Should TV Shows Incorporate COVID-19 in Their Upcoming Seasons?

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As TV series gear up to return for a late fall launch, the storylines these shows focus on will be wholly different than planned.

Many series plan to incorporate the novel coronavirus pandemic and how the changes over the past eight months have impacted our favorite, fictional characters' lives.

And while it’s great that the showrunners aren’t blind to the current climate, not every show needs to have such a prominent focus on COVID-19.

Darlene and Mark long - The Conners Season 3 Episode 1

It’s not hyperbolic to say that the world is somewhat of a shit show right now, and watching television can serve as an escape from our daily lives.

With so much chaos going on around us, coming home from our harried lives and unwinding with some good, old fashioned TV can be just what the doctor ordered.

It’s not a crime to want to detach from the world around us and not to be constantly reminded by the nightmare that is our reality.

After all, television serves the functionality of entertainment, and the world has never needed a distraction quite like this before.

Sayid mask - Superstore

However, television also mirrors reality, and the pandemic is a big part of our lives right now.

Some, more than others, encounter the coronavirus on a daily basis, so it would be tone deaf for executives to ignore those challenges, particularly those on the frontlines.

Therefore, it makes sense to incorporate the pandemic's effect in dramas that focus on doctors and first responders makes sense.

In particular, medical dramas are set to prominently address the coronavirus, at least at the start of the season.

Pro Bono Day  - Grey's Anatomy Season 16 Episode 18

When Grey’s Anatomy returns for its 17th season on Nov. 12, the longest-running medical drama will pick up a month and a half into the pandemic.

While showrunner Krista Vernoff told Variety she considered not incorporating the health crisis into the newest season, she later realized there was no way to move into the new season without covering it.

The pandemic will also be a major focal point for both The Resident and New Amsterdam, which doesn’t return until midseason, while The Good Doctor will dedicate its two-hour premiere on Nov. 2 to the coronavirus.

Beyond hospitals, first responders are also on the frontlines, and both 9-1-1 and its spinoff, 9-1-1: Lone Star, will be part of the conversation.

In September, it was announced Gina Torres would join the latter as a pandemic who comes out of retirement due to the pandemic.

There For Him - This Is Us Season 4 Episode 18

These are all acceptable instances of showrunners taking a cue from reality, but there are other examples where some series don’t have to incorporate the pandemic.

Take, for example, This Is Us, also known as the show that never fails to make us cry.

Series creator Dan Fogelman has publicly stated the series will be tackling the pandemic head on, yet with so many tear-jerking storylines already in play – Rebecca’s Alzheimer diagnosis, the fallout from Kevin and Randall’s fight, Kate’s possible confrontation with her abusive ex in the present – there’s no need for more tragedy.

Because we all know that when series creator Dan Fogelman introduces some new story arc, he doesn’t do it half-cocked; he goes for the jugular.

Kevin and Kate - This Is Us

Need more proof?

Amid the smiling Pearsons, the upcoming season's tagline on the new poster reads: This season changes us forever.

How much more ominous could that be?

It’s not just dramas that are integrating the pandemic but comedies, too.

Dan's Black Eye - The Conners Season 2 Episode 20

Comedies like Superstore and The Conners are not shying away from the topic, instead deciding to put the virus at the forefront.

Sure, there are plenty of laughs that can be had, as evidenced by the 30-second trailer of The Connors for the upcoming season where patriarch Dan declares how exactly the family will get through this.

“We’re Connors. We’re going to get through this the way we always do: We’re gonna watch TV, we’re gonna drink beer, and we’re gonna blame all our troubles on the government,” Dan affirms to his dejected family.

However, it seems a little inconsiderate to be making jokes about a pandemic that has ravaged the country, killing over 210,000 Americans.

Maybe when the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we can look back and make light of this time, but for right now, it’s just in bad taste.

Risking His LIfe/Tall - Chicago Med Season 5 Episode 20

So how do we find the balance?

One executive producer who is getting it right is the OneChicago’s Dick Wolf.

Wolf told Entertainment Weekly the trio of shows set in the Windy City will be reflective of the pandemic.

However, Dick clarified Chicago Med will address the pandemic head-on, whereas the references on Chicago Fire and Chicago PD will be more subtle.

Worse for Wear - NCIS: New Orleans Season 5 Episode 24

Other examples of striking that balance are NCIS: New Orleans and Charmed, which again doesn’t return until midseason.

NCIS: New Orleans will explore the broader ramifications of the coronavirus through coroner, Loretta Wade, who will be overwhelmed with the bodies of those who died from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Charmed, which won’t address the pandemic directly, will explore the themes and emotional conflicts caused by the coronavirus, including social distancing, isolation, and lack of intimacy.

Both are different approaches, but they still manage to address the pandemic without making it the sole focus on the season.

The Sister Together - Charmed (2018) Season 2 Episode 16

As for new series created explicitly in response to the virus, well, that’s another thing altogether.

Freeform’s Love in the Time of Corona, NBC’s Connecting…, and Netflix’s Social Distance, all of which are filmed remotely, address what life is like during the pandemic for laypeople.

These series focus on the average Joes of America and offer the most authentic look at how people are dealing with a global health crisis.

Some critics hail these series as an honest and necessary depiction, while others think it’s too soon for COVID-era television.

Casey disagree - Chicago Fire Season 8 Episode 16

So who’s right?

In a potentially cop out answer, both sides are right.

The benefit of these newly created shows are just that: They’re newly created.

This means if you want to watch them, you can.

If you don’t, no harm, no foul because unlike other series that you have spent years upon years religiously watching, you don’t have to start this show if it’s not your cup of tea.

Shaun is Obsessed - The Good Doctor Season 3 Episode 16

However, it’s harder to pull the ripcord on your favorite shows completely.

And it’s not necessarily like you can skip the episodes that are solely centered around the pandemic.

Some of these series are heavily serialized, so you could be completely lost if you miss a few episodes.

It’s also unclear how many episodes most series will devote to the pandemic, so there’s no timeline in place when you can start viewing the shows again.

It’s a lose-lose situation where the only winners are the network executives raking in the big bucks.

A Train Derailment Tall - 9-1-1 Season 3 Episode 18

What do you think, TV Fanatics?

Should TV shows be incorporating the pandemic?

Does it depend on the series?

Hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.

Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.

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