What Rewatching 2000s TV Shows Says About You
Millennials just can't let go of the shows from their teens, and they don't have to.
If Nickelodeon’s Rugrats reboot announcement tells us anything, it’s that millennials are a generation of nostalgia. Shows like Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace, and Queer Eye also received the reboot treatment in recent years, and reboots for Charmed and Roswell are already in the works. So why spend the time, money, and effort crafting new shows when all the television gold of the 2000s is just waiting to be used again — and millennials are guaranteed to eat it up?
Like book-to-movie adaptations, reboots never capture quite the same magic as the originals. With so many streaming services at our fingertips, it’s too easy to just keep binge watching all 153 episodes of Gilmore Girls over and over again. Or all 92 episodes of The O.C. Or all 76 episodes of Friday Night Lights. Even with the constant influx of new content out there, I know I can’t possibly be the only millennial that gets caught up in this endless rewatching loop.
In trying to figure out why these older TV shows are so addicting to us, most of it boils down to familiarity. With teen dramas especially, the teenage years of the main characters align closely with the teenage years of many millennials. This was a time before most social media platforms (pour one out for MySpace), smartphones, and today’s current need for constant connectivity.
Technology was new and exciting in the 2000s, not a quagmire of “fake news” and the eternal quest for likes. Maybe it’s rose-colored glasses, but what millennial’s heart doesn’t swell when they think back on their first cell phone? I feel indescribable fondness when I watch Elena send text messages in The Vampire Diaries on a Blackberry Pearl, or the magical telephoto capabilities of Blair’s LG ENV2 in Gossip Girl. I yearn to snap a flip phone closed after an angry call again, instead of having to jab my thumb into the red circle on a touch screen.
Not to mention the incredible fashion and music that came out of that decade. Laguna Beach had, for an MTV scripted reality show, one of the most iconic soundtracks. Season 1 boasted New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, The All-American Rejects. (Are you feeling the nostalgia yet?) Even now, the first few notes of Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” never fail to awaken something inside me. Oh, I could even write prose about all those flared jeans and flip flops.
Watching shows that are supposed to reflect my life currently, like New Girl or The Mindy Project, doesn't have quite the same uplifting effect. Andrew Selepak, PhD, a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida and Director of the graduate program in social media, explains it like this: “Watching old TV shows is like comfort food for the soul because it takes us back to a part of our life that we remember as being easier, more fun, with less responsibilities."
“[We] don’t remember the breakups, the homework, the acne, or anything negative. This selective-amnesia can have a powerful impact on our mood and outlook,” he added.
Selepak also believes television shows in the 2000s created more of a sense of community than television shows do now. “When we were younger, there was no YouTube and social media, and 12 different HBO channels, and multiple ESPN channels. We were limited in our entertainment consumption. FOX wasn’t even a network until 1986. So everyone was watching the same shows, and we could talk about those shows with friends and family the next day, and not immediately on Twitter.”
Times were simpler for millennials in the 2000s, and it feels good to relive them — with the originals (sorry, reboots) — and forget about the craziness of now.
While I don’t particularly want to revisit my high school days, I love revisiting Seth, Ryan, Marissa, and Summer’s high school days at Harbor. Applying to college was one of the most stressful times of my life, but I love choosing between Harvard, Yale, and Princeton with Rory. Growing up fighting over the bathroom with my sister was hell, but I love watching Bridget and Kerry squabble.
“It’s easy to connect with the characters and to remember a time when life was easier,” explains Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, an individual and couples therapist. “Many of us have multiple responsibilities and work more than one job. Watching television is our form of self-care because it helps us to wind down and take our mind off of our daily stressors.”
Powell adds, “We remember a time when television was a bit more censored and the characters dealt with daily life with a bit of humor and supportive friends. Many of us have realized that making friends as an adult is difficult, and it’s encouraging to see how life could be reflected on a television screen. It’s easy to forget about your stressful life when you’re laughing.”
Today’s teen dramas have to deal with so many more complications; no one is watching 13 Reasons Why as a form of self-care. So the next time you watch three straight seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, don’t feel bad. You’re not missing out on the TV shows of today; you’re just a nostalgic millennial, practicing self-care.