I have said this thousands of times, and I will say it again: "The Wire" is the best show of all time and God's gift to the Earth. I've written not one, not two, not three, but four articles about various reasons why "The Wire" is the best show of all time, and am currently on my fourth run through the show. I am legitimately not myself on a given day if I don't have my daily dose of something related to "The Wire."
But I digress - this isn't an article about "The Wire,' but rather the latter phenomenon of why we love to re-watch our favorite TV shows all the time. Many of my friends watch "The Office," "Friends," and "Grey's Anatomy" over and over again, dozens of times. Why do we do this, when we know exactly what will happen every time? In the words of The Atlantic's Derek Thompson: "Why do we spend so much time with stories whose endings we already know?"
Well, one of the answers is pretty obvious: because a show is just that good. Why waste your time watching a show your friend is raving about that you might get into, when there's a show you've seen before that you know you'll get into? It saves our time and we get the most efficient investment, knowing with absolute certainty that we will enjoy it.
Does watching a show over and over again make it lose its spark? You may be asking this question to a repeat watcher such as myself - and my answer is a definitive no. Thompson perhaps frames this more eloquently in stating that "familiar fare requires less mental energy to process, and when something is easy to think about, we consider it good." In psychology, the mere exposure effect says that the more we're exposed to something, the more we'll like it.
But, of course, it goes deeper than that. Watching shows again brings back nostalgia back to our lives, and allows us to remember the past. The root of the word nostalgia is the combination of two Greek words nostos , which means homecoming, and algos , which means pain. Initially, when the term was invented in the 17th century, it was seen as a disease - one theory believed that Swiss mercenaries were depressed because they were impaired by homesickness.
Clay Routledge, a psychologist at North Dakota State University, declares that there are two forms of nostalgia - historical and autobiographical. It is the latter that we often find when we re-watch TV shows - "a nostalgia for [our] individual past." Watching shows we liked as kids and teenagers can make us feel young again. Routledge also found that subjects exposed to popular songs from their youth thought had more feelings that "life is worth living."
Routledge's studies, which validate our very own experiences, are direct evidence that re-watching TV shows is therapeutic. Nostalgia is, at its most basic form, deeply relaxing. Remembering the past, where we can re-tell and recall episodes of our lives with complete certainty is clearly much easier than the present of living our lives, where we constantly stumble into the terrifying unknown. Old TV shows "can't surprise us. We know how they end, and we know how we'll feel when they end. This makes the re-consumption of entertainment a bit like 'emotional regulation.'" As much as any of us are prepared to handle surprises, the fact is that most of the time, they're not exactly easy to deal with.
Lastly, although the plot of our favorite old TV shows is always the same, how we watch and how we interpret never are. Every time I watch through "The Wire" is a different, unique experiment - the first time, it was for the plot, the second time, it was about the societal implications, and the third time, it was about how to treat people on an everyday basis. Thompson shares a similar experience in re-hearing his favorite song, Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah": "Replaying his music nine years later was like opening a time capsule and watching its treasures react to fresh oxygen."
Re-watching is an act of more than just "mere nostalgia or therapy. It's pop culture as palimpsest - an old memory, overlaid with new perspective."
Watching "The Wire" for the fourth time, it's in the context of just getting the job that the show drove me to apply to and be passionate for. Starting next year, I will be a teacher. A lot of things have happened in my life since my third run. It's not the same process of watching by any stretch - every scene I have already seen three times, I see it a different way. I learn something new - not only about the show, but about myself.
The next time you get criticized for starting your favorite TV show again , ignore it - because most of the time, it's the best thing you can do.