Sometimes there can be no better friend than fiction for when you feel lonely, whether because you feel separated from loved ones, don’t have anyone you feel especially close to or feel generally like an outsider. Everyone feels lonely at some point and I’ve found television to be a great help. There is a comforting sense of familiarity in returning to your favourite show each week, with the fictional world feeling like home and the characters becoming akin to close friends.
I’ve split this list into two separate categories. The first one being shows which help to create a sense of friendship and closeness with the characters, and the second being shows which feature a lonely or outsider character. The latter might be preferable if having a character to relate to is more important to your needs.
Here are some recommendations for shows that create a sense of friendship and familiarity with their characters;
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Air Date: 1997 – 2003
Network: The WB
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Drama, Teen
Premise: I doubt this show needs an introduction, but teen girl fights vampires and saves world while trying to have a normal school life is always fun to say. This show remains tremendous fun and I can’t imagine it becoming outdated any time soon.
Why it works for this category: The gang at the centre of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the sort of group I think we all wanted to have in high school. Funny, smart, close, warm friends who would take on a town of vampires then hang out at the local club with you afterwards. I’ve always found Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be a comforting show. Returning to Sunnydale High with the gang each episode and being immersed in their adventures, in-jokes and teen drama can become like a warm blanket after a difficult day. These characters will soon feel like friends and you’ll love joining them each episode to catch up. Even if you have seen all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer it is a worthwhile show to revisit if you are feeling lonely.
Note: Early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be best, as the show gets a little darker as it progresses.
Episodes to avoid when you feel lonely: The Body, Seeing Red
Related shows: Grimm (supernatural creatures hiding in our world, hunter taking them out, mostly light tone)
Teen Wolf (teen must hide their supernatural-linked identity, school life, teen romance)
Firefly (same creator, similar humour, close group of misfits)
Two Guys and a Girl
Air Date: 1998 – 2001
Country of Origin: US
Premise: This was originally called Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place, as for the first couple of seasons the two guys of the title work in a pizza place. The show is essentially about three close friends who live in the same building and continually get themselves and each other into disastrous situations. It is a pretty traditional sitcom, but is separated from the rest by its great cast, including Ryan Reynolds, Traylor Howard and Nathan Fillion.
Why it works for this category: Sitcoms focusing on a group of friends can create a great sense of closeness with the characters, as you spend your time invited in the group, sharing in their in-jokes and their lives together. Being an older sitcom this show is available to marathon in full, meaning you don’t have to wait to spend time with the characters and can watch as often as you need to. The characters are not perfect, but watching them love each other even through their faults should help you both love the characters and know that there are friends out there to suit anyone. I find comedies in general are helpful when you’re feeling lonely as the humour should at least keep your spirits from sinking lower.
Note: The characters are quite selfish and not always great people, and while this is a great source of comedy in the show, if you would rather be comforted with characters you would actually want to be friends with then this is probably not the best show for you.
Related shows: Happy Endings (sitcom centered on a group of close friends, similar light-hearted and silly comedy)
Friends (sitcom centered on a group of close friends),
That 70s Show (sitcom centered on a group of close friends)
Parks and Recreation
Air Date: 2009 – 2015
Country of Origin: US
Premise: Likely the most upbeat and positive sitcom I’ve ever seen, Parks and Recreation follows Leslie Knope as she tries to make the world a better place through her job at the parks department in Pawnee. The first season has a more cynical tone, as it tried to emulate The Office (US), but as the show finds its own style and voice it becomes more positive and a better show generally.
Why it works for this category: If you want the feel of an ensemble cast of characters that grow closer together and support each other without hesitation, then there is no show I would rank higher. The friendships on this show are among the most positive and heart-warming that I’ve seen on TV. The show shines with such positivity that it is very hard not to get caught up in it. I’ve always found it to be a useful show for when I’m feeling down, and the close support network of the characters should help comfort you if you’re feeling lonely. The characters are also often inspiring, especially Leslie, making it a good show to help if you are finding it hard to stay motivated due to feeling down or lonely. It’s hard not to want friends like the characters in Parks and Recreation, but seeing a cast that seems just as close gives hope that it’s possible and could come at any point in life.
Related shows: The Office (US) (same mockumentary style, similar light-hearted tone, large ensemble comedy, loveable characters)
Community (ensemble comedy, close group of friends, positive tone, loveable characters, diverse cast)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (ensemble comedy, close group of friends, light-hearted comedy, diverse cast)
Shows with a lonely or outsider character to connect with;
Marvel’s Agent Carter
Air Date: 2015 – 2016
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Superhero, Spy, Drama
Premise: Agent Peggy Carter works for the SSR in the 1940s, trailing down bad guys and saving the day while putting up with assumptions that she is inferior at her job by being female. Though set in the same world as the other Marvel properties this show focuses less on superheroes and more on the world of spies within the Marvel universe.
Why it works for this category: Peggy is a great character for if you feel like an outsider, or underappreciated by your peers. It’s easy to take seclusion from others to heart, but watching Peggy will show you how important it is to know the importance of your own self and opinions, and to stay true to those even at the risk of alienating others. Peggy knows what she stands for will make her an outcast among the men at her work, but she also knows that the opinions of others are secondary to the importance of standing up for her beliefs. If you need a character to remind you that it isn’t always so bad to be the outsider and relying on yourself, then Peggy is a great choice. As the series progresses seeing her gain respect and watching her develop a tight-knit group of trustworthy friends and deep relationships can also be therapeutic. The group is formed around Peggy’s strength and courage, showing that even if it’s a lonely time at first, staying true to yourself can bring about the strongest friendships in time.
Related shows: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (set in the same universe, team saving the world in secret, action packed, great female characters, superheroes, light-hearted spy story)
Person of Interest (team saving the world in secret, action packed, great female characters)
Fringe (team saving the world in secret, great female characters, science fiction events and gadgets)
Air Date: 2015 – Present
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Premise: Mr Robot is about socially anxious vigilante hacker Elliot, who works as a cyber-security engineer, and gets caught up in the plot of a mysterious man’s moral crusade against corporate America. Mr Robot is a tense thriller following an unstable protagonist through an escalating series of dangerous events.
Why it works for this category: Elliot’s social anxiety and inability to fully connect with others around him is one of the most accurate, believable and sympathetic I’ve seen on TV. Elliot uses his hacking abilities as a way to manage and forge relationships, manipulating those around him. Yet as we get to hear his thoughts and reasoning he is never totally unlikable. He is often vulnerable and extremely lonely in his inability to make true connections, but he is also a character who doesn’t want others to suffer as he does. If you feel unable to connect to those around you and don’t mind a darker show, one that can be very upsetting and honest in its portrayal of loneliness, then you may find yourself able to connect with Elliot. Personally, I found it refreshing watching a character struggle with socialising so accurately, and found it comforting to notice things I’d thought and felt in Elliot without feeling judged.
Note: The show is very dark, and does not shy away from showing abuse, both physical and mental, drug addiction, murder, mental illness and grief.
Related shows: Dexter (anti-social lead character, inner monologue, criminal activity linked to moral cause)
Person of Interest (computer hacking features prominently, conspiracies, powerful networks behind events)
Dollhouse (conspiracies, powerful networks behind events, amoral characters, technology featuring prominently)
Air Date: 2002 – 2009
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Procedural, Comedy
Premise: Adrian Monk is a former detective, now consultant to the San Francisco Police Department, who suffers from anxiety, phobias and OCD. This both hinders and helps him when trying to solve cases. Monk is desperate to regain his job as detective, having been discharged following a mental breakdown in the wake of his wife’s murder. This need to gain back his former life fuels Monk throughout the series to prove he is a capable detective. He is also driven by a need to solve his wife’s murder and bring the killer to justice.
Why it works for this category: Monk is an incredibly sympathetic character who deals with a lot of tragedy and difficulties throughout the show. Not least of which is his exclusion from society and difficulty in finding and maintaining friendships. Monk is shown as lonely often, as his various struggles put pressure on those around him and isolate him from an often cruel public. Monk as a show is never fully dark, however, and often retains a lot of hope. Monk may have struggles in his life but he tries to turn these into something positive. He may cause difficulties for those closest to him but they learn to understand each other and become better for it. I watched Monk religiously growing up and often felt like I had a real friend in him, particularly on the days when I felt most alone at school. Monk may not be a perfect show but it is a positive and light look at what it feels like to be different and isolated. Watching Monk can be comforting and motivational, both giving you an outsider to sympathise with and also showing other characters who love and grow to understand and appreciate him. There are many episodes dedicated to exploring Monk’s separation from society and the difficulties and hope he finds in the relationships he has in his life. I have recommended some of those episodes below.
Particularly recommended episodes: Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation, Mr. Monk and the Airplane, Mr. Monk Goes Back to School, Mr. Monk and the Employee of the Month, Mr. Monk and the Kid, Mr. Monk Goes Home Again, Mr. Monk Goes to the Office, Mr. Monk and the Astronaut, Mr. Monk Gets Jury Duty, Mr. Monk Meets His Dad, Mr. Monk Makes a Friend, Mr. Monk is On the Air, Mr. Monk Joins a Cult
Note: The show aims for a light tone and is primarily a comedy-procedural, so the depictions of Monk’s illnesses are not always 100% accurate to real life. However, I think there is a lot of good and positivity to take from this show once you accept that.
Related shows: Psych (made by the same network, similar tone, lighthearted procedural)
Elementary (procedural that focuses on the characters, isolated main character, developing friendships through hardship)
Jonathan Creek (Sherlock Holmes style cases, isolated main character, developing friendships, lighthearted procedural)