This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
As these last weeks have brought the first crop of scripted TV shows that directly tackle the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to watch the coronavirus pandemic unfold on screen as much as I want a case of the… well, I feel like there’s a taste level here I’m about to cross. But you understand what I’m saying.
There’s a certain hypocrisy there for a TV critic who has written untold words about the importance of watching the uncomfortable realities of life as we experience it reflected back to us on screen. Turns out that TV critic is an idiot. (That TV critic is me.)
Remember the terror that sprang out in March when it suddenly became clear how dangerous and inevitable the pandemic was going to be? Sort of like a Jack-in-the-Box… but Jack has COVID?
Remember how the anxieties, inconveniences, risks, depressions, and furies never dissipated the way we thought, but just kind of kept spiking off a flatline that was already at the threshold of what we could cope with in the first place?
Do you want to revisit all that again, over and over, on TV? To be reminded of how good we had it when what we were dealing with was just unfamiliar terror? Or maybe how endless it all is now that we’ve just settled into a baseline of horribleness for the indefinite future?
Here’s the thing about Social Distance, the new Netflix anthology dramedy that premiered Thursday, and Connecting…, the NBC sitcom that debuted last week. As television series, they’re not bad. In fact, they’re objectively good.
As far as these things go—and especially having already weathered the much less tolerable Love in the Time of Corona and Coastal Elites—these two series are about as well-done as anyone could expect, or even ask for, when it comes to tackling these issues and producing original scripted content in the midst of a pandemic. And yet… I have absolutely no desire to see it on my screen. Nope!
Connecting… goes the Zoom route we’ve become conditioned to accept as the new normal, and that’s fine. Think Friends, but quarantined. Last week’s premiere episode saw a gang of thirtysomethings having one of those big Zoom happy hours we all used to fill our calendars up with in the nascent days of the lockdown. They do a feelings check. They vent about the newly discovered horrors of being trapped in four walls with your loved ones, or the haunting loneliness of living by yourself.
Just when their early-lockdown concerns verge on too twee, considering how harrowing things eventually became, their friend, who is a frontline doctor in New York City, hops on the call and breaks down while talking about having to decide which of two patients gets the life-saving ventilator.
As was the case with Love in the Time of Corona and Coastal Elites, the sudden pivot to sobering trauma comes at you like a bug to the windshield. Depending on your mood, it’s either tonally outrageous, or completely appropriate: What have these last months been, if not a speed chase down the highway of hell, gnats of trauma flying at you at random moments, reminding how much worse it is than you thought?
Social Distance is more elegant about it all, likely owed to its format of 20-ish-minute vignettes that focus the storytelling on isolated moments.
In the premiere, Evil star Mike Colter grapples with his sobriety. In other episodes, a family (Oscar Nunez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Guillermo Diaz) bumbles through the awkwardness of a Zoom funeral for their father. A nursing home caretaker (Danielle Brooks) and her patient’s daughter (Marsha Stephanie Blake) scramble to figure out care arrangements when the lockdown starts. A gay couple (Max Jenkins and Brian Jordan Alvarez) are driving each other apart while confined to such close quarters, and consider opening up their relationship as a reset.
It’s appropriately dark, at times, and refreshingly funny at others, and the acting is uniformly excellent. One article about it said it “captures all your quarantine feels,” which, I don’t recall a scene in the series in which a character opens his window and screams until his voice box cannons out of his throat and then silently eats a whole pizza. But I absolutely cried. I absolutely laughed. And I absolutely never want to see anything like it again.
Maybe some of it is Zoom fatigue. Maybe some of it is “too close to home.” Maybe some of it is that this whole experience has been so surreal and unprecedented that easy explanations and critiques just don’t come to mind. But you know what is coming? More COVID TV.
It’s coming on This Is Us. It’s coming on Grey’s Anatomy. It was inescapable in The Bachelorette premiere. Not even The Great British Baking Show’s bucolic countryside tent was safe. I don’t have an answer for how these shows should deal with the biggest collective experience of our lifetime, or what exactly we want to see—if anything at all.
I don’t have any wise concluding thoughts to that. Just pretend my Zoom screen froze and we had to end the call.