Every TV show we’ve watched in 2020 is fantasy.
That’s the simple truth of living through a global pandemic in which close proximity with other human beings is the enemy. You can’t relate to going to a party on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever any more than you can relate to plotting to overthrow a Russian czar on Hulu’s The Great. Even shows that aren’t high fantasy or historical fiction depict a reality that grows more distant every day.
Freeform’s Love in the Time of Corona is one of the rare pieces of media to reach us during the COVID-19 crisis that reflects it directly. Somehow, with a spare production team, committed actors, and the supervision of executive producer Joanna Johnson, it works.
Love in the Time of Corona, which is effectively Love Actually: Quarantine Edition and not really hiding it, explores exactly what it says in the title. It does not deal with politics or epidemiology, and no characters have direct interaction with the virus or anyone who has had it. This is about nothing more or less than human connection; the relationships that consume our minds and hearts no matter the state of the world.
The show follows four storylines: Young parents considering having another child, two besties who pick each other’s quarantine dates, a middle-aged couple hiding their separation from their teenage daughter, and an older woman trying to connect with her son while her husband is in an assisted care facility. The entire four-episode miniseries was scripted and filmed during quarantine with actors who were already in the same household.
It would be normal to approach this show with trepidation, wary of how it will address the pandemic and if it will feel forced. Life has changed for all of us, and many have suffered unimaginable loss. But Love in the Time of Corona works because it reflects the lived reality of everyone involved, from the cast to the audience to the director of photography remotely controlling cameras from a tent outside. Johnson worked with a minimal crew, sometimes enlisting others in the actors’ households as support crew while her own team worked remotely nearby.
As such, Love in the Time of Corona is free of the burden of world building, because the virus and how it changed the world are an unavoidable reality. The show is very much aware of how the pandemic affects us, and explaining pandemic rules or reality would be like a character explaining to someone else what happened on 9/11. No one leaves their homes, except for a military-grade grocery run and a celebratory drive by. Any interaction beyond that is over social media or video chat and, in one case, an extremely cute and distant back-and-forth from a balcony. The most unrealistic part of the whole show is when one character wears jeans, but it doesn’t last long.
There is immense relief in watching a show without being constantly distracted or horrified by who’s hugging and kissing and holding hands with impunity, as we all did in the Before Times. For the first time since March, we can watch something that reflects our current reality — not on Zoom or starring a late-night host alone without pants. That’s a comfort I didn’t know I needed. The world is burning, but the characters find excitement and hope in minor daily interactions, just as we all have, trying to stay sane and feel connected to each other by something other than collective trauma and grief.
The most we depart from our characters’ quarantine bubbles is with James (Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom, Jr.), who questions his willingness to have a second child after seeing video of the death of Ahmaud Arbery. Instead of a ham-fisted social justice storyline (we dread the next season of This Is Us), the show turns inward, focusing on James’ own experience as a Black man in America and how his joy alone can be an act of resistance.
The other storylines unfold with pleasant predictability. With the outside world as uncertain as it is during COVID-19 lockdown, Love in the Time of Corona offers comfort in playing it safe. The besties have feelings for each other — or do they? The separated husband and wife still have chemistry, of course! Relationships are mended and forged without a lot of real life’s more bulky baggage, but not without its complexity and warmth.
The story in the show is less revelatory than the story of the show. Love in the Time of Corona could have been thoughtless, cringey, and poorly-made all around. Instead, it shows that art can and will endure this moment, with love behind it.
Love in the Time of Corona airs Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22-23, at 8 p.m. on Freeform.