Is 2020 the age of comfort TV? Exploring the success of Never Have I Ever, The Baby-Sitters Club, and more

Is 2020 the age of comfort TV? Exploring the success of Never Have I Ever, The Baby-Sitters Club, and more

Giving you grief

Text: Emily Heng

In case you haven't seen my meandering reviews on many a critically-acclaimed movie, show, or docu-series, I'm an avid tracker of all things entertainment — especially with regard to its success amongst both critics and general audiences. This, by in large, has to do with the nature of my job; an inherent kaypoh personality; as well as an ingrained sense of FOMO, except it's being unable to fathom a pop culture reference that gives me anxiety. It was amidst my careful observing of Singapore's top ten Netflix picks that I noticed a pattern: an upturn in the viewing of comfort TV, aka feel-good programmes with low stakes and predictable outcomes.

We're not talking go-to classics in the vein of Friends or Gilmore Girls either. One can argue that endless re-runs of our favourite sitcoms is ideal for many a #WFH situation, serving as calming white noise as we deal with back-to-back Zoom meetings and a deluge of emails. And yet, the prime picks as of late are 2020 productions such as teen rom-com Never Have I Ever; coming of age series The Baby-Sitters Club; and the lurid, tumultuous murder documentary, Tiger King.

It is a surprising swerve from 2019's preferences, which mostly encompasses grimdark flicks à la Game of Thrones as well as disconcerting productions like Black Mirror. Just a year ago, we lauded these creations as groundbreaking and revolutionary. Emmys were issued, critics declared them highbrow, while Reddit was flooded with critical analyses of plot themes and discussions of literary symbolism. It was an embracing of content where no happy ending was guaranteed; where bleak, barren storylines are declared original and "refreshing."

This begs the question: how — and why — did things change? Well, if we're looking at it simplistically, COVID-19 can be considered the main attributor to this startling difference. In a broader sense, though, we'd say that it has to do more with living in a great period of uncertainty and stress. Pandemic aside, 2020 also sees an outpouring of protests, political unrest, and general upheaval. Our entertainment outlets pose as a safe refuge, an escape from a reality brimming with despondency and despair. After all, which sounds more appealing: ruminating in our feelings that ping pong between terror and unease with repeated viewings of Mindhunter, or indulging in yet another heartwarming round of Queer Eye?

There's also the fact that said comfort shows have now been greatly improved upon in terms of writing, production, and performances. Sure, they still utilise certain formulaic tropes, but without the harmful and tried stereotypes evident in past offerings. Instead, every day topics are approached with sensitivity and great nuance. The Baby-Sitters Club deftly handles a transgender storyline; Schitt's Creek gives a progressive depiction of a gay couple; while I'm Not Okay with This delivers a frank assessment on mental health issues. Some might claim these stories idealistic and naïve. I, on the other hand, prefer to look at it as a projection of what our future could look like should we choose to work towards it.

So, whatever your poison — whether it be The Big Bang Theory or HIMYM — I say sit back, cue it up, and watch it again. Anything to get you in a better headspace bearing in mind our recent circumstances. And if you're looking to expand upon your horizons, here are some recommendations that are the equivalent of a big, warm hug.

Parks and Recreation

From the writers that brought you The Office and The Good Place comes a political satire sitcom revolving around mid-level bureaucrat, Leslie Knope. The birthplace of iconic lines and skits in the form of Treat Yo' Self and Galentine's Day, this ensemble comedy is just as likely to move you to tears as it will induce hysterical laughter. Bonus: it features Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza — in full comedic glory —before their meteoric rise to (Marvel) stardom.

Watch it on Hulu.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The premise of this sitcom in itself is genius. It follows 29-year-old Kimmy Schmidt as she adapts to life after her rescue from a doomsday cult where she was held captive for 15 years. We can't disclose more for fear of veering into spoiler territory, so instead we'll dazzle you with their lengthy list of accolades including its nominations for 18 Primetime Emmy Awards. Respected critic, Scott Meslow, also calls it "the first great sitcom of the streaming era". 'Nuff said.

Watch it on Netflix.

Anne With an E

Based on L.M. Montgomery's classic 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, the series bears a slice-of-life format where nothing dramatic ever really happens — but you're still enraptured anyway. The story kicks off when elderly brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, decide to adopt an orphan boy, and instead pick up the imaginative, high-spirited Anne Shirley. Stunning performances by up-and-coming talents Amybeth McNulty and Lucas Jade Zumann make it all the more watchable.

Watch it on Netflix.