COVID-19 Storylines in Shows

COVID-19 Storylines in Shows

Ilana Rockwell

Does television have an obligation to address current issues that relate to their audience, or should it provide a sense of escapism from the chaos of everyday life? That is the question most ongoing shows were faced with, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, after cautiously resuming production.

 Many shows make it a habit to use their platforms and screen time to shed light on issues they feel are important, and this pandemic seems like an obvious choice. However, it is possible that many other shows will incorporate it in an attempt to maintain or regain relevancy, and it may not end up well. 

There are many shows, such as “American Horror Story,” that have sworn to stay far away from the virus in their storylines, presumably to maintain their supernatural and fantastical tendencies. However, many other TV shows of all genres have made the decision to include it, from “South Park” to “Shameless.”

 Medical dramas such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Good Doctor” are perhaps among the most equipped and expected to tackle the issue in a seamless manner. In recent seasons of the former, the plot focused on dissecting the financial issues of the American healthcare system from a doctor’s perspective. Such a controversial and complex issue needed to be chewed up and spit out for viewers in hopes that it would be made more easily digestible, which they accomplished by taking real experiences and placing them in a familiar context. In a similar fashion, writers of the show have spoken with first responders and healthcare workers that have experienced the pandemic first-hand, and incorporating that perspective into the show could effectively emphasize the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and more.

The point of view and prioritization of the shows is an important thing for viewers and writers alike to think about. Many shows have distinguished political standpoints, and viewers will likely not be surprised by the approach that the show takes in addressing COVID-19. One example is “Last Man Standing,” which has largely been written and perceived as a Republican show. They have previously taken conservative stances on issues such as travel bans, guns and healthcare, so dedicated watchers are anticipating a certain type of coronavirus coverage. Producers of the show claim that they will introduce the economic effects of the lockdown on the main character’s business as their method. 

The large variety of perspectives taken could offer viewers a more holistic understanding of an issue that they only ever experience in one way. But for many shows that do not normally discuss current events and are suddenly found in this dilemma as well, their approach could make it or break it for viewers. The different and perhaps unexpected angles that might be portrayed through shows such as “You” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” could change many predetermined dynamics. 

Another issue that stands to be addressed is that, if shows do decide to play it safe to relate to their audiences without losing viewership, the storylines could get entirely repetitive. This is particularly true regarding an issue that people already experience constantly in their everyday lives. 

At the end of the day, the opposition many face to the idea is not the issue of “if” these shows should approach COVID-19 but “when. For an issue that has been so devastating to many and is still ongoing, it can be a very sensitive time for people to relive and face it all again right away. The only way to truly see how the shows will play out is for people to tune in and find out.