Snuggled Up With Spaceships: The Best SFF Comfort TV

Television is getting into a lot of heavy stuff lately, as well it should. But sometimes we just need to watch something that’s like the small-screen equivalent of an old blanket, or a warm cup of cocoa—something familiar and soothing, where we know all the beats and could tell you about the characters’ histories as if they were our oldest friends. That’s where comfort viewing comes in.

“Comforting” means different things to different people—maybe it’s about the humor, or the imagery, or the perfect resolution of one perfect scene. But we’ve all got shows we turn to when we need to scratch a certain itch, to push just the right buttons, or just, simply, to feel better. Here are some of our picks for the best comforting SFF television—share yours with us in the comments!


Star Trek: The Next Generation

Having a baby really changes the calculus on sci-fi/fantasy comfort watching. Now whatever gets put on can’t be too aggressive, too loud, too scary, too long, or too absorbing. This tends to eliminate genre film/TV entirely from my comfort-watch list but—usually when I run out of old Bob’s Burgers episodes—I’ll still occasionally queue up Star Trek: The Next Generation. Must be that ever-present white noise of the Enterprise’s engines. That late 1980s “neutral office interior” starship decoration. Those non-invasive camera angles. (Also baby finds daddy’s Picard impression hilarious.) —Chris Lough


Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series

I’m with Chris on the ways in which Trek can be great for comfort watching. Comfort binges are also partly about sound for me—if I’m feeling under the weather or particularly in need of burrow-time, I want the sound to match match up with that headspace. The sound effects of the original Enterprise, with its beeps and boops and swishy doors are great for that. The incidental music is so burned into my brain that I frequently apply it to my own life accidentally. And there’s nothing quite so squishy as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy doing their thing. They’re like a great big teddy bear. Plus, I’ve watched that series so many times, it’s nearly memorized in places. No pressure with Trek. —Emmet Asher-Perrin


Battlestar Galactica: “Unfinished Business”

This one’s very specific, and not just because the extended cut on the show’s DVD release pushes it nearly to very-short-feature-film length. I love most of flawed, rambling BSG, but the episode I go back to—and back to, and back to—is this one. The crew of the Galactica has instituted an old tradition and set up a boxing match. Rank is irrelevant; everyone fights the person whose name is drawn alongside theirs. It could be a recipe for disaster, but it needs to happen: there’s so much tension among the crew that an escape valve is desperately needed. In flashback, though, we see a moment when things weren’t so bad, when Lee Adama confessed his love to Kara Thrace, and Admiral Adama and President Roslin got stoned and wistful about how to make the most of the lives they’re living. The episode isn’t stitched together seamlessly, but it’s both crushing and beautiful in a way that makes it sing for me. The fights are never just fights; they’re releases, affirmations, a way to accept and process anger among people who cannot get away from each other. Kara’s self-destructive side is in full view, but so is her connection with Lee. The two of them, at the end, having beaten each other stupid and distressed their partners—to me, it’s a perfect image of imperfect people, full of anger and hope and love and brokenness and mistakes.  —Molly Templeton


The Good Place

In terms of current TV, The Good Place gets my vote for the greatest and most likeable show on television at the moment (it shares the top spot with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is equally brilliant, if not technically fantasy—funny, inspiring, occasionally devastating, plus there are songs! It’s amazing). The Good Place is lighter, and unbelievably smart, with a weird premise that somehow gets better with each new episode—it’s restored my faith in the network sitcom, and I just can’t recommend it enough. I’ve also been rewatching a ton of older Mystery Science Theater episodes this winter while awaiting news of the new season (Jack Frost and The Day the Earth Froze are always perfect snow day viewing.) Plus, Galavant is now on Netflix—which is excellent news for anybody who might want to escape into a world of goofy knights, self-parodying show tunes, and Tad Cooper the tiny dragon. —Bridget McGovern


Mystery Science Theater 3000

Mystery Science Theater 3000 versus Gamera

I have but one answer for the question of comfort television: Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is the only show I can think of that makes me feel actively better on even the worst day. It’s nostalgic in the best way, because it reminds me of many individual days from high school and college, but since the show itself keeps evolving, it never feels like I’m wallowing in the past. Overall the humor has aged well, but the new season is also fun and inventive and features some of the best movies the show has ever tackled. And maybe best of all, there are 11 seasons of MST3K, with three different hosts, four different Mad Scientists, and a bunch of sidekicks, henchpeople, and guest stars, so it’s nearly impossible to get tired of it. Literally last week I put an episode on that I only saw one time in the early ‘00s (Experiment #186: Girl in the Gold Boots) and I didn’t remember a frame of it. It’s my favorite show but I still get to discover new stuff when I want to, or I can just put The Final Sacrifice on for the fifteenth time and revel in knowing all the jokes. —Leah Schnelbach


Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender

There is plenty of real drama going on in this children’s show, plus incredible worldbuilding, and solid stakes. But it’s the heart of Avatar that brings me back to it again and again, particularly when I need something soothing. All of the lessons that Aang and co. learn are made for lil’ ones, but they are great to be reminded of as an adult. And the incredible friendships and relationships built throughout the show are reason enough to revisit. Not to mention that fact that it’s so much fun to have a questing show where said main crew gets sidetracked at markets and villages and town festivals. Most important of all, it’s funny as all get-out. Give me my flying bison. —Emmet Asher-Perrin


ReBoot: “End Prog”

comfort watching SFF ReBoot "End Prog" season 3 finale restart

The most amazing thing about ReBoot was how the world was so intricately built, the characters so compelling, that you forgot it was actually about the sprites living in your computer. The kinds of low-stakes actions we users take on our devices have life and death consequences for Bob, Dot, and the other inhabitants of Mainframe. Case in point, the season 3 finale sees Mainframe dying after battling a virus, and the only way to save it is to actually give up: intentionally lose the Game sent down by the User, which will rip apart the city pixel by pixel, which will force a restart. Yes, a system restart, the ultimate in computer puns—but the point is, these characters don’t know for sure that they’ll make it through. There’s something so cathartic, especially now, about watching this family make the decision to scrap their home and start from scratch, trusting that only such an extreme move can lead to actual change. And then, as a treat for this emotional rollercoaster, the series plays to its other main strength with a clever, intensely quotable, self-referencing song recap of the last dozen or so episodes. “End Prog” packs so many emotional lows and highs into 22 minutes that rewatching it is endlessly comforting. —Natalie Zutter


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Chosen”

Comfort and catharsis go hand in hand for me, so when I want to happy cry, I watch this on my laptop under a pile of blankets, waiting—both patiently and impatiently—for the moment when Willow takes all that amazing power and uses it to turn the show’s very premise inside out, sharing the Slayer’s power with girls everywhere. I honestly got goosebumps just typing that, so you can probably imagine how much of a mess I am when I actually watch it. —Molly Templeton



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