Have you noticed that after binge-watching everything you had been wanting to the past year, that your regular shows haven’t made the comeback you were waiting for?
As the realities of the coronavirus pandemic sunk in last spring and regulations were put in place, television production took a pause. Like many industries, it became difficult (and sometimes impossible) to work safely while abiding by evolving statewide rules.
A few months later, with widely accessible testing, more readily available PPE, and creative solutions for on-set operations, filming picked back up. As such, it was only a matter of time before the COVID-themed content made its way to the small screen.
I have found comfort in watching actors and reality stars navigate the risks and nuisances of the virus. It’s refreshing because all content filmed before 2020 feels unrelatable in a way. Real or fictional, it’s like the characters, living their pre-pandemic lives, could never understand. Even if HBO’s mask-clad Watchmen felt a little familiar, the coronavirus never existed in that universe (or never will).
From late-night talk, news, and award shows to scripted dramas and reality series, the virus has transformed many aspects of modern television.
The Bachelor Franchise
The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise has been a top-rated primetime show for almost two decades, and you can bet ABC wasn’t going to let a deadly virus change that. Though The Bachelorette was originally set to begin filming in the spring, production was delayed for a few months. As a romantically inclined reality TV show, this resulted in a unique dynamic. Let me explain.
Since this season was cast before the pandemic shut things down, there were a few months between the time ABC announced the cast and filming began. In the age of social media, this meant all cast members—including the lead, Clare Crawley—had ample time to research one another (AKA comb through every single Instagram post). Ultimately, this ended up affecting the outcome of the show.
Aside from the unprecedented switcheroo, this year’s Bachelorette was different in many ways. For one, the entire season was filmed in a bubble at a resort in Palm Springs instead of several locations throughout the world. Also, cast members had to quarantine in separate rooms as they awaited their COVID test results.
Now the Bachelor is taking place at a resort in Pennsylvania, as the show searches for ways to keep it interesting and provide varied dates while quarantining the entire cast.
The Bachelor franchise doesn’t typically “break the fourth wall.” Traditionally, they hardly ever include clips of the cast talking about being filmed, and they rarely show crew members. However, this season was different, as they had to address various aspects of the pandemic and how it affected filming. For me, this elevated sense of realness is a welcome change.
Love in the Time of Corona
Love in the Time of Corona is… well, exactly what it sounds like. The four-part scripted series is a comedy-drama that follows various interwoven romantic relationships in the current COVID universe.
Not only is it about the pandemic, but it was also filmed during the pandemic, requiring the cast and crew to get creative to make it all work. For instance, the cast consists of real-life couples, roommates, and families who lived together at the time of filming, and the crew stayed on set in individual tents during production. Apparently, the actors also did their own makeup and used their personal wardrobes as costumes.
Love in the Time of Corona certainly isn’t the best new show I’ve seen this year, but it definitely scratches the pandemic relatability itch. Plotlines involve online dating through video calls, a couple deciding whether it’s a good time to try for a second baby, and parents grappling with their daughter’s boyfriend moving in as an alternative to her moving out with him.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians
Keeping Up with the Kardashians has been on the air since 2007. The current season is said to be the last, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see a revival down the road like many other shows have done recently.
As a fan of reality TV and matriarchies, I’ve kept up over the years. The latest episodes chronicle the Kardashian/Jenner clan as they adjust to the pandemic’s ramifications, beginning with California’s initial stay-at-home order in March.
Like countless others, they had to figure out how to manage remote schooling, safely connect with older family members, and wait for test results while worrying whether they had contracted the virus. Without the crew—and by the looks of it, maids or nannies—Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and the gang were left to film themselves.
Despite the inconveniences of the pandemic, the family’s wealth continues to deflect relatability. (And it doesn’t help that two of the sisters held unnecessarily large and lavish birthday parties in recent months.) But if I’m being honest, relatability was never part of the appeal. Even as they self-film in their empty Calabasas homes that appear to be furnished for giants, KUWTK entertains like it always has.
It didn’t take long for #metoo themes to make their way into television, and we should expect the same from the pandemic. The coronavirus has affected every facet of our lives. If the day comes when the virus is no longer a threat, the world will still be permanently changed.
We can’t pretend it’s not happening or that it hasn’t rocked the entire globe. Moving forward, I don’t expect every show to focus on COVID or even directly address it. But it’ll be worked in nonetheless with characters reflecting the new normal—in masks, self-filming, working from home, and connecting virtually.