vulture asks

What’s Your TV Comfort Food While You’re Stuck Inside?

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

If you can stay home during the coronavirus crisis, you should. But what should you watch while you’re stuck inside? If you’re looking for a distraction from the world — or just something to put on in the background while you keep checking the news — we’ve got plenty of suggestions for TV comfort food. Here are 17 great shows that we’re watching ourselves right now, from classic sitcoms to cheerful reality series.

Cheers (streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and CBS All Access)

A show that almost exclusively takes place in a small basement bar might not be everyone’s idea of the ideal binge while trapped at home, but what I need right now isn’t dragons, vast lands, or trying to trick myself with TV escapism. It’s just really solid jokes. I started binge-watching Cheers in early February before the coronavirus news went into overdrive, and it’s turned out to be the perfect way to pass the time now that I’m home even more than before. (I’m currently about halfway through season seven. No spoilers!) Sure, not every episode is perfect, but it’s deliciously casual viewing that hits much more than it misses. Plus, a lot of people have already watched Cheers, so if you want to argue about whether Diane got the shaft in season five or why the hell the bar suddenly goes matte in season seven, there’s a world of fans ready to guide you through your binge. But back to the most important thing: It’s really, really funny, and it’ll make you smile a lot. What else could you ask for during a pandemic? I can’t recommend it enough. NORM!!! —Megh Wright

Pushing Daisies (streaming on CW Seed, buy on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube)

In the midst of the stress and isolation surrounding a pandemic, don’t count out the technicolor comforts of Bryan Fuller’s pie-making slash crime-solving procedural. It has everything: Lee Pace as a tall, awkward baker who can bring people back to life (but only for one minute, or then someone else dies), morbidly hilarious causes of death, and Kristin Chenoweth singing just because. But as my friend pointed out, Pushing Daisies doubles as an essential guide to love in times of self-isolation, with a central romance that can’t ever be consummated, since Chuck and his revived paramour Ned can’t touch each other or she’ll die. Instead, they resort to kissing through cellophane, holding their own hands while standing near each other, and dancing in full-body bee suits. Social distancing can’t stop a love story. —Jackson McHenry

The Wonder Years (streaming on Hulu)

Anything that takes us back a few decades, well before this COVID-19 outbreak, can serve as nostalgic comfort food right now. The Wonder Years, a comedy with a very high-sentimentality quotient, is set in the ’60s and originally aired in the ’80s, so it takes viewers back in time on two fronts. Given its focus on Kevin Arnold’s struggle with adolescence, it’s also something you can watch with kids who are stuck at home during a school shutdown. Personally, I relish the opportunity to spend a few minutes worrying solely about whether Winnie Cooper likes-likes Kevin Arnold, or just likes him. —Jen Chaney

The League (streaming on Hulu)

Much of the Peak TV revolution passed me by, so I have a massive backlog of great TV that I should be watching, like The Sopranos, The Shield, Game of Thrones, or those final seasons of The Americans and Mad Men that I never got around to. But two years ago, when one of my cats was slowly dying and I had to spend many long hours on the couch keeping him company, I found myself getting completely sucked into … The League. This unassuming bro-y comedy about a group of Chicago friends in an absolutely brutal fantasy football league is most certainly not Peak TV. I’m not even sure if it’s actually good TV. I didn’t have to pay too much attention to it — and I wasn’t going to, because I was already distracted by all sorts of other real-life concerns — but I didn’t feel much shame because it was often absurdly funny. And so, now that I’m spending a lot of time at home again, unable to focus much on anything, I have rediscovered the joys of The League. The characters are simply drawn and likable, the plot dynamics easy to follow, and the laughs are just what I need to take my mind off things. Once I’m done, I can go back and finish off those remaining seasons of Breaking Bad. Or maybe I’ll just watch The League again. —Bilge Ebiri

The Golden Girls (streaming on Hulu)

Some of the most comforting TV for dark times is TV that was made years ago. For one thing, there’s often just more of it: The Golden Girls is seven seasons long, and each season is a monster 26 episodes, so you can get into a long, sustaining relationship with the show. Older TV also tends to be rhythmic in a way that can be harder to find in recent shows. There’s a repeating structure to the jokes, to the act breaks, to the episode arcs. It’s very soothing, and it works equally well as background noise or as a distraction from the news. Most importantly, The Golden Girls has exactly the right tone and emotion for anxious minds. It’s full of goofy, gloriously eye-roll worthy one liners and gags. But it’s also unfailingly warm and sincere, a show about women who love one another and who face serious crises by being supportive and empathetic. Trust me when I say this is what you need in your life. —Kathryn VanArendonk

The Sopranos (streaming on HBO and Amazon Prime)

It’s admittedly a stretch to call The Sopranos “comfort viewing,” nor is it precisely a show I’ve been meaning to catch up with, as I watched the series during its initial broadcast run. But it is a show that’s been at the top of my rewatch list since the advent of HBO’s streaming platform. However, having a job that necessitates staying on top of current television (lol, like that’s even possible) makes the very idea of rewatching old series feel like an indulgence, one I usually reserve for shows I know so well they’re basically in my bloodstream, like The Simpsons or King of the Hill. But The Sopranos requires roughly 85 hours of my full attention and engagement, something I’ve only recently been able to give it. Full disclosure, I started my current Sopranos rewatch a little before “social distancing” became the phrase of the moment; a running gag in Hulu’s High Fidelity remake about Rob never having seen The Sopranos inspired my fiancé, who’s never seen the show, to finally jump in, and I happily came along for the ride. Now that we’ve hit the series’ third (and arguably best) season, it’s accelerating into a full-on binge — which is itself a new experience, given that I’d only seen the show in week-to-week, year-to-year real time. That instant gratification, combined with the 15 years’ worth of TV-watching and critical thinking skills I’ve developed since I first watched, has made it feel in many ways like I’m watching The Sopranos for the first time. It’s not so much that the show is easy to watch as it’s now something I can engage with more easily, and on a deeper level than I have before, and that is its own kind of comfort. —Genevieve Koski

The OA (streaming on Netflix)

The most comforting TV show for me right now is also The Sopranos, because the Jersey mafia enforces structure and rules amidst chaos, even if those rules are “murder that guy with a golf club or I will throw you off a boat.” But if you haven’t seen it yet, I would strongly recommend watching The OA. It was already a balm for what ails modern society — capitalist greed, reckless individualism, toxic masculinity, et. al. — but its message of social unity, vulnerability, community, and absolute bonkers-ness is especially resonant now. It’s also a deeply felt, propulsive, singular story that will shuttle you outside of your own panic-polluted brain (ideally to another dimension where the Trump administration doesn’t exist). How did Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij predict that we’d need to be reminded, in the most literal of ways, that the central purpose of being alive is to take care of each other? They probably had help from their psychic octopus. —Rachel Handler

The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show (streaming on Hulu)

Either one of these classic ’70s comedies is worth a watch by themselves, but together they’re like the grilled cheese and tomato soup of comfort TV. There’s a reason CBS paired them up on Saturday nights back in the day: Both feature some of the sharpest comedy writers of the era (Mary Tyler Moore was co-created by the legendary James L. Brooks), two comedy icons as leads, and amazing ensemble casts, all of whom were operating in peak form. And for students of pop culture history, both shows now also serve as perfect time capsules for the Me Decade, showcasing the fashion and home designs of the years just before disco. If you can resist the urge to binge, do what I do: Watch one episode of each show, back to back, just one night a week (or, if that’s too slow, one episode of each every day). It’ll give you something to look forward to as we all wait to get past this pandemic. —Josef Adalian

Terrace House (streaming on Netflix)

If Friends is your go-to relaxation show, let me be the first to welcome you to 2020. Here, we have a little reality show called Terrace House, where six young Japanese professionals move in together and, you know, hang out and stuff. Same concept. Unlike other reality shows, drama is instigated with omelettes instead of drink-throwing, everything is styled like a Muji (famously the most relaxing retail store), and reading the subtitles rather than getting distracted by coronavirus tweets gives my anxious brain something else to focus on. —Zoë Haylock

The Simpsons (streaming on Disney+)

Growing up, my family moved to new states multiple times, but wherever we’d end up, one thing could be counted on: A local TV station would syndicate at least one (and sometimes two!) episodes of The Simpsons at some convenient point in the late afternoon. I watched [does some math on an envelope] all of them. Since the launch of Disney+, I’ve been meaning to recreate that soothing after-school experience, but a number of annoying circumstances — work, friends, Love Is Blind — have gotten in the way of that plan. But now that I’m trapped at home all day, I’ve been ripping through them again and it’s been amazing, missing sight gags be damned. —Ray Rahman

Frasier (streaming on Hulu and CBS All Access)

Even though I was alive for the entirety of Frasier’s 11-season run, I completely missed it. Sure, it was on my family’s TV occasionally when I was a kid, but unless Eddy was doing something goofy to get on Frasier’s nerves, I wasn’t interested. But now, as an adult, I can tell you this: Frasier is good, guys! It’s got everything. Broad slapstick! Witty, high brow references! The dog! Meanwhile, the extreme theatricality that Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce bring to every scene comforts me at this time when all the actual theaters are closed. I’ve been stuck at home for days now and time has slowed to a crawl, so I appreciate falling into the Crane family’s wormhole. My only regret is not buying any top-shelf sherry before this pandemic came to New York. —Tolly Wright

Supernatural (streaming on Netflix)

CW’s longest-running show ends after 15 seasons this May, but I’m only on season five. As someone with a predilection for spooky, witchy comedy-dramas — someone who has long since finished all 11 seasons of The X-Files and all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — I’ve found solace in the fact that I have nine more seasons of Supernatural in my Netflix queue. That’s more than 200 episodes of Jensen Ackles’s rough yet comforting baritone to make this damsel feel safe. —Trupti Rami

Apple & Onion (streaming on Cartoon Network and Hulu)

Apple & Onion is the cutest, sweetest, cutie sweetie of a show. It’s about exactly what it sounds like: An apple named Apple (voiced by creator George Gendi) and a scallion named Onion (voiced by Richard Aayode) are roommates in a big city in a world populated by other anthropomorphic foods (Eugene Merman is a burger, Paul Scheer is a hot dog, and Nicole Byer is cotton candy). It shares a deadpan sense of humor and fish-out-of-water sensibility with Flight of the Conchords, and has the same sort of sunny, chill vibes and visual gags as Tuca and Bertie. Plus, it’s a certified all-ages watch, if you have kids home from school during these corona times. Double-plus, every episode has catchy songs. Triple-double-plus, the show has such an infectiously positive attitude without being manic or cloying that it makes you grateful for the small things that you do have: friends, video games, your cat, your bed, diner food, leftover cake in the fridge, a roof to sneak onto, a sunset to watch. —Rebecca Alter

Peep Show (streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime)

A cult classic that never quite got the attention it deserved outside of comedy nerd circles, all nine seasons of Peep Show are waiting to brighten your days in isolation. This show brings you directly inside the heads of two male roommates living in London: Mark, the fastidious history nerd who has terrible luck in love, and Jeremy (or “Jez”), the largely unemployed musician who … also has terrible luck in love. Being able to hear their inner monologues means it takes no time at all to feel fully drawn into their world of schemes, squabbles, and humiliations. Not to mention it’s shot entirely from the actual POV of the characters, so in a way it can feel as though you’re walking around outside in London, too! But what really puts it over the top is Oscar winner Olivia Coleman in one of her first major roles. If you thought her on-command tear in The Crown was impressive, wait til you see her drunk in a ball pit. —Anne Victoria Clark

Pretty Little Liars (buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube)

Pretty Little Liars is simply put, a perfect show for being confined to quarters, and best consumed as a binge. Over the course of its seven seasons and 160 episodes, PLL reinvented jumping the shark and turned it into performance art. The plot twists become labyrinthine. The number of characters introduced, discarded, and then brought back years later to recall storylines long since dropped are innumerable, and yet its self aware sense of humor and the perfect chemistry between its key four characters stay charming and reward long-term viewing. What’s the show about? Oh yeah. A group of high school friends in a small, posh Pennsylvania set out to solve the murder of their former best friend and in the process land in a vast criminal conspiracy network. (And I do mean vast.) These are trying times, so treat yourself to a vacation in lovely Rosewood. —Jordan Crucchiola

Any SNL I Can Find (streaming on NBC and Hulu)

Whether it’s from this season or from the archives, SNL is my comfort TV. I will rewatch full episodes, or just bundles of sketches from the Lonely Island, Stefon clips, the Schweddy series, Celebrity Jeopardy, and Bronx Beat for hours on end, either as background noise or to feel less down. Watching SNL on Sunday mornings is already part of my routine, but now that coronavirus has us all pent up at home — lonely, horny, hungry, and questioning the fundamental structure of our society — comedians, singers, and actors making absolute fools of themselves is an easy way to give myself some much-needed joy. —Clare Palo

What’s Your TV Comfort Food While You’re Stuck Inside?