Are there really shows about the pandemic… already?
Lately there has been a lot of COVID-19 related media circling around, spanning from TV shows and movies, to trashy romance novels (“Kissing the Coronavirus,” why?). Some projects that have popped up are “Love in the Time of Corona” and “Connecting…,” which are both for television. As well as two 2021/22 movies called “Songbird,” directed by Adam Mason and produced by Micheal Bay, and “Lock Down,” made by Peter Howitt. Right now, Love in the Time of Corona is the only that has been released, produced by Freeform, with four episodes that each last about 30 minutes.
Having sat through the entirety of this show, it’s… underwhelming. There are four main storylines, which gradually expand into about nine different relationships in the show. There are Oscar and Elle, best friends who live in an apartment together; James and Sade, a married couple with a three-year old; Nanda and Charles, the parents of James; and Paul and Sarah, a separated couple who haven’t yet told their daughter, Sophie. The show seems to take place a little while into the pandemic, but the time frame isn’t known. In terms of how the show tackles the issue of COVID-19, it really doesn’t. This series is all about the romances between these characters, and how they are dealing with each other having been forced together by quarantine. The most we are told about coronavirus is that Sade mentions the fact that they need to be careful while shopping, Oscar embroiders a mask for Elle, and Sophie talks about the numbers rising to her boyfriend, all in the first episode. Other than Nanda and Charles’ other son Dedrick staying six feet away from Nanda, it isn’t really commented on. Yes, Oscar goes on e-dates and Elle can’t physically meet her hot neighbor, but those are treated as parts of their daily life, not something unusual. What is treated as important in this show is the romances, not the literal pandemic killing millions of people.
Judging from the description above, you can probably guess that these characters are living in privileged environments. A big issue during this pandemic has been rising unemployment, as lots of businesses and establishments closed early as the numbers of cases were increasing. None of the adults in the show seem to worry about their income, even though there isn’t much mention of what they actually do for a living. Despite being unable to go on her trip in order to write a travel article, Sarah doesn’t seem at all concerned about this loss of income for her family. This lack of concern is another way that the show fails to address the pandemic: as mentioned above, hundreds of thousands were unemployed and struggling to get benefits or receive stimulus checks, and yet there is no mention of that in this series.
The way the show treats the pandemic does not seem very relative to the average person’s experience. Most people in the world have been a little more preoccupied with being safe and keeping their family healthy while attempting to hold down a job or finish school. While romance is part of people’s lives, the issue of COVID-19 should have been emphasized more. At the very least, when it’s actually brought up the characters are worried about it and the health and safety of themselves and other people. However, this is currently the only show out that has addressed it in some way. Many other shows that are releasing new seasons were already in production or have established storylines that don’t have to do with the pandemic. It wouldn’t make sense for them to attempt to insert this complex issue into their show, and so “Love in the Time of Corona” is currently the only one fully addressing it.
Despite the lack of a statement about COVID-19, “Love in the Time of Corona” attempts to address the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. It is brought up very gradually throughout the second and third episode (2 or 3 lines worth), until finally openly discussed in the fourth, and final episode. James and Sade have been discussing possibly having another child, and James, as a black father, reveals to her that he is scared to have a black child in today’s America. The show is not completely clear as to his reasons why, but they seem to stem from the discussion around Ahmaud Arbery and his death. He has seen the video of Arbery’s shooting played on the news, and it unsettles him. His worry appears to have something to do with racism in our society, and how blatant it is at times, as is the case with Arbery’s death. However, his reasons are very vague and not well explained, leaving the viewer a bit in the dark as to exactly what his concern is.
As important as this discussion is, it wasn’t quite enough. The show isn’t one that expressly discusses politics and or racial injustice, so there is only so much of the episode they could devote to this injustice. Luckily, the conversation between James and his mother Nanda, and James and his wife Sade, doesn’t come off as pandering, but seems real and genuine. But still a grievance with this is the time frame. Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging on February 23rd, 2020. Quarantine started in March. And if these characters have been in quarantine for at least a few weeks or so now, it means that James could not have seen the breaking news when he came back to the house after a run. That indicates that the people who made this show placed Ahmaud Arbery’s death in it so that they could make a statement, and use it as a plot point in James and Sade’s romance. This also indicates that they rushed to write this plot point into the season. Something so tone deaf couldn’t have been carefully thought out, right? As appreciated as the discussion was, it is morally wrong to use a man’s death as part of your characters’ relationship arc.
Overall, the miniseries “Love in the Time of Corona” is relatively bland, and not something that offers new insights to the pandemic and how it has affected people. Everyone in this show comes from a secure household, and makes enough money that they don’t have to worry about not having their jobs. The decision to focus this series around those in privileged positions whose only issue is their relationships is not the best one in my opinion, as there are so many people that could showcase the actual difficulties they experience because of the pandemic. The loss of income, job security, the constant threat of sickness, etc., are all important ways that real people were hurt by COVID-19.
There doesn’t seem to have been enough foresight into what could’ve been captured by this show. I think that there is enough temporal distance from the pandemic to make another series discussing stories from the pandemic, it just needs to be put in the right hands. But that series would need to be based on real experiences, from real people. Judging by “Love in the Time of Corona,” there just doesn’t seem to be enough distance to begin writing fiction about this crisis, as it doesn’t quite capture the hardships. A fictional story based on the pandemic needs to take the utmost care with how it is constructed, and based on this series as an example, we haven’t hit that time yet. If you are interested in watching a show set in our country’s situation right now, and you like romance movies, go for it. I understand that the premise of the show is to be about love, but considering it’s the first one focused on the pandemic, shouldn’t it actually focus on it?
Megan Bostaph is a second year English major who’s recently added “Kissing the Coronavirus” to their booklist. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Carolyn Langer.