NBC's Connecting... isn't your standard sitcom, it's true, but with its quiet charm, it has a funny way of sneaking up on you.
By now, many series have jumped aboard the Quarantine Zoom-style of filming to provide us with new fictional, serialized content.
Reality and late-night talk shows were among the first to adapt to the pandemic with self-filming. We've seen it with all of the late-night shows, the 90 Day Fiance franchise, Married at First Sight, and so many more.
But then we saw an increase in fictional series that take the pandemic head-on. Connecting... joins the ranks with Netflix's glum Social Distance and Freeform's teeth-achingly sweet Love in the Time of Corona.
All of which, likely inspired by CBS' All Rise. The legal procedural charted unknown waters back in May with its season finale, All Rise Season 1 Episode 21.
It was the first network series to tackle the pandemic head-on, bringing some of the elements that made Modern Family Season 6 Episode 16 one of the best installments of the series and adapting it to fit the tone of the legal drama.
Amid the ongoing stress of the pandemic in all of its stages, if one dares to venture into pandemic-related series, it has to be done right.
We're still in the middle of it, and the future is uncertain.
You have to find the right tone. If you dwell too much on the darker aspects of this damn near year-long pandemic, it's too heavy (Social Distance), but if you don't strike any of the darker tones at all, it loses a realness (Love in the Time of Corona).
Somehow, surprisingly, Connecting..., a half-hour comedic sitcom, has captured the right tone. The difficulty in doing this, adding laughs while still not being dismissive of a global pandemic that has killed thousands, is not lost.
And if you sat through the first episode, barely paying attention, it's understandable how you could write the series off before recognizing its greatness.
If you're like me, you've taken to categorizing your series, and Connecting seemed like the perfect show to play in the background while being distracted with a host of other things.
And it certainly started that way as this diverse group of friends came together for routine Face Times to catch up with each other and lament all the ways the pandemic has interfered with their lives.
Connecting... felt like you muted your zoom meeting on your end, but you were still vaguely listening to everyone else chatter on about a plethora of things in that eager, chaotic way that belies how much they're clinging to any human interaction.
After a bit, the voices bleed together. We hear Ellis talk about the loss of her beloved Clippers or how much Pradeep's children are driving him insane. It's the pandemic white noise of our new normal.
But then, towards the end of that first installment, you hear someone distantly ask "how you're doing" about someone new who has popped up in the chat, and it's the tell-tale crack in Jazmin's voice that alerts the viewer that something piercing is about to happen, and it does.
Up until this moment, Connecting... had a few cheesy lines worth chuckling at, and it dropped us into a group of strangers who still felt distantly familiar as archetypes.
The actors do well with what they bring to these roles with Nayfack, Lawson, and Cheena standing out most.
But Jazmin's voice as she took a shallow breath and unleashed a devastatingly raw monologue that would bring most to tears is when Connecting... became something special.
With seven primary characters, there is ample room for various opinions and expressions of just about everyone's feelings during the pandemic.
Michelle and Garret, the happily married, financially comfortable couple -- they were looking on the bright side. Two months into quarantine, they were still relishing how it gave them a chance to reconnect with one another.
And it's a prevalent, real response that shouldn't be mocked or diminished.
However, on the heels of their proclamation, Jazmin, a doctor, comes in with a bleaker take, and it's positively gut-wrenching.
The delivery of Jazmin's monologue was stellar as she expressed what it was like on the front-lines during the early days of COVID-19.
How am I holding up? Well, I haven't hugged my kids or kissed my husband in four weeks. I get up three hours after I go to bed, and each shift starts with a meeting where we go through all the things we don't have and what our plans are to deal with that. And those meetings last a really long time because we don't have anything.
And I'm trying to be clinical and objective where I need to be, and sympathetic and compassionate when I can be, but then, all of a sudden, I have to decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn't. I mean, do you give it to the old guy in bed number 13? Because he probably needs it more and because old people have the same right and desire to live as young people do. And even though you don't want to admit it to yourself, you're thinking: "he looks just like my father."
Or do you give it to the woman in her 40s in bed number seven, who just got remarried and has a better shot of surviving without it? But then, also, what if she doesn't? Just imagine that for a second! And then you stop. And you think: what an insane question for a doctor to have to ask herself, in the middle of a hospital, in the middle of a city, in America.
But then: surprise! You don't have to make that decision after all because another ventilator makes itself available, and you try not to think too hard about why that might be, and you say, "Great! Tell the vent tech to hook that up when he's back from whatever extended dinner break he's taking, and I'm going home."
And you try to sleep for three more hours, and then you get up, and you do it all again -- only, when you get to work, you find out that both your patients are alive, but neither of them has been ventilated. And when you ask why that is, they say because one of the things you don't have today is a Vent Tech. And when you ask why that is, they say because he's in bed number three ... and also it just hit me like a piano smashing down on me that the Clippers aren't coming back this year.
She talked about missing her husband and kids. She darkly chuckles her way through her terrible sleep schedule and grueling days, and how they're unprepared.
By the time she expresses how she can't think about why a desperately needed ventilator is available or how her patients weren't tended to because of the Vent Tech lying in the next bed, you get a lump in your throat.
And there are barely contained tears -- her voice is shrill, as she perfectly captures a person fraught and barely keeping it together.
Then she segues into how upset she is that her favorite basketball team can't play a game, and the switch from dark to light-hearted is so abrupt but also so damn visceral.
You take the ride along with her, switching from the overwhelming sense of pressure weighing down on you to clicking into place, compartmentalizing and getting back to the surface level, seemingly frivolous things.
The surprising burst of hysterical laughter eases the tension and breaks the somber mood, and then, everyone is back to life -- this new reality.
And that's where Connecting... successfully manages to encapsulate the frenetic energy of existing during all of this. While we don't have the privilege of revisiting Jazmin yet, this is something that carries over in each episode of the series so far.
It's in all of those little moments -- how casual conversations with the group come to a screeching halt when everyone hears Ben's girlfriend coughing in the background, and their first response is "please, tell me she's choking."
Pradeep's ongoing impatience with his kids is relatable. And at times, he sounds selfish, like someone who took for granted the people in his life who took care of them more than he did.
And the way the others snap at him about it -- irritable with their own tribulations as the economy crashes and their life unravels-- it's something of which many can identify.
While Pradeep's home feels almost overcrowded, you have those like Ben and Annie, young singles who are battling the loneliness that has afflicted many.
Michelle, while comfortable for now, is in a near-constant state of anxiety and terrified of the potential financial woes that could befall them. It's in direct conflict with the wholesome Garret, who purchases everything imaginable out of boredom and security.
Meanwhile, Ellis is struggling to make ends meet after losing her job, and she can't pay for her rent, healthcare, or her hormones.
The reclusive Rufus' connection to this group is about the only thing that is keeping him from disappearing into a black hole of conspiracies and paranoia.
See, in addition to succeeding in its portrayal of everyday life for regular people during the pandemic, it excels at the effortless diversity too.
It's diversity in thoughts, lifestyles, and experiences in addition to representation that spans gender, race, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.
While we haven't known the characters for long, they still feel real because of the things they're experiencing and how they're reacting to them.
And no, there isn't a right or wrong way to respond to the pandemic, and Connecting... shows us that.
Pradeep isn't an insensitive monster for responding poorly to a late delivery. It's not unlike how others have reacted whether we want to take ownership of our emotions or not.
However, Ellis gives her perspective as a delivery person, one of the unsung individuals out in the thick of everything, serving those closed up in their homes.
She spoke about how detrimental that a low rating is for those trying to make ends meet. And she reminds everyone that they have to look out for each other.
And this group of people does look out for one another. Between the laughs and the heart-aching sullenness, you get beautiful moments of friendship and love.
The reminders that they're all family could be sappy, except Connecting... puts its money where its mouth is by showing and not just telling.
Their love languages come in the form of planning elaborate, well-crafted group outings that collapse like dominoes if just one person fails to social distance properly.
It's also in the form of offering financial support where it's needed, or the ongoing emotional support and guidance.
You see it in how they check up on one other, as the hint of panic overcomes them after realizing they haven't seen or heard from someone in a while.
And at the end of Connecting... Season 1 Episode 3, you see it in how they share the pain.
The ending of that hour was another case of how the series can guide you through the ups and downs of these people, laughing away or relating to their situations, and then out of nowhere, Connecting... knocks the wind out of you.
The latest installment saw the gang's adorable gesture at staycationing together, only to have 2020 do what it does -- sucker punches you.
An endearingly sweet moment of making the best of quarantine becomes horrific in an instant as we watch before our eyes as the entire group reacts to the George Floyd video.
And everyone slowly logs off in varying stages of shock, hurt, anger, and abject horror.
Connecting... doesn't just swing high and then sink low; it blends the highs and lows for well-balanced installments that resonate.
It not only reflects how we're staying connected, but it's giving us something to grasp onto to feel connected at all. And that's the unexpected, quiet magic of this series.
It's not winning a Peabody, nor does it stack up against some of the greatest TV shows of all-time. The writing isn't exceptional, and the show itself isn't spectacular.
And I don't know if there's any longevity in a series with this particular style and subject matter. Perhaps it all depends on how long we're stuck in COVID-19 hell.
But the series is authentic and comforting, and the characters feel like friends, and that's the exact thing we need in times like this.
Over to you, TV Fanatics. Have you checked out, Connecting...? What are your thoughts on the series?
Hit the comments below.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.