In the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper ruminated on the potency of nostalgia as he pitched an ad campaign for a new Kodak projector. “It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone,” he said. “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
And it’s nostalgia, Derek Thompson recently wrote in The Atlantic, that makes us watch the same movies and TV shows over and over again. “It’s using entertainment as a time machine to revisit a lost memory,” he wrote.
I’m not usually an advocate for revisiting the same old comfortable shows again and again. In fact, I’m often the one recommending that friends try watching a series they haven’t seen before. (You really need to see this show ‘Kings’—it was on NBC a few years ago and it ran only one season and no one watched it but it has Ian McShane playing the king of a fictional monarchical country and it’s just fantastic…no? You’re just going to watch all eight seasons of 24 again? Ugh, fine, have fun.)
But there’s no denying the power of nostalgia. And there are actually some TV shows that are enhanced by multiple viewings, that offer an altogether different experience the second or third time through. Here are my picks:
Friday Night Lights
With school back in session and high school football games taking place every Friday night across the US, now’s your chance to relive the precious teenage years of the boys and girls of Dillon, Texas. Equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, Friday Night Lights is one of the more affecting series in recent memory.
It’s a show that really makes you feel things, and there’s a good chance you’ll feel something new each time you watch it. The actors didn’t rehearse or block out scenes, giving the show an improvised, almost documentary-like tenor that was completely unlike anything on television at the time. Watching it again will reinforce just how surprisingly innovative it was.
Forget the divisive ending. Watching LOST a second time allows you to stop caring so much about what the island is and gives you an opportunity to focus on what the show did best—characters. LOST featured one of the biggest and most diverse casts in television, and the characters’ backstories were as deep and compelling as the show’s winding plot and its sweeping mythology.
The legacy of the show’s iconic characters—Locke, Ben, Sawyer, and Desmond, among many others—will far outlive any ill will surrounding how the show wrapped up. And every time you watch LOST, you’re going to notice things you didn’t notice the time before.
Like they are doing for Friday Night Lights, A.V. Club just finished an enlightening deep dive back through the entire series, which itself demonstrates the great benefits of re-watching the show.
The Wire—with all of its intricately woven plot lines, its biting social commentary, and its throng of vividly realized characters—is a show that demands to be watched at least a second time through.
The series has inspired numerous college courses, including one that I was fortunate enough to take in 2010. It was my third time seeing the series, and possibly the most enjoyable. Taking a step back and using a critical lens to see how all of the show’s densely-packed episodes slowly came together to form a cohesive narrative was as interesting as watching the show for the very first time.
You’ll have the perfect opportunity to watch The Wire all over again, as HBO is set to rebroadcast the series in HD some time this fall.
Besides being one of the funniest shows of all time, Arrested Development was also filled with hidden jokes and easter eggs. The show’s page on Reddit has been inundated by thousands of fans who keep the show alive by finding references to jokes in real life and concocting memes only someone who watched the show would understand.
Arrested Development is, in a sense, the comedic version of The Wire. For all its hilarity, it’s actually enthralling to see how certain story threads come together over the course of the series. A lot of those nuggets are easy to miss on your first run through the show. Then again, if you’re a fan, you’ve likely already seen it two or three or 20 times already.
Zap2it hosted a re-watch of the series last year, posting gifs of classic scenes along the way.
The Twilight Zone
Without The Twilight Zone, a lot of the best shows today wouldn’t exist. The venerable sci-fi anthology series left an indelible mark on network television, and echoes of Rod Serling’s vision will continue to be heard as long as the medium of television exists. For that reason alone, the show should be watched and re-watched (the original 1965 version, that is—skip the 1980s revival).
On top of being frightening and mind-bending, Serling’s work actually said something. The first time you watch “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” (video) you might just see it as a straightforward psychological thriller. The second time, it’s a pointed meditation on the dangers of McCarthyism. The third, it’s a study of crowd psychology. The fourth, an examination of small-town middle-American life.
Here are A.V. Club’s reviews for every episode of the original series.
Honorable mentions: The West Wing, Community, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, Scrubs