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Artist Bob Ross at a canvas holding a paint brush. Photo: Interregional Program Service/American Program Service

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What the Polygon staff watches for comfort and anxiety relief

What to watch when you need a pick-me-up

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When we find ourselves in times of trouble, these movies and TV shows call to us. So, okay, that doesn’t scan perfectly with “Let It Be,” but you get the idea. There are shows and films that we know will serve as chicken soup for the soul. Something about them is comforting — maybe it’s a particularly sweet moment, or a musical cue that brings on waves of nostalgia for where we were in our lives the first time we experienced it. Whatever it is, we look to these viewing experiences for a balm during trying times.


The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Sam (Astin) wields a blade and a vial of light.
A ray of hope in these trying times.
Photo: New Line Cinema

I can’t count how many times I’ve watched Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe this is a cop-out answer because almost everybody loves the trilogy, but they’re just the best. The story of a bunch of oddballs coming together to triumph over insurmountable odds while learning that love, friendship, and the fortitude of the human spirit really are the most powerful forces in the world — that’s exactly what I need whenever I’m feeling down. The high points are endless: every single Frodo and Sam moment, Gandalf triumphing over the Balrog, the celebration at Minas Tirith. What’s better than this? —Karen Han

Rent The Fellowship of the Ring on Fandango, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Microsoft, DirecTV, or AMC On Demand
Stream The Two Towers on Netflix, or rent it on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Vudu, Microsoft, Redbox, DirecTV, or AMC On Demand
Stream The Return of the King on Netflix, or rent it on Fandango, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Vudu, DirecTV, or AMC On Demand

The Adventure Zone fanvids

I am not a rewatcher. I’ve said this a thousand times in different group-opinion pieces and other formats, but I basically almost never go back to the same entertainment for comfort, because I’m too antsy about all the things I’ve never watched. But more and more lately, when I need a comforting break, I’m turning to something that combines pleasantly familiar content with unexpected art: fan animation for the Adventure Zone podcast. What really gets me about these little creations is how much passion the animators put into illustrating their favorite moments, and how much creativity they bring to interpreting the same ideas and the story’s most emotional beats. From amazing videos set to existing music to the endless visually simple or complicated or colorful illustrations of people’s favorite moments, I never get tired of seeing new Balance Arc fanvids. Fortunately, at this point, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is feeding me practically nothing else. —Tasha Robinson

Criminal Minds

Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), a brown-haired, clean-shaven main in a gray dress shirt and skinny black tie, on Criminal Minds
Thinking about Criminal Minds.
Image: CBS

Look, look. I know what you’re thinking. How can a show about gruesome serial killers be comforting in this time? But there’s something cathartic about watching a show where the good guys always win, where the formulaic episode patterns pack in maximum drama with maximum payoff. It’s the thrill of a procedural crime show coupled with the satisfaction that the Behavioral Analysis Unit will save the day — and look really hot in the process. —Petrana Radulovic

Stream it on Netflix, DirecTV, CBS All Access, FuboTV, or Amazon (with the CBS All Access add-on)

Gravity Falls

two children leap into adventure in the animated series Gravity Falls
Let’s go!
Image: Disney

Combine halcyon childhood summers, wacky supernatural hijinks, and goofy yet whip-smart humor, and you get Gravity Falls. The Disney Channel animated series follows twins Mabel and Dipper Pines, who spend the summer with their schemin’ Great-Uncle Stan in his roadside tourist trap in the odd town of Gravity Falls. The show puts weird, delightful spins on supernatural tropes: is the brooding teenager Mabel crushing on a vampire? Nah, it’s just a pile of gnomes wearing a hoodie and pretending to be a human. And that’s just episode 1! Threaded through the episodic adventures are hints of a deeper plot, which culminate fantastically in the series finale. It’s a great watch that I come back to time and time again to feel that bliss of childhood adventure. Plus, the opening sequence slaps. —PR

Stream it on Disney Plus, Hulu, or DirecTV

Frasier

Dr. Frasier Crane, looking chuffed to bits at the revelation that peacock is free
That’s Frasier.
Image: Paramount Network Television/CBS Television Distribution

At this point I have seen most — if not all! — episodes of Frasier multiple times. And every time I go back to the show, I still laugh out loud. Pompous radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane and his equally pompous psychiatrist brother Niles navigate Seattle’s high society, while their father, retired police officer Marty Crane, rolls his eyes. There’s also Marty’s eccentric home therapist Daphne, Frasier’s no-nonsense producer Roz, and a delightful Jack Russell terrier named Eddie. It’s a colorful class of characters primed for comedic fodder. Most episodes run on classic sitcom misunderstandings, which eventually pull multiple working plotlines together for the delightful clash. All 11 seasons are on Hulu right now, so get your fix in before it moves to Peacock. —PR

Stream it on Hulu, CBS All Access, or Amazon (with the CBS All Access add-on)

Monk

tony shalhoub at a chessboard
Monk? We love him!
Photo: USA Network

It’s a jungle out there, y’all. No one knows that better than Adrian Monk, the germaphobic, obsessive-compulsive detective of my dreams. From his pressed suits in various shades of brown to the Randy Newman theme song to Tony Shalhoub’s kind eyes, Monk is the gentlest show in the private-detective-procedural genre. There are eight seasons of Monk, which makes it a great binge watch. Plus, it’s got lots of fun and unexpected guest stars, from Sarah Silverman to Snoop Dogg. My family owns most of the seasons on DVD, but now that it’s on Amazon Prime, I can throw on an episode every time I want a Monk fix. There’s just something inherently comforting about watching Mr. Monk, who’s both extremely competent and a total mess, bringing order to his own corner of the world (aka San Francisco) one case at a time. —Emily Heller

Stream it on Amazon

Kitchen Nightmares

gordon ramsay yelling
I said KITCHEN NIGHTMARES.
Photo: Fox

I started watching this show via the UK version, which is much milder and more heartwarming. Gordon Ramsay helps revamp struggling restaurants, using his culinary knowledge and tough-love attitude to turn everything around. Back in the old days, in the UK, Gordon Ramsay would encounter perfectly fine restaurants staffed by human beings, and he couldn’t always save the business. But he did his best to fix their marketing and food issues.

Now, in the US version, Gordon Ramsay comes in wearing a disguise and makes horrible puns. Dressed as a book-club lady out for lunch, he declares that this lunch will be “a big thriller.” Like the book. Do you get it? Then he reams everyone out. I always lean back and pump both of my fists in the air when Gordon Ramsay gives the latest restaurant owner a pep talk and a hug. It’s dumb, delicious drama. —Cass Marshall

Stream it on Hulu, Roku, Vudu, Tubi, Crackle, Popcornflix, or FuboTV

The Joy of Painting

bob ross painting
It’s just nice to watch Bob Ross.
Photo: Interregional Program Service/American Program Service

The kids today may get excited about their Ninjas and their Fortnites, but my favorite part of Twitch is the marathons of legacy material. Absolutely nothing is more relaxing than watching Bob Ross lay down some wisdom and oil paints. Once in a while, the absolute madman will put a big dash of yellow on a painting and I think it’s ruined, but he always makes it work. —CM

Stream it on Twitch and Tubi

RiffTrax

three men smiling and hanging out
Just three guys having a good time.
Photo: RiffTrax

RiffTrax was one of the many post-MST3K splinter groups that carried on the bad-movie-riffing tradition in the years after the cable series ended for good, but this was the one that involved actual MST3K stars. Their business model involved creating audio files you could download and sync up to a film as you watched at home, which is frankly too much damn work. But now it’s 2020, and they’ve got a Twitch channel! If you grew up on the voices of Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, and if you’re looking for a 24/7 source of Midwestern dad jokes, you can’t do better. —Pat Gill

Stream it on Twitch and Tubi

Animal Planet

a man looks at a giant lizard
Coyote Peterson braving the wild.
Photo: Animal Planet

I don’t care what show is on Animal Planet at any given time — the whole channel is my comfort place. Sure, not all the shows on Animal Planet are good. (I’m glaring at you now, Coyote Peterson and the Tanked crew.) At this point, I’ve seen just about every episode of The Crocodile Hunter and My Cat From Hell, yet I always find something that surprises and delights me. For instance, the episode of The Vet Life where the Houston-based vet team of Dr. Diarra Blue, Dr. Michael Lavigne, and Dr. Aubrey J. Ross are called in to care for a tiger after it’s displaced by a flood in the city. I am also particularly fond of Too Cute! which is, essentially, just clips of puppies and kittens. I just like to be reminded of the pure goodness and the reality of animals, preferably without all this human bullshit. —Nicole Carpenter

Cardcaptor Sakura

a girl holds a book and a large card
The cardcaptor investigating a card.
Image: Madhouse

Cardcaptor Sakura played an integral part of my childhood. (I grew up with the weird dub, Cardcaptors, which somehow shifted the focus of the series from Sakura to her friend Syaoran. If you watched this version as a kid, I insist you watch the original now.) Sakura is the perfect image of positivity. Sometimes there are obstacles too hard for her. Sometimes a card is just too strong for her, but that doesn’t mean she ever gives up. She has her “unbeatable spell,” which is just the fact that never gives up. The soft, retro animation is so soothing on the eyes, and I can never get enough of the adorable outfits she wears to fight. —Julia Lee

Stream it on Crunchyroll

The Repair Shop

four people in a shed
The hosts of The Repair Shop.
Photo: Steven Peskett/Ricochet Ltd.

It used to be that my go-to movie for any bad stretch was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but it feels like I’ve outgrown it of late. The rip-roaring antics of Luke and the gang just aren’t as chill as I need them to be. Recently, I’ve turned to something decidedly different on Netflix. It’s called The Repair Shop. Ben Kuchera put it best in our internal Slack chat when he called it “the ultimate ‘nicecore’ program.”

The Repair Shop is filmed entirely on the campus of the Weald and Downland Living Museum, a facility that dates to the year 950. The show takes place inside a single barn with a thatched roof, where half a dozen master craftspeople have taken up residence. They’re tasked with fixing family heirlooms that have fallen into disrepair. Some of the projects are whimsical — a vintage 1960s toy Dalek, or a child’s steam-powered car — while some are truly works of art. Be careful, or you might just learn something about watchmaking or art restoration. Season 3 in particular is a kick in the guts, and includes work on a violin that was played at Auschwitz.

Begin with the first season, where the episodes are shorter. The mood is just as placid, the feels are genuine, and there’s almost no talk of how much anything is worth at auction. Looking at you, Antiques Roadshow. —Charlie Hall

Stream it on Netflix

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

a man stands behind a restaurant counter
I want to go to there.
Photo: Netflix

The quiet music that plays during the Midnight Diner opening brings peace to my soul. Each episode, somebody who attends the Japanese diner has to face a new problem in their life, whether it’s unrequited love, trouble with money, or their past coming to haunt them. The characters have to solve their problems, all while visiting the diner and having the chef, referred to as “Master,” fix them their favorite meals from scratch. —JL

Stream it on Netflix

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

a well-dressed woman leans on a car
Isn’t she fabulous?
Photo: ABC

I cannot imagine a show more transportative than Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It follows the adventures of one Honorable Phryne Fisher, lady detective, in 1920s Melbourne. Phryne is the logical result if one of Agatha Christie’s young heroines stayed single and sex-positive, rather than turning into Miss Marple. She’s in her 40s, resolutely glamorous, has a no-strings-attached affaire with one (1) beautiful man per episode, and solves freakin’ murder mysteries. She is my patron saint.

Each episode centers around a puzzle-box-style murder, with a cast of intriguing suspects and all the interpersonal drama that entails. This particular brand of murder is comforting to me. The deaths are contained, both within episodes, and within history. They are solved, justice is meted out, and Miss Fisher dons another ludicrously beautiful outfit and flirts with the police inspector. (I should mention that one episode, “Death and Circuses,” features an intersex character as the murder victim, and it’s both ignorant and too close to reality. Skip it if you wish, it’s a rare low point in this show.)

With that exception noted, and despite the historical setting, Miss Fisher’s is delightfully relevant without being depressing or patronizing. The pilot sees her taking down a back-alley abortionist, and in one later episode, the murder weapon is a malfunctioning vibrator. It’s worth the entire price of a streaming service to watch Miss Fisher explain to some buttoned-up police officers what a vibrator is. [That link is NSFW.] It’s the 1920s, baby!!

Over the course of the show, devil-may-care Phryne’s chemistry with by-the-rules Chief Inspector Jack Robinson grows to such incendiary levels that I find myself howling and throwing my hands in the air like I’m at a tent revival, instead of watching TV on my living-room floor. Listen up, folks: at one point, she straightens his tie for him. I’m short of breath just thinking about it. They talk in whispers with their faces intolerably close together. At one point, they have to kiss as a distraction. This show is a light in my life, and I am all the better for its existence. —Simone de Rochefort

Stream it on Hoopla, Acorn, DirecTV, or Amazon

The Adventures of Pete & Pete

two boys lean on each other
The Petes.
Photo: Nickelodeon

The Adventures of Pete & Pete captures what it was like to be a precocious kid who needed to believe that the mundanity of suburban life was cosmically connected to the grand machinations of the universe — that life was weirder, more complicated, and more important than elementary-school teachers let on. The show’s creators treat the silliness of childhood imagination seriously. Bedtime is part of an international grown-up conspiracy. A garage band performs a life-changing song before inexplicably disappearing overnight. A child’s imaginary friend is a literal superhero, and the strongest man in the world. As a kid, I loved the show because it treated me like a grown-up. As an adult, it reminds me of being a kid. —Chris Plante

Buy it on Amazon or Vudu

Love It or List It / Love It or List It, Too

a woman and a man look contemplative by a door
Well, do you love it? Or are you going to list it?
Photo: HGTV

Most reality TV is garbage. I understand the inherent appeal of watching vapid, conventionally attractive people make fools of themselves as entertainment. But it’s usually mind-numbing, the kind of drivel that I imagine drives parents to admonish their teenagers, “That dreck is turning your brain into mush!” (Of course, parents have been saying this since the dawn of television.) The thing is, fuddy-duddies like me tend to hold sanctimonious attitudes like that until their life circumstances change, and then they see things differently.

I got married last spring, and over the winter, my wife and I got serious about looking at houses to buy. She has long enjoyed watching HGTV shows, but I always dismissed them until we started thinking about becoming homeowners. Now we throw on an episode of Love It or List It (set in North Carolina) or its Canadian spinoff, known in the U.S. as Love It or List It, Too (set in Vancouver, British Columbia), whenever we want to enjoy something uncomplicated to take our minds off of the news. (Episodes of both series are available in the HGTV Go app if you have a cable TV subscription.)

Each episode focuses on a pair of homeowners: One person wants to renovate their existing house, and the other wants to ditch it for a new home. The two co-hosts, an interior designer and a real estate agent, do their best to meet the pair’s needs and wants using the respective budgets they’re given. At the end of the hour, the clients must choose to — you guessed it — “love it” or “list it.”

These shows aren’t intellectually challenging, but they are edifying, in that watching them has helped us figure out our own home priorities and get an idea of the costs and potential pitfalls of home renovations. (Plus, we get to throw things at the TV when we see what the housing market looks like in Raleigh/Durham vs. the suburbs of New York City.) —Samit Sarkar

Stream it on Hulu, FuboTV, or DirecTV

Singin’ in the Rain

a man hangs off of a lamppost
That’s singing in the rain.
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s musical rom-com is nearly 70 years old, but the pleasures are timeless. If you’ve only seen the bit of Kelly tap-dancing in the rain and swinging around a streetlight, do yourself the favor of watching the entire 103-minute movie.

The film follows silent film star Don Lockwood (Kelly) as he approaches the edge of a new era in Hollywood: the rise of the talkies. Seasoned at dancing, singing, and stunts, Don seems set for success, but technical issues and a co-star who isn’t making the transition well plague his first try. Instead of letting his latest movie bomb in theaters, Lockwood teams up with his vaudeville partner Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) and ex-chorus girl Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) to turn trash into musical treasure.

The goes-down-easy plot allows for Kelly and Donen to stage intricate dance numbers (“Good Morning”), slapstick vaudeville routines (“Make ’Em Laugh”), and pure romance (“You Were Meant for Me”). Kelly is a showman. Reynolds is a legend. The whole production is an eye-popping, Technicolor dream. Singin’ in the Rain is a movie for everyone, musical buff or not. —Matt Patches

Rent it on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Fandango, Vudu, Microsoft, Redbox, DirecTV, or AMC On Demand