How did we watch TV before Netflix? More specifically, how did we exist as parents before Netflix? B.N. (Before Netflix) was no pausing to go tend to a crying baby, and there was no "watch whatever you want at 3:00 a.m." possibility. If your baby started crying you missed whatever non-pause-able action was happening in real time, and a 3:00 a.m. feeding meant you watched infomercials because, well, that's what was on. But we live in the glorious streamable future, where we can watch anything, so let's talk about what your Netflix "Continue Watching" list says about you as a mom. After all, we have that data and we can dive into it.
Let's also talk about the fact that while there may be times we're marathon-watching new shows, the fact of the matter is we're probably and more often than not re-watching familiar series over and over again. This isn't exclusive to parents, but I'd say it's probably more true of parents (particularly new parents or parents with very young children) than of the general population. For starters, a show we already know can weather the storm of interruption, and children are nothing if not a constant interruption, bless their wee hearts. So if your infant starts crying in the middle of the episode where Ross gets a new couch, you can step away and know that he's going to say "Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!"
For another thing, the part of a new parent's brain that takes in new information is working overtime as it is. There's so much to learn about parenting and your child. So by the time you get to sit down and watch TV you literally can't retain, or even decipher, an ounce of new information. You don't need to follow some intricate plot, you need to have some sort of background distraction that won't frazzle you.
So here are some of the shows that get us through... and what they say about who we are and where we are in our parenting journey:
Before you had kids you really enjoyed house parties. Your children call (or will call) several of your friends "auntie." You own at least one t-shirt that says something like, "Gym Hair: Don't Care."
If you're watching Friends as a parent, it's probably because you are feeling just a teensy bit nostalgic for your pre-kid days. Or, you know, a lost nostalgic. It's not that you would change a damn thing, but you really miss your own equivalent of going to Central Perk in the middle of the day and, somehow, literally all your friends are there. Watching Friends is a way to recapture that moment in time... and giggle about "Smelly Cat."
You're still really upset this one ended, to be honest. Like, you recognize that it had to end sometime and even you can admit that the later seasons weren't quite the same without Steve Carell, but it was just so good, you know?
You and your partner (or, if you're a single parent, your partner in crime) have gotten to the stage of parenthood where you can really see just how absurd it all is and you've developed a sense of humor about it to match. The witty, often uncomfortable, sometimes dark but still usually lighthearted humor of The Office reflects that.
'Parks & Rec'
You're Type A, whether on purpose (Leslie) or in spite of yourself (April). Before you had kids, you had everything prepared — you'd done your research, prepped the nursery, come up with lists of professionally compatible, but fresh and feminist baby names. And then you actually had a kid and realized even Leslie Knope couldn't make a binder capable of preparing you for this crap.
But watching Parks & Rec for the 900th time comforts you in knowing that even when things get chaotic and all around you are shenanigans and incompetence, in the end, everything turns out OK. There is no situation that is not ultimately surmountable... not even your baby's last blowout because OMFG.
West Wing is intelligent comfort food: like edamame! It's good for you, but you can down a whole bunch of it without really thinking.
You've watched it a million times, so you don't have to pay careful attention, but it's sharp and inspiring and you need something completely out of "baby mode" right now. Some people want to turn off their brains when their domestic lives get too overwhelming, and that makes perfect sense. But you need something to remind you that there's more to life than diapers and sleeplessness, and nothing will do that quite like President Bartlet passionately speaking about, well, anything.
You like nice things with just a touch of drama. And The Gilmore Girls is just so adorable and sometimes a girl needs that in her life, especially when breastfeeding is giving her hell and her baby won't stop biting her nipples.
You love the relationship between Rory and Lorelai, you love the look of the show, and you love how charming everything in Connecticut seems (I live in Connecticut and can confirm it is, in fact, that damn charming). Honestly, you're just dreaming of a time when you and your child can have real conversations together. Gilmore Girls is sort of aspirational to you and, seriously, who could blame you?
You probably haven't actually watched this show before, but it's your backup because there's a million and seven episodes and they're all pretty much the same and you just want something on in the background that's interesting but, sometimes, not more interesting than whatever is on your phone. And it's not so interesting that if your baby wakes up in the middle of it you're even really going to feel like you have to pause it to see how it turned out. It always ends the same way: "The forensics made this case."
(Spoiler alert: the forensics always make the case on this show. It's always solved based on the forensics. That's why it's called Forensic Files.)
As a parent, this show is great because sometimes you're exhausted after a long day of parenting and you just want to turn your brain off and cruise. Other times you want something you can learn from that engages you after a dull day of baby stuff. Whatever your mood, this show fits the bill.
You're in a bit of a dark place and you need to lean into that. (Or you're just naturally pretty dark and find serial killers fascinating. Or you have a crush on Michael C. Hall, which I get.)
Parenting can be a dark place, and it can feel a little aimless. But Dexter has a strict and predictable code that guides his darkness and, honestly, that'd be kind of nice. Like, you're not going to track down and murder evil-doers yourself (seriously, please don't), but you can respect it in a fictional setting and find some comfort in watching it over and over again.
You feel dysfunctional and you need to take comfort in a family that's even more dysfunctional and chaotic than yours.
You're also probably at a point in parenting where you have a moment or two to breathe and can take the time to catch all the jokes (they're seriously a mile a minute) that you didn't catch the first time around, because now you don't have to focus on plot or you know things that'll come up down the line.
Also, seriously, every episode has at least one classic line/joke in there and that kind of familiarity is just the pick-me-up your tired ass needs.
'Great British Baking Show'
You're very fragile, like a pastry, and you need something with absolutely no risk of hurting you or distressing you. You need gentle music and pleasant people and lots of encouragement. You need Nadiya's final speech at the end of Season Six about how she'll never doubt herself again. You need lingering shots of bunnies and flowers and sheep and marzipan castles.
You just need the world to be nothing but lovely for a little while, and that's what this show does best.
You're basic and you embrace that. You find parenting a little bit monotonous and you need some drama that doesn't involve a diaper or forgetting to wash out the bottles before you have to go to work. You want to see an outfit that doesn't have spit up on it.
You have absolutely fallen asleep watching this every time you've tried. It doesn't matter how well done or interesting it is: you're exhausted and you passed out. This is parenting, and this is why you keep watching the same shows over and over again: because if you fall asleep watching Ross say, "...take thee, Rachel" it doesn't matter because we know how it ends.