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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

QOTD: What movies or TV shows do you find calming and relaxing?

Cosmos Carl Sagan

Yesterday I posted a link to a New York Times article that discussed a new study that suggests that children who watch nonviolent television shows and avoid violent and adult-skewing programming are less aggressive and more empathetic than other children. It got me thinking:
What movies or TV shows do you find calming and relaxing? Perhaps it’s more a kind of show, like nature documentaries, rather than a specific program or film. I suspect this will not be the same thing as a comfort show or movie (though correct me if I’m wrong about that), nor will these necessarily be our favorite shows or movies. Or perhaps you turn off the TV entirely when you want to relax…?

I find listening to Carl Sagan intone the mysteries of the universe very relaxing, so I do enjoy a rerun of Cosmos quite a serene way to pass an hour or two.

You? Have calming fun…

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Paul

    I’m so glad you reminded me of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. When it was first on, I was at school, and my friends and I found his accent wonderful. We ended up recording a tape of our attempts at radio comedy, and the first item was my friend’s impersonation of Sagan’s dulcet (and indeed, very relaxing) tones.

    But for me, relaxing TV shows were something of a life-saver last year. I had two types. One was the “safe” show, of which Ade in Britain was the best example. It was a comfy romp through the regions of Britain, introducing local foods and customs. I’d feel more embarrassed about watching such undemanding fare if I weren’t teaching two classes in British culture from April. The other type of show that I find relaxes me is something with dark humour. I’m just starting the second series of Breaking Bad, and that’s a good example. Or the dark humour of current affairs to be found in Have I Got News for You or the Charlie Brooker shows.

  • Jan_Willem

    Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting was a major cult hit in the Netherlands during the eighties. All of them happy little trees!

  • Bluejay

    I’m with you: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Though sometimes I wonder if he’s too relaxing, particularly for today’s younger viewers — lulling them to sleep rather than getting them excited about the universe. Maybe a livelier delivery is needed these days, of the sort that Neil deGrasse Tyson will undoubtedly bring to the Cosmos reboot.

    More often, though, I turn to YouTube videos for quick hits of relaxation. I love the Symphony of Science videos, which set the autotuned words of Sagan and other scientists to gorgeous electronic music: “A Glorious Dawn,” featuring Sagan, was the first, and “Children of Africa,” featuring Alice Roberts and Carolyn Porco, is one of my favorites. (The Symphony of Science guy has also done similarly great videos for Bob Ross, Julia Child, and Mister Rogers.)

    I like relaxing to space videos in general, featuring scientists’ words (not necessarily autotuned) set to music. “The Most Astounding Fact,” featuring Neil Tyson backed by the Cinematic Orchestra, is wonderful. As is the whole Sagan Series.

    Also, nature time-lapse videos.

  • Bluejay

    You might enjoy this Bob Ross remix, if you haven’t seen it yet. :-)

  • LaSargenta

    None. All art at some level I should find stimulating intellectually. If I don’t find it stimulating, then it is boring. Boring is not relaxing to me, especially in this case, because if I am bored in a theater, I am still *there*, being assaulted by some mediocrity, and I can’t send my brain somewhere else.

    Now, for relaxation, this is wonderful: http://www.bluelightfloatation.com/

  • David N-T

    Oh yeah, I would tune in for that and just completely zone out. Seriously, this guy’s voice is so soothing that a drool cup is almost necessary.

  • Patrick

    Star Trek: The Next Generation. It doesn’t matter what episode. Even if the show is a high action story like, “The Best of Both Worlds” or an intimate character piece like, “The Inner Light”, there’s a sense of calm that washes over me whenever I watch the program. It takes me back to a simpler time in my life when I first started watching over 20 years ago. It’s like a bit of childhood comfort food–it always does the trick.

  • David N-T

    There aren’t really any anymore for me: there used to be Bob Ross and Joy of Painting back in the day, but nowadays, when I just want to relax, listening to music does it for me more than movies or TV shows.

  • David N-T

    Can’t art be both stimulating and soothing? Art is about communicating something, so what if what you’re trying to communicate through art is peace of mind and you do it exceptionally well? Like a painting, a photograph, or a song that inspire calm and relaxation, perhaps even a profound sense of wonder. I experience it pretty much every time I visit the planetarium.

  • Nature, Nova and Sesame Street. :)

  • althea

    [ahem] Teletubbies.

  • Sorry, I can’t think of anything more relaxing than ‘Cosmos’ that is worth watching.

  • LaSargenta

    To me, soothing is like having my back and neck stroked when I am sore or tired. It implies a hypnotic or meditative state, a carrying away from the forebrain, room made for the subconscious. I don’t normally look to movies for that. The narrative visual stimulation — unless we are talking about something abstract like Fischinger’s work — is enough to prevent me from entering that state.

    Now, if I need to come up with a movie or television show that is calming because it somehow convinces me that all is right with the world in at least a small way, I’m also going to be hard-pressed to come up with something. At the risk of being pegged a complete pessimist, every show that fits that bill reminds me of it’s opposite: The nature shows that are shown to lull most of us into thinking that there is endless variety in the earth (nope, much of it has been destroyed in the last hundred and fifty years), the happy ending that is popular because most people do not experience happy endings, the well-organized speech or discussion that ties lots of loose ends together and makes us believe in the capacity of reasonable people to solve problems that is an utter fantasy because our world is not neatly bounded and most problems cannot even be well-defined, let alone neatly solved.

    This is no doubt due to my early socialization and basic character: I am most calm in emergency situations, best able to prioritize then. When it comes to movies and tv shows (which, imo, stimulate a brain differently from paintings or sculpture), I feel like I am being manipulated in some way and am constantly looking for the worm in the apple because I suspect I think that if I can identify that, I am safer.

    Mind you, this doesn’t stop me from enjoying movies. The closest I can get to something like what MAJ describes is probably Wings of Desire. But, still, I don’t find it ‘calming’.

  • Dwa

    I will second Patrick’s Star Trek tng….watching “the enemy” episode in the midst of a 72 hour stretch of call at this moment…quite an interesting story in light of recent discussions. I also can also always seem to relax with Will and Grace and an older series called Wings.
    I like this question and would also propose that people LIST THEIR FAVORITE SPECIFIC EPISODE FROM THE SERIES if there is one. There are series out there that I hear such good things about such as Buffy and would like to have seen but do not have time to invest in viewing multiple episodes. It would be great to be able to go to the best episodes on Netflix or Apple TV and see what the series is like.
    I will list Last Ex to Brooklyn from Will and Grace and The Puppet Master from wings

  • Paul

    It’s for vaguely similar reasons that I find “dark”, “depressing” programmes quite relaxing.They also imply their opposite, and that’s often what I end up taking away from them.

    “Art” is a whole different ball game. I don’t really believe in it, and if I did, I wouldn’t consider TV cooking/lifestyle programmes to be anywhere near it.)

  • madderrose74

    Dragnet and Alfred Hitchcock Presents are my go-to sick day tv shows, because I can doze off halfway through, and Jack Webb’s and Hitchcock’s voices are soothing.

  • amanohyo

    Whenever I’m channelsurfing in a hotel, I end up becoming hypnotized by “How It’s Made” for around twenty minutes. I often forget to breathe and find myself gasping for air at the end of a segment – a narrated assembly line for a mechanical engineer is the equivalent of a perfectly choreographed ballet for a… biomechanical engineer…or the cooking of an elaborate meal for umm a… chemical engineer. It’s engineering porn, beautiful and tranquilizing in an inhuman, relentless, frightening sort of way.

    See also: Beginning montage of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, T2 teaser trailer, opening scene of Ghost in the Shell, and really any slaughterhouse/concentration camp-ish scene (Cloud Atlas comes to mind).

  • there was a comment in the Sheri Tepper novel, ‘Gibbon’s Decline and Fall’, in which one of the characters thought that what she needed was to get into a warm tub with a glass of wine and a familiar, well loved book.

    I have many well loved books, but the one show that really relaxes me and that I am that comfortable with is The West Wing. It soothes me, I know the stories well, etc. I watch it once or twice a year. I can just watch it and I don’t need to think, I can just let the stories play out and enjoy them.

    It *is*, in this case, also a comfort show. but I have other comfort shows (WKRP, Sports Night) that do not relax me the same way.

  • Well,I barely watch any TV, so I’m hardly qualified to answer this. When I want to relax, turning the TV on never even crosses my mind. I turn the TV on to watch movies, play games, and watch one of the 2 or 3 shows I watch. That’s it.

    I know there are people who like the background noise, regardless of what’s on. My wife is like this. She’ll just turn the TV on for no reason. I don’t think it’s to relax, but simply for noise. I find that kind of appalling, honestly.

  • possum

    Twilight Zone though Bob Ross would be a good pick too.

  • Judy

    “Persuasion” 1995 film staring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is wonderfully quiet and relaxing. There are only 3 places in the movie where someone raises their voice and might wake you up. :)

  • althea

    Interesting choices, and for just the reasons I would name. The HD switchover brought a raft of new stations showing vintage TV, and I revelled in midday Dragnet for a long, long time. (And Robin Hood as well – the 50s Richard Greene one.)

  • I loved to veg out on Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting” reruns. And now it’s reruns of “Ghost Whisperer.”

    I know some of you folks are just shaking your head at that, but it’s a calming and relaxing show to watch. That and strangely, “Criminal Minds.”

    I think I’m watching too much ION.

  • Agree with those who’ve said Trek (though for me, it’s DS9 all the way) – there’s that feeling of stepping into a world you know and love. It’s probably similar with Friends, Frasier and Babylon 5 (aka my most watched series) – they’re the visual equivalent of a cup of tea and a snuggie sometimes, when it’s not a traumatic episode that is.

    For a more transcendent feeling of calm, nothing beats Studio Ghibli scenery – clears the cobwebs right out. There are street scenes in Whisper of the Heart, country scenes in Totoro, that feel more real than anything in reality: the quality of the light and the colours and the sky just seeps in and makes me feel like I’ve been on holiday when I return.

  • teenygozer

    Depression-era people loved to watch screwball comedies where nobody on the screen worried about money, everybody dressed well and lived in a great place, had great pals who were amusing and could be depended on to stick with you through thick and thin, and all the plot complications are solved by the end of the movie. In that vein, to relax, I like to watch a screwball comedy sitcom like The Nanny, Cougar Town, or Friends. Surprisingly similar.

  • Seth Hymes

    Your comment.

  • Ohiopokey

    This is the type of thing I need to watch at night to make my mind stop talking to itself. It needs to be something neither gripping nor particularly interesting. Thank goodness there are years of How It’s Made episodes on Science channel.

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