The tragic death of Matthew Perry over the weekend means yet another comfort watch now has a tragic overtone.
For me, it was Anthony Bourdain. Whatever was happening in the world, I knew that I could pull up a YouTube video of tall, handsome and funny Anthony, eating, chatting and caring his way around the world. And then he died.
For my best friend, her comfort watch was Full House – a childhood favourite that returns her to a cosier, easier time. And then Bob Saget died.
And for what feels like most of the planet, it was Friends. The original show only ran for 10 years and yet it has been playing around the world non-stop ever since. And now, Matthew Perry has died. At a time when we all need comfort more than ever, yet another safe space has been punctured by the real world.
When the news of Matthew Perry’s death hit this weekend, after another terrible weekend of violence and tragedy, there was part of my brain that refused to take it in.
It sounds ridiculous – like many people, I’d been glued to the news watching the Israel ground offensive against the trapped citizens of Gaza, and my social media had been literally filled with the photos of dead children.
The death of a Hollywood actor at age 54 exists, quite simply, on another planet to all that horror. But this news felt like a bridge too far. Friends was in my home, in my lounge. A perennial comfort – what a privilege to have. And now, it was another thing laced with tragedy.
On top of that, it’s the loss of a constant. In a world full of variables, our comfort shows become something more than just a way to spend half an hour, they become a constant that you can rely on.
And then there’s also the mortality factor – while a surprising number of shows have been tainted by sexual misconduct (truly, far, far, far too many shows), the reality is that most people do not become sexual predators.
But the death of a beloved celebrity – especially a young death – is a reminder that, well, we all die. And that it can happen a lot sooner than expected.
Which is exactly the kind of heavy burden you are trying to avoid when you decide to watch the Thanksgiving episode of Friends, because you want to feel festive and now you are confronting the fact that everyone you love is going to die.
Is it any wonder that is jarring? It’s like opening up a packet of your favourite Whittaker’s chocolate and finding a photo of your dead pet.
During Covid, so many of us regressed to pop culture we had loved before – for the happiness of nostalgia but also to find one place that had no bad surprises lurking (unlike our chaotic lives). The Office, Friends and Gilmore Girls were just as popular as new comfort watches like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek.
We all have our list of comfort watches turned bad – the sudden death of Robin Williams hit a lot of people hard, as did Chadwick Boseman’s tragic cancer battle. So many Glee stars have died tragically, the show is now basically unwatchable.
The hardest parts of reality can squeeze our comfort watch bubbles until it takes a certain amount of mental gymnastics to find the nostalgia still at the core.
But maybe instead we can look at it like a gift? In the way that a photo can take you back to the trip of a lifetime, or a voicemail from a dead loved one can feel like a hug from the past, we can see the eternal screen existence of these people as a portal to another world. Another plane of existence where there’s a coffee shop that is always open, where a healthy and happy Chandler is sitting, drinking a cup of coffee that will never go cold, surrounded by his best friends, and they will live together forever in a surprisingly purple apartment. And all we have to do is switch on a TV to find it.