Despair TV: My Three Favorite Things to Watch When Depressed

Apparently I am soothed by stiff collars and pale skin.

My cat is sick.

This post is not about my cat, but my cat does factor into it. My companion of nearly 14 years is slowly being felled by kitty cancer. Though I’ve lost pets before, I have been particularly close to the cat in question over a significant portion of my adult life, and so basically being on cancer-cat-caretaker duty for a few months now has been incredibly draining.

Also depressing. It used to be that when depressed, I’d bury myself in a good book, but these days it seems like all the books I prefer are themselves incredibly bleak. There is nothing soothing nor relaxing about working my way through Shirley Jackson’s oeuvre, for example. Quite the opposite.

As a result, I’ve come to rely on my television when depressed. I don’t watch a whole lot of television in general, and I don’t mean this in a snobbish “I don’t even own a television!!” sort of way. I own three televisions, in fact. (Well, part-own, as technically my marriage means I have to share them.)

I don’t watch a lot of live television because I am really bad at remembering when shows are on. Even with the advent of DVR, I am equally as bad at remembering to set the DVR to record the shows so I don’t have to remember when they are on. There is always something to schedule, with television.

Not so much with streaming services.There have been periods in which I think Netflix’s live streaming service -- well, it may not have saved my life exactly, but it certainly prevented me from sobbing incoherently through a few evenings.

I have certain go-to selections I watch (over, and over, and over) when I need an escape, stories that help me forget, for a while, why I am feeling so sad. And thus I present: my three favorite things to watch when inconsolably depressed.

1. North & South:

Richard Armitage is currently playing a really important dwarf in Peter Jackson’s "The Hobbit," which is filming as we speak, but I think most of us who know him -- at least those of us who fancy the darkly brooding and winsome mens -- remember him best as John Thornton, the short-tempered and socially inept factory owner with mommy issues in the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel.

Certainly, there is a hotness pouring off this man in thick rivers (don’t go by pictures, kids; you have to see it in action) but that’s not necessarily why I love this miniseries.

I really love it because the female protagonist, Margaret Hale, is smart and stubborn and political and everything I like to see in a 19th century lady. I won’t call her a “strong female character” because I deride that expression as meaningless, but I will note that she can hold her own, even in the midst of a riot, while wearing a corset.

And yeah, I also love it because Richard Armitage is really really freaking attractive.

2. Downton Abbey:

People have FEELINGS about Downton Abbey. Another UK period drama, this time set in 1912, Downton Abbey first aired in the US last January and it seemed like everyone I knew was losing their minds over it.

Even given my fondness for British TV, I resisted, because I’m stubborn and tend to be automatically suspicious of anything everyone else likes. When I finally did sit down to watch it, I spent the first half of the first episode in a continual state of mid-shrug. But then something happened. Something MAGICAL happened, and I fell under Downton’s obsession-inducing spell.

Downton Abbey mostly sticks to the classic Upstairs, Downstairs formula by portraying the differing lives of the aristocratic family who owns the titular Abbey, and their servants, and also showing how these unique experiences frequently intersect. It is not a perfect show by any means, having a few problematic moments, but the depth of the characters and the quality with which they are acted (it has Dame Maggie Smith in it -- I typed that as DAMN Maggie Smith the first time, which also works -- for heaven’s sake, and you don’t even remember that she’s also Professor MacGonagall) make it incredibly engrossing to me.

3. Sherlock:

Are you noticing a trend? These are all British TV shows! Surprise!

Sherlock is a modern-day reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sociopathic genius detective, in this case played by the improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch, who appropriately has a face that looks not of this world.

The first series of Sherlock consists of three film-length episodes; the first and the third are the most compelling, mixing horror and humor and featuring some thoroughly confusing twists, as a good mystery should. The terrible cliffhanger at the end is only slightly less torturous in light of the fact that new episodes are currently being filmed. Of course, I want to see them NOW.

But the best thing about Sherlock is the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, full of sweetness and frustration, as we can be with the people to whom we are most connected. It reminds me of all my best friendships in that way.

So now you know my three favorite escape routes from reality, and owing to recent events I have to say they’re losing their efficiency from being re-watched so many times.

Do you have special Despair TV you turn to in troubling times? I want your recommendations. When I’m starting to get bored with Richard Armitage’s face, drastic measures must be taken.