Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2020 (342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The coronavirus pandemic is set to hit a place that, until now, has been able to escape it: Coronation Street.
The long-running British soap is set to return with new episodes next week with storylines that will deal with COVID-19. It is among the first scripted shows that will reference the virus.
Part of this is a function of having to adhere to public health measures. After weeks of meting out the episodes already in the can, cast and crew returned to filming in June with physical distancing measures in place. Per the Guardian, actors over 70 can only appear in the show via Zoom.
Several reality TV shows, as well as Saturday Night Live, have been experimenting with taping remotely since the pandemic hit in the spring. But once the novelty wears off the inherently limited "At Home" format, it’s hard to muster the same enthusiasm for it.
I generally prefer TV that’s at least rooted in reality, even if it’s not exactly "ripped from the headlines." But will the advent of COVID-TV ruin what has made scripted TV so appealing during the pandemic? I say this as someone whose all-time favourite show is ER, a jargony medical drama.
It’s no secret I watch a lot of television, in part because I occasionally write about it and in part because I love the medium. During the pandemic, TV has been a balm. It’s an escape from the endless parade of fresh horrors presented by the punishing newscycle, the Facebook mask debates, or the misinformation whack-a-mole. (Who knew we were ‘friends’ with so many armchair epidemiologists?)
New shows, filmed well before this crisis, have their own allure, but watching something you’ve seen before — and therefore know exactly how things will turn out — is a particular kind of chicken soup for the jangled soul. The so-called "comfort watch" has been a draw.
Over the past four months, my go-to "comfort watches" have been Parks and Recreation and The West Wing. It’s telling, I suppose, that the unwavering optimism of Amy Poehler’s deputy parks director Leslie Knope, or the idealism and commanding oratory skills of Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet should have such a gravitational pull during this time. Leaders, even fictional ones, are of great comfort right now.
That’s not to say TV shouldn’t comment on The Issues. In the seasons of television following the #MeToo movement, dozens of writers rooms sank their teeth into workplace sexual harassment storylines — in part, I expect, because the movement exploded from Hollywood. Entire series, such as Apple TV’s The Morning Show, sprang from this global reckoning; revolution is good for art, too. Still, those #MeToo plot points still offered escapism. Viewers were able to see the bad men get theirs; justice moved more quickly.
Pandemics, by their nature, are inescapable. Everything is all virus, all the time, even the mundane things: a trip to the grocery store, the omnipresent hand sanitizer. When you’re living in a pandemic, and everything you watch is either about the virus explicitly, or reminds you of it because it’s yet another Zoom grid of talking heads — hey, just like the work day you’re attempting to unwind from — it’s exhausting.
As for Coronation Street, series producer Iain MacLeod told the Guardian the show has taken a light touch. "I don’t think people tune into Corrie wanting to see more people banging on about the pandemic."
He is absolutely correct. There’s enough banging on about the pandemic. I look forward to all the COVID content a few years from now, when we have had time to see how this story will play out. For now, living through it is consuming enough.