Mashed Potatoes and The Office: TV Comfort Food!

I am a television nerd, and I know that’s no big reveal for anyone who knows me well. I have had a long, sometimes tumultuous relationship with it. I’ve given it up for Lent, I’ve binged on it, I’ve had a healthy diet with normal hour restrictions. Right now, I’m going on my third year of not having a cable or satellite subscription, which is actually pretty easy. Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming fill the void, and I just have accepted that I am not part of the zeitgeist viewing. I can’t talk to you about a show for a couple of years, which is a big part of why I started this blog in the first place. Surely I’m not the only person who comes to things late, and I just wanted a place to “talk” about things, long after everyone else has seemingly moved on.

I have had a rough few weeks, though due to nothing serious, and maybe just exacerbated by winter blues, I’ve stopped taking proper care of myself like I had promised to do back on December 31st. I always give up on my resolutions, but this year, I spiraled out of them more quickly than most. I am trying now to get my focus back on all my big health and career aspirations, but before I do, I found myself reflecting on comfort food, but in the vein of entertainment, specifically television shows.

For me, a few criteria make up a classic comfort food.

Obviously, it’s comfortable. There aren’t any surprises, and as much as I love to venture into new foods, spices, and flavors, there are always times in my life when I just need two pieces of bread, peanut butter, and homemade apple butter. I was never a pb&j kid. Who would be when your grandmother made the best apple butter in the world?

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Second, there’s some kind of nostalgic value to it. Macaroni and cheese or Campbell’s Tomato Soup always trigger the sentimental area of my brain. That canned soup has too much sodium in it, and I know that, but how else can I transform myself back to snow days with my brothers? How else can I feel the warmth and comfort of my parents’ house than eating macaroni and cheese made like my mom’s?

Third, it’s good. It’s not so good as to be rich and taxing on your senses, but it’s also just downright enjoyable. It’s middle of the road. It may not be your favorite, it may not be the best, but it’s GOOD.

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Finally, you find yourself turning to it when you need it, even if it is subconscious. This past Saturday I was exhausted and in pain from a minor shoulder injury, stressed out about some personal things, and at the grocery store, I found myself paying for a little microwavable container of macaroni and cheese. How did that even get in the cart?

With these things in mind, I realized that the American version of The Office is my television comfort food.

The Office probably wouldn’t make it into my top five list of television shows if I ever compiled one. I think Parks and Recreation is better, pound for pound, but part of what makes it better is that the showrunners like to throw in lots of changes to the cast and plot lines. And anytime Leslie Knope cries, I cry. Community is hilarious and daring, but too rich and complex for bingeing. Scrubs was terrific, but often emotionally devastating. The Simpsons and Seinfeld are nostalgic favorites, but they do not draw me to watch them when I am in need of comfort. And while shows like Justified, Law & Order, Mad Men, and Criminal Minds consistently blow me away, they are never the kind of show I want to turn to when in a rut or bad mood.

For years now, when I’m home sick or in need of cheering up, my desire to turn on Netflix and start a random season of The Office is automatic. Seasons 2-4 are the height of their quality so I turn to them the most, but I will watch the atrocious Season 8 and the slightly better  Season 9 because it means I get to spend time with a bunch of familiar characters in a familiar setting. I know how each show’s plot goes. I know most of the lines of dialogue. I know at this point I should just be sick of it, but I’m not. I will even turn it on in the background when I’m working, and I’ve exhausted my music library.

The Office is comfortable. When I first started watching the show, I honestly didn’t like it much. It was too awkward, and it would literally make me writhe around uncomfortably. I hated Michael Scott, and I thought the whole Jim and Pam storyline was a little boring. I loved the background characters, though, so I kept going. Now I have watched the arcs of Michael, Jim, and Pam so many times that even the awkwardness doesn’t bother me. I know all the plot turns, and nothing in the show ever gets so dark or sad that it brings me down. Everything gets resolved in this show, and everyone I care about, to some extent, gets a happy ending by the series finale. The best stories, on television or otherwise, create a real sense of place for you to escape into. The Office does that with Scranton, the actual office, and even Dunder Mifflin. It’s a world realistic and well-created, but also goofy and fun. (Also, I’ve grown to love Michael Scott.)

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I’m sentimental about The Office too. I worked in offices most of my adult life, but now I work at home, on my own, and it’s surprising how much I find myself missing the little interactions with coworkers, and the atmosphere of a bunch of people working (or at least pretending to work). I’m not ashamed to admit that there’s probably a deep part of me that needs the background noise of The Office on when I’m working to simulate that environment around me. In every episode, my favorite characters talk into the camera revealing more and more personality. I know them. And what’s better than the ability to mute or turn off your annoying coworkers rather than escaping to the bathroom just to have a few moments of solace from their loud conference calls?

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Finally, The Office is good. It’s not the best sitcom ever made, but it is solidly written with a great cast in a fun format. Even in the worst episodes, there are plenty of hilarious jokes. Though as a whole the series has a lot of ups and downs, its best episodes are some of the best episodes of any TV show ever. Some of my favorites are “The Injury,“ “The Coup,” and “The Surplus.” While I think it’s important to never obsess over a show or sacrifice any real life adventures because you are too “busy” watching television, it’s a huge comfort to turn to it when real life is dragging you down. Your comfort food TV show is there, predictable and steady, to provide a little respite from the unpredictability of real life.

It is an indisputable fact that I always feel better with The Office on. I can even YouTube specific scenes for a little snack if I need a quick day brightener. So, I’ve included some of my favorites below. Do you have a comfort food television show? Or a movie? Maybe an album? Leave a comment and tell us why!





By Amanda
Read more from Amanda here and on Twitter: @aaahmanda.