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FiTV

How to solve the TV-COVID conundrum

Over the last month as TV shows slowly began premiering their new seasons, the big question was “How would they incorporate the current pandemic into their storylines?”

Some, like The Good Doctor, started as most in the medical profession did:  with little information and a deadly learning curve.  Meanwhile, others like Grey’s Anatomy and its spin-off Station 19, dove in with their characters fully engulfed in the midst of the first spring wave:  overwhelmed, exhausted, and still learning.  Chicago Med and its fellow franchises, Fire and PD, began their new season in our current state:  split between protocols and everyday life.

Those were their first episodes.  Ironically, by the second, many characters were often heard speculating that it would “all be over” in a couple of weeks.  A month at most.

Remember those days?  Ah, the innocence of us all.

But while I found it interesting to see how they kept their storylines real and honoured front-line workers, I’m not sure I wanted to see it.  I don’t watch television for its realism.  At the end of the day, I want to escape reality.  Frankly, 2020’s reality sucks.

And I’m not alone in that sentiment.  That’s why most comedies skipped the pandemic altogether and went with an escapist attitude.  Bob Hearts Abishola, The Neighborhood, and Mom (to name a few) ignored the masked-covered crowds.  However, in some cases, they kept the social unrest and Black Lives Matter movement as a springboard for new storylines.

Other dramas took a different route.  NCIS stayed in a comforting, oh-those-were-the-days, pre-COVID past.  The premiere took an alternate viewpoint of an episode from last season and Episode 2 went decades back in time.  Meanwhile, NCIS: Los Angeles jumped ahead post-pandemic – oh good, we all survived – but with the effects still fresh in the characters’ minds.

Somehow, I don’t see any cross-overs between those franchises any time soon.  Unless time travel becomes an option.

Straddling both worlds, The Good Doctor decided that two COVID episodes were enough.  So the writers also did a time jump in the third episode to what they hoped to be a better, safer, and probably vaccinated world.  Ironically, I’ve found this change almost more difficult to watch considering the current rising wave of cases and deaths in the real world.

So what’s the best route?  Ignore?  Where will the shows that ignored the epidemic go next year?  How do you continue to ignore something that has changed every possible aspect of human life?

Accept?  For those shows that incorporate it, will audiences who are already complaining of COVID-fatigue also turn away from shows that don’t allow them to escape it?

Imagine?  If the world doesn’t exit this pandemic the way some writers have hoped, will the shows that move on past COVID in their idealistic storylines have to pull a Dallas-Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower-it-was-all-just-a-dream trick on their viewers?

Still, I commend the writers on managing a very difficult TV season.  But just like the rest of this year, I’m hoping for something better in 2021.