When Disney+ was announced a few years ago, my first thought was: “I can’t wait to watch all of my favorite Disney Channel original series!” The idea of having access to Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody made my heart flutter in a way I’m slightly embarrassed to admit. The truth is that nostalgic pop culture holds a special place in my heart. A place that no new series—no matter how trendy—could ever occupy. Oftentimes, I’ll choose rewatching old movies I love instead of trying out that new Netflix original. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment either. How many people rewatch old episodes of The Office? Or fall asleep with Friends playing in the background? Taking comfort in nostalgic pop culture is a common pastime.
That’s why during my routine scrolling of Instagram (which has admittedly increased in quarantine), I wasn’t surprised to see the recent trend of virtual cast reunions. The casts of The Office, Pretty Little Liars, 90210 and even my beloved Lizzie McGuire have all reunited for chats, table reads and virtual fun all in the name of lifting spirits during the pandemic. How thoughtful of Hilary Duff to take time away from dyeing her hair blue and playing with her adorable kids to resume her childhood role of awkward-yet-lovable Lizzie. Over 3 million people tuned in to watch grown adults act like teenagers again. Over 11,000 people left comments and engaged with the 45-minute-long video posted to Instagram. Clearly there’s a demand for this type of content, and living during a pandemic is only increasing the fervent desire of taking pleasure in something familiar amid otherwise precarious times.
Some casts have taken the route of making these reunions ticketed events in order to support charities. Pretty Little Liars favorites Ashley Benson and Shay Mitchell joined a “unique and intimate conversation” for fans with proceeds that went to Feeding America. Other reunions like 90210’s Zoom call facilitated by actress-turned-vlogger Shenae Grimes-Beech were uploaded straight to YouTube in order for viewers to watch and share at their leisure. 90210 went off the air in 2013 after a five-season run on The CW. It’s safe to assume that the teenagers who fell in love with the remake are now twentysomethings tweeting their existential thoughts and trying to learn TikToks while quarantining. These videos might not take more than an hour of their day, but they do provide a necessary distraction and reminder of simpler times. These blasts from the past have the power to transport all of us to the days when our lives didn’t feel like a made-for-TV disaster film.
Taking comfort in nostalgic pop culture is a common pastime.
Perhaps the most successful of these reunions was when The Office cast got together on a Zoom call to surprise a couple’s virtual wedding and re-created Pam and Jim’s wedding scene from the show in the process. The effort was so successful that it not only put a smile on the newlywed’s faces, but also garnered over 10 million views on YouTube alone. Fans left comments like “I started crying when the cast showed up because they’re the people I grew up with,” and “Anyone else just sit there with a big dumb smile on their face when watching this?” John Krasinski organized the event through his Some Good News channel and lifted the spirits of millions of fans.
The unexpected pandemic has worked to melt away the wall between star and fan. No amount of fame or money can protect someone from this deadly virus we’re all confronted with. So, in a sense, we’re all in this together. Which is why it’s no surprise that even the cast of High School Musical banded together to sing the Disney musical’s hit songs including (you guessed it) “We’re All In This Together.”
I think most people will agree that the hardest part of the pandemic is being away from friends, family and society as a whole. Even the most introverted person among us is starting to go a little stir crazy. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those who are in quarantine alone. When was the last time they experienced human touch? Aside from the accidental hand brushing with their delivery man of course. Humans are created for contact—we’re a community- and relationship-based species. We aren’t meant for isolation. The same social media and technological advances that people loved to hate on pre-quarantine is ironically the one thing bringing people together mid-quarantine. It’s what is literally saving people’s mental health by being able to communicate with others—including, well, celebrities.
Living during a pandemic is only increasing the fervent desire of taking pleasure in something familiar.
Last week, I was scrolling through an array of movie and television titles as I played the game of what to watch tonight. It was already well past 9 p.m., and the time before I collapsed into a deep food-induced slumber was quickly dwindling. Thankfully, I suddenly realized that a certain movie title was recently available on Amazon Prime. I grabbed my remote and within seconds, there it was: Brittany Snow, Sophia Bush, Ashanti, Arielle Kebbel and Jesse Metcalfe gracing my TV screen. I instantly felt a warmth travel through my body as I played a movie I knew by heart from watching it time and time again at high school sleepovers. “Dirty Little Secret” blared through my TV’s speakers as John Tucker Must Die began, and my worries faded into the background. I grabbed a snack, turned off the lights and cuddled under my blanket where I was safe. For the next 90 minutes, I wasn’t a 25 year old who couldn’t leave the house, I was just a 25 year old who was reliving childhood bliss. The bliss of not having to worry about anything at all.
That’s the real magic, isn’t it? Whenever we walk into a movie theater or play a show on our televisions, we let ourselves be carefree. Even the most high-stake storylines won’t actually affect our day-to-day lives. (And this is coming from a Grey’s Anatomy fan who has cried over one too many character’s deaths.) So, when we turn on an episode of Sex and the City that we’ve seen a hundred times or laugh at scenes we’ve laughed at a thousand times during Mean Girls, we’re really embracing the time machine that is pop culture. Few things have the power to take us to a different time. And when we have the opportunity to board that time machine that will bring us to a place of comfort, wouldn’t we be crazy not to go along for the ride?