12 Shows You Can Watch Without Actually Looking at the TV

12 Shows You Can Watch Without Actually Looking at the TV
Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Netflix, Screenshots via YouTube

We use audio apps for concentration and music for easy listening — it’s time to add TV and movies for ambient viewing. There are a number of television shows that you can play in the background that follow a genre pattern, require minimal attention, and almost always have a voiceover to tell you everything you need to know.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the show or movie is bad. As the site Creative Screenwriting says, “Formulaic is Good!” — it allows for easy background entertainment you can still fully enjoy, even while you’re taking care of that to-do list. From romantic comedies to competition reality TV to addicting home improvement shows, here’s what to watch while you work and still be productive.

Holidate

A young, workaholic woman is feeling pressured by family to find that special someone, and showing up to holiday gatherings alone just makes it worse. Holidate offers the remedy: having a partner come along to the holiday parties to avoid the glares and questions about her single status. Staring Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey, the two characters agree to accompany each other without the pressure of actually looking for love. You can guess what happens to the platonic couple by the end, and the predictability makes it perfect for distracted watching.

Love It or List It

The renovation and house-hunting program is on HGTV and hosted by Hilary Farr and David Visentin. It has 14 seasons to pack your work days, and every once in a while you can look up from what you’re doing and notice a home transformation, or catch a walkthrough of the possible new homes for the featured couple. Check in at the end to see whether they end up loving their new spruced-up home, or listing it for new digs.

Emily in Paris

A young marketing professional is sent to Paris to bring her American marketing sensibilities to the city of love. Adventures around Paris lead to romance, laughter, maybe some tears. This Netflix series comes from Sex and the City creator Darren Star, and brings low stakes that are easy to follow — nothing has serious consequences, which means you didn’t really miss anything no matter what you actually missed. Giving it your slight attention won’t take away from the important paper you’re writing.

Queer Eye

The Fab Five give makeovers to well-deserving people nominated by their loved ones. The loveable and witty personalities of the five hosts are engaging, and the teachable moments are both heartwarming and satisfying. As a fair warning, it may take more of your attention than others on this list, but you can keep one eye on the show and the other on your dinner as you cook or organise your closet.

The Office

Watching The Office while working is meta, and the show’s silly workplace antics offers validation for whatever job-related annoyances you face as you work from home. Rewatching shows lowers the desire to stay engaged, but every once in a while you’ll hear a hilarious line that you remember and give a sincere laugh.

Friends

Re-sweeping the nation is the well known sitcom, Friends. It’s one of those shows that never really goes out of style, and you’ve likely already seen them, making the easy-to-watch comedy even easier. The silly antics and characters relationships are still enough to entertain, so running it in the background is great for a bit of nostalgia while deep cleaning your house.

Dash & Lily

Another romantic comedy to occupy your time as you compose those emails, Dash & Lily is about looking love during the holidays in New York City. Whatever you think will happen will probably happen, so you can focus on what you’re doing and look up to smirk at the precious moments of new love. Complete with a guiding voiceover, this one’s great for holiday romance-based, feel-good, easy watching.

Family Guy

The adult-themed cartoon has run for over 20 seasons and is still going. Since one episode isn’t connected to the next, you can turn it on and let the autoplay go. You may never know what is really going on, which is totally fine; each time you stop to look it’ll likely be a ridiculous scene that can stand alone. Substitute any lighthearted adult cartoon — like Bob’s Burgers, for example — for a similar type of laughs every few minutes.

Chappelle’s Show

The sketch comedy show by comedian Dave Chappelle has a myriad of entry and exit points per episode, not to mention you’ve probably seen them already and know when to tune in and when to look away. For more riveting sketches, stop for a moment to take them in before getting right back to work. Sketches are only a few minutes each, making them perfect for background watching.

The Princess Switch 2: Switched Again

The second instalment of the Princess Switch film stars Vanessa Hudgens and is a classic twin switcheroo — think The Parent Trap, but with princesses. The sequel gives love a second chance for a long lost royal relative, and the simple story makes it easy watching, but with just enough of a twist to make it a light, entertaining distraction.

The Unicorn

The touching family comedy drama stars Walton Goggins, who plays single father Wade Felton. After the passing of his wife, he’s taking care of two young daughters, learning to date again, and how to operate in this new life. Given the subject matter it’s not the average recommendation for background viewing, but it still holds true to a classic sitcom style, allowing you to be present for both the punchlines and heartfelt moments, and still get some work done.

The Big Flower Fight

Of all the unlikely reality shows, this is one you never would’ve though to exist. The Big Flower Fight is a competition between flower designers as they are challenged to make out-of-this-world flower arrangements and sculptures, and while “fight” is in the title, the contestants offer heartwarming support to one another not unlike The Great British Baking Show. Turn it on and let the bouquets turn your head every now and again.

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