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The best TV shows to binge watch over Thanksgiving, according to psychologists

20 shows that will offer you some much needed emotional support after all that family time.
Image: \"Jack Ryan,\" \"Queer Eye,\" \"Saturday Night Live\" and \"Friends\" are all binge-worthy options for the holiday weekend.
"Jack Ryan," "Queer Eye," "Saturday Night Live" and "Friends" are all binge-worthy options for the holiday weekend.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Let's face it: Thanksgiving weekend can be exhausting (and not just because of all that tryptophan). Whether you're traveling, cooking, hosting or a combination of all the above, it can take a lot out of you. Throw in a couple of tough family personalities (or folks you've just got nothing in common with that you're trying hard to make conversation with), and indulging in some screen time without having to force small talk sounds pretty good right about now, right?

To amplify the mental health benefits of taking some time to unwind in front of your TV, we asked a few psychologists to give their best recommendations for what to watch to decompress from this hectic long weekend. Be sure to take a break every few hours or so — take a walk, get outside or do some other kind of physical activity to balance your binge. Happy streaming!


Watch time: Around 31 hours (6 seasons, 4 episodes in each at 1:30 minutes long)

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Why it's good: This British crime drama will get your brain thinking right along with the main characters, young DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) and his senior partner, DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). "Crime dramas engage the mind in solving a puzzle, and Endeavour allows you to do so in the 1960s in the cerebral setting of Oxford, at a more leisurely pace than the typical detective drama," explains clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe, associate professor of behavioral sciences at Ross University School of Medicine. "Plus, vicariously battling dark forces may empower you to confront your own challenges."

"Jack Ryan"

Watch time: Around 12 hours (2 seasons, 8 episodes in each at 45 minutes long)

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Why it's good: This political, action-packed thriller starring John Krasinski delivers an adrenaline rush needed to cope with holiday tensions or nagging relatives. "This show is a must-see for people who need to bulk up their psychological defenses, set boundaries, and channel assertive communication to survive antagonistic holiday conversation," says Allison Forti, a licensed professional counselor practicing in North Carolina. "Follow Ryan to the Middle East, South America, and beyond to protect U.S. interests through fast paced adventures that are equally exhilarating and disturbing."

"House of Cards"

Watch time: Around 78 hours (6 seasons, 13 episodes in each at an hour long)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: If your family members are always trying to convince you to do something you don't want to, take the time to learn a few persuasion tactics from this political drama. "Opt for 'House of Cards' on Netflix to get some of the most effective communication tactics and understand what they said and did that worked on you so well," says psychologist Matt Grzesiak. "Not only is the story line fantastic, but to an avid viewer, there is also a lot of education to take in."

"Black Mirror"

Watch time: Around 22 hours (5 seasons, 22 episodes total, around one hour each)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: This futuristic thriller series will make you look at human relationships in a different way. "Some episodes show how humans objectify one another and how technology separates us from feelings and empathy," explains Grzesiak. "This should make you grateful for actually having real relationships or lead to the realization that your family members might not change behaviors you do not necessarily like, but at least they are still honest and authentic."


Watch time: 1 hour and 39 minutes

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: Streaming services have given documentary makers a platform to reach more people than ever. As Andrew Selepak, media professor at the University of Florida explains, crime documentaries have a particular draw for many viewers. "Watching crime documentaries reminds us that while justice may be slow, eventually, justice is served against those who have committed crimes against society or those who were wrongly convicted," he says. "The documentary Untouchable on Harvey Weinstein is a great reminder during the Thanksgiving season that even the rich and powerful can be held accountable for their actions — and that is something to be thankful for." ​

"This Is Us:

Watch time: Around 63 hours (4 seasons, 63 episodes total, around one hour each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: Watching an episode of "This Is Us" feels like a therapy session — with strategic storylines that offer insight into relationship dynamics that are present in many of our lives. "It's compelling, poignant and uplifting," says clinical psychologist Wayne Pernell. "You can see yourself in it and look for ways to be more or less like any of the characters. There's drama, but it's not for the sake of shock. This is storytelling and it's comforting to know that there's a path for each character."

"The Good Place"

Watch time: 14 hours (4 seasons, 42 episodes around 20 minutes each)

Where to watch: Netflix (seasons 1-3) Hulu (season 4)

Why it's good: The description of this show can be off putting at first glance: Do you really want to spend the weekend watching a comedy about what it's like to go to hell? But Louis Laves-Webb, a psychotherapist practicing in Texas, says she's actually had several patients tell her that "The Good Place" has helped them deal with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and self-hate. "The main characters in this metaphysical comedy find themselves in an experimental hell created to pin each of their own personal insecurities and flaws against each other, torturing them forever," she explains. "The show is guided by philosophical principles and focuses on each character's journey towards overcoming their unique insecurities to become better people."


Watch time: 24 hours (6 seasons, 72 episodes around 20 minutes each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: If you've ever had the urge to start your life from scratch (or someone at the holiday table has made you feel like you should), watching Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) do it in this series can help you see things from a new perspective. "Watch to get some inspiration and get a fresh look on old stuff," says Grzesiak. "It is witty, gives hope, and has some deeper insights into the culture we all live in."

"The Great British Baking Show"

Watch time: 70 hours (7 seasons, 10 episodes in each around an hour long)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: If too much family time has left you feeling down on yourself or discouraged, or you just want to keep the holiday cheer going, Courtney Crisp, therapist and researcher at Pepperdine University says this show will lift your spirits. "There is something magical and contagious about being in a positive environment where everyone wants everyone else to succeed, and on "The Great British Baking Show" you can be in such an environment virtually."

"Queer Eye"

Watch time: 24 hours (4 seasons, 32 episodes at around 45 minutes each)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: At the end of the day, we all want to be loved and accepted. If that isn't the feeling you walk away with after spending time with your family, the cast members of "Queer Eye" are here for you. "Everyone can relate to Queer Eye's heart-warming messages of inclusivity and inspiration," says Crisp.

"Planet Earth"

Watch time: Around 12 hours (2 seasons, 17 episodes at around 45 minutes each)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: It's the series that put nature documentaries on the map and it'll have you fully immersed the moment you tune in. "Research and experience both find one of the most effective ways to manage stress or stressful events continues to be distraction, preferably healthy distraction," says clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. "If you can’t get to nature, bring it to your TV room; soak in awe, wonder, laughter, and who knows, plan your next vacation."

"Sex and the City"

Watch time: 47 hours (94 episodes, around 30 minutes each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: So, you've seen every episode three times over? Forti says classic shows like "Sex and the City" have something to offer across varying times in your life, so it could be worth a revisit this weekend. "Viewing a classic show, like "Sex and the City", with lines memorized and endings known still leaves room for new projections and takeaways," she explains. "For example, someone heading home for the holidays following a break-up may be disillusioned by romantic love and root for Carrie Bradshaw to work on her relationship with stable and steady Aiden rather than dream of happily ever after with Mr. Big."

The Office

Watch time: 62 hours (9 seasons, 186 episodes at around 20 minutes each)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: No one wants to go back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday. But spending time with the cast members of "The Office" will put things into perspective. "After a few episodes of watching Michael Scott gather everyone for pointless meetings while also offending everyone in them, and seeing Dwight Schrute be Dwight Schrute, it should help you realize that Monday won’t be so bad after all; any after the holiday meetings probably won’t involve your boss asking for advice on their love life, and your coworkers probably won’t talk about their holiday filled with bears, beets and Battlestar Galactica," Selepak says.


Watch time: Around 78 hours (10 seasons, 236 episodes at around 20 minutes each)

Where to watch: Netflix

Why it's good: If it hasn't been your year (or week, or month, or day) but you've got great friendships in your life that you're thankful for, crushing a few seasons of Friends can be a mood booster. "Joey will make you laugh, Ross can satisfy your intellectual needs and Phoebe — well, she is so sweet. Friends is based on archetypes that to some degree describe what we are all like. Watch it to immerse in the world of relationships," says Grzesiak.


Watch time: Around 58 hours (9 seasons, 176 episodes at around 20 minutes each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: Classic sitcoms all have with holiday episodes with themes that are still relevant today — Seinfeld being a prime example. "To get in the holiday mood, check out "The 'Mom and Pop Store' episode from Season 6 of Seinfeld," says Selepak. "It’s not only great laughs seeing Mr. Pitt at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and the running gag of whether George bought Jon Voight’s LeBaron, but there’s also guest appearances by a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston, and the actual Jon Voight biting Kramer’s arm."

"The Voice:

Watch time: 18 hours (Season 17 available to stream)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: Watching America's top vocal artists fight for up and coming talent on "The Voice" takes us out of our current scenarios to deliver incredible stories of big dreamers. "This is a great way to de-stress from the holidays because you put yourself in a different environment and you can imagine what it takes to get to that stage," Pernell explains. "We know that just being on TV gives most of the talent some kind of break, so even if they didn't win, their story is a feel-good one."

"America's Got Talent"

Watch time: Around 23 hours (Season 14 available to stream)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: For talent that goes beyond lung power, "America's Got Talent" has no shortage of specialty acts from across the country. Some are just downright wacky, but many of the contestants that take the stage have overcome setbacks to get where they are today. "There's nothing better than seeing the woe-to-wow story and really cheering on an underdog," says Pernell.

"The Kelly Clarkson Show"

Watch time: Around 41 hours (One season, 55 episodes at around 45 minutes each)

Where to watch: NBC

Why it's good: Maybe it's because she herself was discovered by a reality show — but watching Kelly Clarkson approach the talk show world in a genuine way feels refreshing. "She's upbeat and entertaining; you can't help but feel good watching her and the way she interacts with her variety of guests," says Pernell. "Kelly is good medicine." If you haven't had the chance to tune in yet, a few days off work is the perfect excuse to binge on the new daytime show.

"The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon"

Watch time: 87 hours (Seasons 6 and 7 available, 87 episodes at around an hour each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: Talking current events with family can be stressful. Watching Jimmy Fallon talk current events is hilarious, and might be just what you need this Thanksgiving weekend. "Whether interview format or sketch comedy, laughter is just good for your soul," says Pernell.

"Saturday Night Live"

Watch time: 423 hours (22 seasons available, 423 episodes at around an hour each)

Where to watch: Hulu

Why it's good: We don't recommend spending 423 hours in front of your TV. But the formulaic sketch comedy delivered by "Saturday Night Live" can be therapeutic as long as you watch responsibly. "Wind down with laughter, then get some good rest," says Pernell. Plus, it’s a good way to bridge the gap across generations. Your grandparents will appreciate throwback episodes from the earlier days of the show — and you can school them on who Kate McKinnon is with some more recent ones.

More Thanksgiving survival tips

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