Spectator by Seema Goswami: Déjà vu

Hindustan Times | BySeema Goswami
Aug 09, 2020 12:01 PM IST

I’ve always been a fan of comfort reading; but the lockdown has made me comfort-watch old TV shows as well.

Regular readers of this column will know that I tend to bang on a bit about comfort reading.

While rewatching The West Wing, one realises so little changes in the world over time.(Aparna Ram)
While rewatching The West Wing, one realises so little changes in the world over time.(Aparna Ram)

Well, in my defence, it is one of my favourite things to do in times of stress (and even otherwise), and it has kept me sane through many insane moments in my life. So, it wasn’t entirely surprising that the moment we were forced into lockdown by the coronavirus, I fell back on my usual crutch.

So, I spent weeks, and then months, rediscovering some of my favourite books. I read the Donna Leon mysteries set in scenic Venice to get the travel fix I could not get otherwise. I enjoyed the halcyon English countryside that forms the backdrop of so many Elizabeth George suspense novels. I transported myself back in time and space as I waded through all my old Georgette Heyers and Agatha Christies.

And it was only when I had exhausted all the possibilities available on my bookshelves that it occurred to me that I could do exactly the same thing with my TV viewing – and by TV, I obviously mean the various streaming services we are so slavishly devoted to these days. Instead of constantly looking out for something new and interesting to watch, I could hunt down old favourites and binge-watch them instead. And maybe comfort watching would turn out to be just as soothing as comfort reading.

The act of dipping back into a familiar show evokes not just a sense of nostalgia, but also well-being

Well, guess what? It was exactly that – and more. Even though I had forgotten some of the plot twists and characters involved, just the act of dipping back into a familiar show evoked not just a sense of nostalgia, but also well-being.

The first series that I chose to rewatch was The West Wing. It had been one of my favourite shows when it was first aired on Indian television. And then, a few years later, I had bought the entire box set to introduce it to my husband, who loved it as well. So, it made perfect sense to delve right back into the idealised world of President Bartlet, and his merry men and women when we were looking for a series that would take us through the weeks of lockdown (that was before we realised it would be months, not weeks).

And I must say, it worked a treat. Every evening we would enter into the world of American politics, leaving our own cares behind, and watch as Leo clashed with Toby, the sexual tension between Josh and Donna grew so thick as to obscure other plot points, and President Bartlet tried to save the world, one global crisis at a time. What came as a revelation was that so little had changed since we first watched the series. There are still border tensions between India and Pakistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still raging, and the issue of abortion is still a lightning rod in the United States.

Once we had ploughed our way through the entire seven seasons of The West Wing, it was time to move on to another favourite genre of ours: the legal drama. We had been early fans of L.A. Law (does anyone else even remember that?) and I had been a dedicated viewer of Ally McBeal. But while the first was not available on any streaming service, the latter – when I watched a couple of episodes – seemed curiously dated.

So, we fell back on another show we had enjoyed in the past: Boston Legal. Starring William Shatner, James Spader and Candice Bergen, this is not your standard legal drama. The plot lines – not to mention some characters – get increasingly bizarre with every episode, and political correctness just does not exist in this universe.

In fact, I would go so far to say that this series is very much a product of its time, with women being objectified at every turn, and sexual harassment being treated as normal workplace practice. Nobody would dare make such a show in these post-Me Too times, and some of it certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing. But if you can get past that (though it did get me hot and bothered at times) it is a barrel of laughs.

As we embark upon our fifth month of lockdown, we have started on our next comfort watch. Well, comfort watch for me, that is, given that my husband has never watched a single episode of The Sopranos. Until now, he had been leery to take on the commitment of watching six seasons of a show but now that long, empty evenings stretch ahead of us every day, he agreed to take the plunge, saying that we would watch an episode or two, dipping in and out of the show over the next few weeks.

It took just 20 minutes of the first episode to get him hooked on this tale of the depressed mobster, played to devastating perfection by James Gandolfini, who starts going to the psychiatrist to deal with his panic attacks and depression. And now, like two addicts, we spend all day waiting for the TV to come on (never before 8pm, is my iron-clad rule) so that we can disappear into the world of the New Jersey mob and all the shenanigans it gets up to.

We are down two seasons, with four more to go, and I am already starting to think about my next comfort watch. If you have any suggestions, do let me know.

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, August 9, 2020

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