based in Los Angeles. Her previous work can be found at BuzzFeed and People Magazine, among other outlets. She enjoys reading, spending time with her cat, and explaining the plot of Riverdale to people.

    TOPICS: The Office (US), Bluey, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl (2007 Series), Grey's Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Law & Order, NCIS, The O.C., Comfort Watch