Hurt so good: television that makes me cry

I noticed something recently, the older I get the more I like crying during movies, television, books, etc. I don’t think I am alone in this, sad stories have been around forever. ‘Tearjerkers’ is arguably a genre, or at the very least a Netflix category and isn’t that more important anyway? So what’s the deal, why do so many of us like these stories that make reach for the tissues? For me at least, I think it can be a sort of catharsis. I don’t cry often in real life, especially compared to how much I used to when I was younger (hint: it was A LOT), so maybe I am filling that void by tearing up during the stories of fictional characters.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, I decided to take a look at the things that make me cry most frequently. I’m using examples from television specifically because two shows immediately popped to mind, but also because we often tend to get more attached to television. We spend several episodes, sometimes over the course of several years with a set of characters, so we, perhaps foolishly, get attached to them and feel invested in their stories. The two shows that get me nearly every time? Parenthood and Doctor Who. (Obvious note: no doubt there are a myriad of reasons why people enjoy the feel good cry. This is merely a study of one, me. Using purely anecdotal evidence, me openly crying on my couch).

NBC’s Parenthood is a known tearjerker. It commonly leaves people curled up next to a pile of used tissues by the end of each episode (evidence: a friend’s Facebook update after watching the series finale, which included a real pile of used tissues). It hits us in a place that can’t help but stir the emotions: family. Even the happiest of families have issues. These issues are further complicated by the fact that we didn’t choose to have these people in our lives, yet (in most cases) we love them and (again, in most cases) we feel the need to preserve the relationships, at least somewhat. Parenthood knows this and it uses it to give us all the feels. The show has dealt with teenage romance, health issues, absent fathers, abortion, separation, job loss, aging parents, and a whole mess of other high emotion topics. Even if we can’t relate with a specific storyline or character (we can’t all be wealthy Californians after all), we can relate to the character’s emotions and their relationships with each other. Above all else, many of us can agree with what is arguably the show’s main thesis, family is hard, but you love them anyway.

Doctor Who may not make me cry during every episode like Parenthood, but it has me in tears quite a bit, and far more often than I would have thought. Unlike with Parenthood, it isn’t the close to home effect that gets me with Doctor Who, the best way I can describe it is as the ‘the universe is incredible, wide eyed with the possibilities’ effect. The Doctor is this powerful being who gets to travel throughout time and space meeting incredible people and seeing remarkable places, but he’s still lonely. The companions get to tag along for a short while, but in the end they are still human, with all the virtues and flaws that come along with that, and must return to their normal lives. But the fact that they get to experience it at all, even if for just a short while, is amazing. Life, the universe, the places you can go and the things you can do, in Doctor Who it is all so amazing and beautiful, and that beauty is what often brings me to tears.

What does this say about the elusive, feel good cry which I have come to adore? Well for me, it is either something which moves me on the closest, most intimate level or on the widest, big picture level. I want it to hit me close to home or make me in awe of the world. The dramas of familial relationships or the beauty of existence itself, throw either of those into the picture and you’ll likely get a tear or two from me.

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