The most streamed show on Netflix UK isn't Bridgerton or The Crown but the familiar 90s sitcom FriendsBastian Riccardi via Unsplash

In an age of entertainment abundance, few genres are as reliably successful as the sitcom. Familiar characters, self-solving problems and light-hearted, sometimes slapstick humour are neatly packaged into 30-minute episodes that leave viewers satisfied. Streaming services provide unique access to some of the most gripping dramas and thrillers. Yet the most streamed show on Netflix UK isn’t Bridgerton, The Queen’s Gambit or The Crown; it is the familiar 90s sitcom Friends. What makes these bite-sized episodes so easy to digest?

The Cambridge student’s life is filled with ups and downs, stress and drama, and a stop-go cycle of relentless eight-week terms and recovery periods. So, when settling down to watch something with dinner or popping something on to relax after a revision day, why choose an unfamiliar or emotionally taxing show? The sitcom’s pre-established characters and formulaic problem-solution structure enable viewers to remain entirely within their comfort zone.

“Plotlines are wrapped up before you’ve finished your noodles”

Forget last-minute cliffhangers; plotlines are wrapped up before you’ve finished your noodles. Characters become old friends to viewers and they are relatable; I’ve found myself asking whether I’m a Rachel or a Monica, a Julia or an Amanda. It is indisputably comforting to see humanity in these characters and real-world problems approached in a comedic and comfortable way. Watching familiar protagonists navigate relatable life situations creates a sense of intimacy and, crucially, removes any stress. After all, the solution is never more than 25 minutes away.

Friends and The Office have consistently ranked as the most streamed shows in recent years, meaning Generation Z is also buying into the sitcom craze, despite not experiencing the nostalgia that some millennials feel. This craze is also rampant within the British television scene, with shows such as Motherland, Bad Education and Derry Girls recently achieving success.

“Perhaps we love sitcoms because we grew up with them”

Perhaps we love sitcoms because we grew up with them. Dani’s House, 4 O’Clock Club, Horrid Henry, Victorious and Phineas and Ferb all fit the sitcom mould, with self-contained and self-solving episodes. Our childhood television channels were chock-full of light-hearted entertainment that made sense in one sitting. That way, parents could plonk you in front of the telly without worrying about you losing interest. We, quite literally, learned to love them.

The quick dopamine-inducing sitcom clearly provides the respite from stressful Cambridge life that many students, including myself, crave on the daily. Their easy humour and short-lived episodes offer an antidote to the long periods of concentration on academic literature that permeate the everyday. Are there elements of the sitcom that give a similar dopamine hit to the immediate mental switch-off that social media provides? Are sitcoms the TikToks of television? To take this further, does the familiarity of sitcoms breed complacency and is repeated viewing damaging our tolerance for other media?


Mountain View

When will the biopic bubble burst?

These bite-sized quick laughs certainly offer an escape from more mentally taxing activities. However, you might come away from the 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory (116 hours!) with a re-wired concentration span that only allows you to focus on under 30 minutes of content. We’re training our brains for Pomodoro-style consumption of entertainment with 25-minute escapes to accompany our 25-minute revision stints.

Perhaps this is a good thing. Maybe the Cambridge student would be nothing without the respite of sitcoms. I’m certainly guilty of seeking an easy dopamine fix in the shape of Modern Family. Whatever has happened in the day, I know that Cam will be dramatic, Gloria will be shouting and Claire will be worrying about her kids. It’s comforting. But moderation is key. Next time you let autoplay cycle through your 6th episode “over dinner”, just remember: your job’s a joke, you’re broke and your love life… it’s DOA.