In 2020, at least we had TV.
While so much of what can comfort us during turbulent times was disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic this year – from moviegoing to sports to concerts to simply spending time with our loved ones – TV continued to be aired and streamed to our socially distanced households mostly unabated.
As a TV critic, watching TV is what I do for a living, and it has long been my method of choice for comfort and relaxation. During the coronavirus pandemic, TV only became more important to me, and to others, as a source of escape from tragedy.
But it wasn't just any TV that was able to remove me from the moment (2020 was not the year, for instance, I chose to rewatch HBO's "The Leftovers"). I wanted escapism, either so happy it could improve my mood or so engrossing it could render my mood irrelevant. Series like "Elementary" were easy and charming enough to watch while I tried my hand at sourdough or cross-stitch or any other mildly successful quarantine hobby. I wanted long-running series that had a font of seemingly endless episodes, like "Supernatural" on CW with its 15 seasons of mythology and brotherly love. Short runs of 10-episode seasons have their place, but as Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) fought demons and spirits for hours on end, I didn't have to pause and think too much about reality.
I also wanted to relive my old favorites, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," shows that could be invariably relied upon to entertain me, to lighten my mood. I wanted to spend time at Central Perk with my "Friends" or vicariously go into "The Office" of Dunder Mifflin. I wanted to guffaw at stand-up comedy, but not the cynical, brash kind. My favorite was Mike Birbiglia on a stage surrounded by a hundred baby toys, talking about his battle to get the couch back from his newborn child in Netflix's special "The New One."
What else did I watch? While packing up my life to move over the summer, worried about movers and exposure and quarantine, I put on "The Great British Baking Show," sweet, easy background noise as I focused on filling boxes. The heartwarming romance and friendship of Pop TV's "Schitt's Creek" helped as the fall and winter surge brought more terrifying and sad headlines. USA's "Psych" was on my TV on many restless late nights, its goofy humor a helpful balm.
It wasn't just old series I rewatched that brought me some joy amid the dreariness. I gravitated to new shows, which surprised with their audacity ("I May Destroy You," HBO) or offered a warm hug of nostalgia ("The Baby-Sitters Club," Netflix).
Earlier in the year I wrote about how TV has long been my preferred method of self-soothing, dating back to my childhood, and how I saw others experiencing the same phenomenon in quarantine. What I didn't realize back in the early pandemic days in March, which feels like a few decades – or a few runs of "Supernatural" – ago, was that somehow TV could become even more important to my life. It's a comfort, an escape, an activity to fill the time and something I can share with my distant friends and family.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the wildfires, the hurricanes, the protests – 2020 was a year of tragedy and struggle, one we are all eager to put in our rearview mirrors.
I used to sometimes be ashamed of my desire to stay in, to click on the TV yet again instead of pursuing new hobbies, going to a bar or leaving my house. This year TV was a comfort in its content and its form. It was reliably there for me no matter how the world changed, a smart choice as I stayed (and continue to stay) home and tried to keep my distance. As the uncertainty of 2021 unfolds, TV will still be there for all of us.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 in review: The TV shows that made the year bearable