Really good television can be thought-provoking. (
Russian Doll) Inspiring. ( Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) And sometimes deeply moving. (Oh, Fleabag...how we love you so... ) But there are certain times in one's life, when one doesn't want any of these things from their television viewing, and one simply needs something to help them zone out and decompress. Which is why I've rounded up 20 of the very best Netflix shows to put on when you're stressed.
It can be a smidge weird, the different kinds of shows people find "relaxing." I remember toward the end of my pregnancy, whenever I started to have
am-I-seriously-about-to-have-a-freaking-baby anxiety, the show Dateline became my tranquilizer. And yes, I did feel guilty that a program about husbands murdering their wives (It's always the husbands. Always) put me at ease, but there was something about the rhythm and predictability of the program that calmed me. The cheesy way the host would say, "But Allison never made it to Applebees that night... In fact, Allison wouldn't be dining out ever again..." The show would shut down the endless stream of thoughts buzzing through my own head for a blessed 60 minutes. And sometimes, that's just what we need from our TV. A balm for the brain. 1 'Planet Earth'
There are no down-and-out teachers turned meth dealers here. No lies either big or small. There are only animals, glorious nature shots, and the most soothing, grandfatherly voice in the world describing the wonders of our earth.
A couple of years ago, when my husband had a bit of a health scare, we would sit tensely on our couch and watch this show together. So we found it rather amusing when he was called into the doctor's office for his big test, and the waiting room was filled with the sound of David Attenborough's voice, as
Planet Earth played on a giant flatscreen. Clearly, watching birds perform mating dances is the natural go-to pre-minor medical procedure. 2 'Cheers'
Probably one of the all-time great television comedies, this is where Ted Danson got his start. I know when you hear "Ted Danson" you probably think of the bow-tied old guy in
The Good Place, but trust me, you need to see Danson as the perpetual ladies' man bartender Sam Malone. This show is both funny and heartwarming, and because it's from the '80s, it lets you slip into a pre-Facebook, pre-cell phone, pre-Internet world. A much simpler time, if you will. Also, the women's clothes and hair are a hoot. Though trigger warning if you have PMS: the theme song will likely make you weep. 3 'Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere'
There are few things more calming than the soft, tranquil voice of landscape artist Bob Ross instructing you to let your paintbrush "do a little dance" across a canvas. Ross, with his huge painter's palette and even huger halo of hair, he just wants to help you paint a happy little cloud. That's all. No need to think about climate change. Or the upcoming election. Or your big deadline on Friday. And no need to ever even pick up a paintbrush. Just kick back with a beer, and watch as he quietly dictates how to create a cheerful morning sunrise.
4 'FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened'
For some terrible people (such as myself), a bit of schadenfreude can be quite entertaining. And this documentary detailing the epic disaster that was the Fyre festival is both entertaining as well as weirdly relaxing. Mainly because you're just so very glad you aren't one of the individuals who paid thousands to fly to the Bahamas for a a slice of cheese and to sleep in a FEMA tent.
While it is genuinely upsetting to see the havoc this festival wreaked on the locals and their businesses, it's also just really something else to see the festival's creator, Billy McFarland, zooming around aimlessly on an ATV in the midst of the chaos.
5 'Fireplace For Your Home: Birchwood Edition'
A different kind of fire altogether, this is a full hour of footage featuring a cozy fire crackling away in a fireplace. That's it. No one falls into the fire. No one throws gasoline onto the fire. No one lies down and makes love before the fire. No red witches rise out of the fire, it's just. A. Fire. Enjoy.
6 'Grey's Anatomy'
I feel like this show is kind of like ordering takeout for your brain. It requires only the most basic level of concentration, and rarely surprises. But it can still be very satisfying. Like all good hospital-based soap operas masquerading as dramas, the storylines sometimes go into bonkers directions. But the cast is attractive, and the acting is solid. And later, when you fall asleep, you can try and imagine what Ellen Pompeo does with her 40 million dollars. (Swim in it? Build sculptures out of bricks of hundreds? Blow it all on QVC?)
7 'The Great British Bake Off'
This show has all the fun of a contest-based reality show, but without the snark or screaming or clawing people's eyes out over roses. It simply brings together Britain's best amateur bakers and challenges them to make tasty cakes and pies. The judges are kindly and charming, and because it's British, everyone is exceedingly polite. The only downside of this program is that it will likely drive you to raid your cabinets for something sweet to nibble, and you may end up scarfing the last of the Oreos intended for your child's lunchbox.
I must admit, I initially found this show kind of annoying. The characters seemed too obnoxious and self-absorbed, and after the first couple of episodes I was ready to throw in the towel. But a friend encouraged me to stick with the oddball love story of Mickey and Gus, and I was so very glad I did. Each episode is a breezy, often incredibly kooky 30 minutes, but it's also a warm and weirdly realistic portrayal of a modern day love story. It's kind of like an edgier
When Harry Met Sally, but with more real orgasms than fake ones. It's relaxing in that it hits all the right romantic comedy notes, but features zero montage sequences of a woman getting ready for a date and awkwardly waxing her mustache while blasting Aretha Franklin. 9 'The Standups'
One of the very best stress relievers out there? Laughter. The Mayo Clinic says a good giggle: "fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can
increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling."
Which is why standup comedy can be an excellent go-to when you need to seriously chill. Each episode of the
The Standups features a half hour of some of the best new rising stars of comedy — people like Rachel Feinstein and Aparna Nancherla. What I like about the show is that while the comedy is whip-smart, it's also all just very entertaining and fun. It never seems to get crazy dark or punches down, so you can genuinely just expect to have some laughs and unwind. 10 'Dead To Me'
I am only filing this under "relaxing," because it is just so deliciously, hilariously over the top. I guarantee you will momentarily forget your own woes and be totally transported to another realm by the wild storyline, excellent real estate porn, and Linda Cardellini's rotating wardrobe of extremely flattering floral wrap dresses. Christina Applegate is phenomenal in this, and while the show has just enough bite to be both genuinely moving as well as suspenseful, it also has so many bonkers twists and turns it still just feels like a fantasy. Note: it will also make you want to drink lots of wine out of really nice wine glasses. Whether that be pro or con is up to you.
11 'Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee'
Go on and hop in the car with Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy. Or Jerry and Julia Louis Dreyfus. Or Jerry and John Mulaney. Or Jerry and whatever great comedic mind has joined him in the passenger seat that particular episode. This show has such a simple premise, and makes for very easy viewing. You take a spin with some comedy greats, watch them grab some cappuccinos, and just take in the resulting, hilarious banter.
12 'Schitt's Creek'
This comedy has flown under the radar for awhile, but now with its first Emmy nods, it seems to be getting its due. It's the fictional tale of the wildly wealthy Rose family, who are forced to leave their mansion and go live in a hayseed town where Chris Elliot is mayor. It's silly, absurdist comedy at its best, and it stars the masters of the form: Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.
13 'The Haunting of Hill House'
Dead kittens, sunken-faced monsters, and being yanked into a grave...what could be more soothing? OK, I realize a horror show about a haunted mansion terrorizing a family isn't the first thing one thinks for "relaxing". But it is
kind of relaxing, in the sense that it's so otherworldly and over-the-top. Plus, the knowledge that at least your family isn't being tormented by ghosts with glowing eyes and bent necks might help put your own stress level in perspective? 14 'Train Ride From Bergen to Oslo'
This is considered "slow tv," which is basically just extended footage of something really mundane. Like a train traveling from Bergen to Oslo. Which is exactly what this show is — a film of a long train ride. No people appear. The train is never robbed. It never chugs off a cliff. It just meanders its way peacefully through the pristine mountains and snow of Norway. Ahhh... lovely.
15 'The Inbetweeners'
The tone of this British comedy is both completely ridiculous and incredibly dry. It's also quite filthy. But if, like me, you sometimes feel you have the sense of humor of a 15 year-old boy, then this might be for you. The show follows the friendship of four sex-crazed high school boys, and while it is indeed extremely bawdy, it also has a lot of heart, and expertly captures many of the pitfalls and hilarities of young love.
16 'The World's Most Extraordinary Homes'
Another one from the Brits. Who — judging from this list — really are the masters of relaxing television. (I guess maybe they need it in the midst of Brexit?) Anyway, this show follows an architect and actress as they travel the world and hang out in some of the craziest, coolest houses you've ever seen. These abodes are seriously jaw-dropping: houses hanging off the sides of hills, houses shaped like domes, houses that seem to just be rows and rows of swimming pools... So yeah, it's a show where you get to stroll around and peek inside really beautiful homes. No conflict. No drama. Just real estate.
17 'Pee-wee's Playhouse'
My son is quite fond of Pee-wee, and I find it a hoot to watch this old '80s kids' show with him. The storylines are beyond kooky, and so simple as to be almost non-existent. It's also just refreshing to watch a kid's show that isn't all CGI. Also, I must say, I do think Pee-wee is a bit of Seer. The magic screen he plays connect-the-dots on? Clearly a harbinger of the coming iPad, and the downfall of parents everywhere.
18 'The Twilight Zone'
I am referring here to the old
Twilight Zone, where a black-and-white Rod Serling smokes cigarettes and explains that you're about to go into another dimension. What's nice about watching these old episodes is that the storylines and dialogue are so dated, they're generally more cheesy than scary. And it can be a lazy bit of fun to try and work out the twist they'll use at the end. Kind of like playing with an old timey puzzle. Will the man be attacked by the wax figures in the wax factory? Or will he end up a wax figure himself? 19 'Big Dreams, Small Spaces'
Again with the Brits and their quaint, feel-good programming! This one features amateur gardeners trying to create their dream gardens within limited space. There are trowels and peonies and wellingtons and gardening gloves, and the biggest dilemma is how to thwart off weeds. 'Tis lovely, and blissfully mind-numbing.
Feeling sad you don't have more
Fleabag to watch? Well, consider this a sort of Fleabag-lite. This was the first show created by Phoebe Waller Bridge, and while it has the humor and wit of Fleabag, it's doesn't have quite the same intensity, or leave you with the same emotional hangover. Which is good, because we're trying to relax, remember? The show follows a group of 20-somethings living together in what is essentially an abandoned hospital. And if that isn't enticing enough — Waller Bridge has long-ish hair.
So there you have it. 20 shows to help you unclench your jaw so you don't chew through your night guard. I hope at least one of these programs — be it with Rod Serling, Pee-wee Herman, or someone making a perfect berry tart — helps you to forget your cares for at least 30 to 60 minutes.