TV shows are acting like covid is over or never happened and it’s hard to imagine

As we enter another year of the pandemic I’m having a hard time focusing on shows and movies. I get annoyed easily by minor plot details and my attention span is shot, but more than that I wonder how the shows were filmed. We only had about a few weeks window when it was safe to go maskless and even then so many shows were shut down due to outbreaks on set. What’s more is that fictional shows set in modern day have continuity issues with covid. Many are either ignoring the pandemic or referring to it as past, and of course it’s still very much with us. We’re back inside and social distancing for the most part and it’s frustrating to see characters acting like covid is over and in some cases barely referring to it.

Huffington Post’s Marina Fang wrote about what it’s like to watch shows assume we’re already post-pandemic when we’re still in the thick of it. She explained a lot of the feelings I have when I’m trying to just forget about reality. She mentioned And Just Like That, Grey’s Anatomy and This is Us, none of which I’ve seen. Greys and This is Us had major pandemic storylines, so this change is jarring.

I wince a little when a character refers to COVID-19 in the past tense, like in [And Just Like That’s] initial episodes, when we learned what some of the characters did during the pandemic. It feels especially discordant to watch Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte spend carefree days around the city, attending social events and going to restaurants and bars. Even prior to the omicron wave, when some of us were able to safely resume some of our pre-pandemic activities — albeit with much caution and ambivalence — it felt like watching a fantasy world.

That discomfort has only deepened as the omicron variant has led to a new surge in COVID-19 cases. Many service-oriented businesses are shuttering yet again because of the variant’s high transmissibility, and their workers have already suffered immensely throughout the pandemic. “AJLT” is not the show to tackle that story. But it’s jarring nonetheless, especially here in New York, where the trauma of the first wave of the pandemic has permanently shaken so many of us.

It’s also jarring to watch shows that previously did an admirable job of directly incorporating the pandemic, but have now fast-forwarded to a post-COVID world…

During the 2020-21 TV season, few shows confronted the pandemic as unflinchingly as ABC’s long-running “Grey’s Anatomy.” The burned-out surgeons of Grey Sloan Memorial watched patient after patient die of COVID-19. The season also explored meaningful storylines about racial inequities in health care, problems that the pandemic has only further underscored…

Yet in the current season, which began this fall, each episode contains a title card informing viewers that the season is set in a post-pandemic world. The card explains that the show aims to express some hope for the future (and also directs viewers to a website containing information on COVID-19 vaccines). Other than a few mentions in the dialogue, it’s almost as if the pandemic didn’t happen at all.

[From Huffington Post]

I watch 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star and these shows had maybe three to four episodes that addressed the pandemic. From what I remember it wasn’t even the central plotline. Considering that they’re emergency shows it seemed like a real missed opportunity. The plots are also over the top ridiculous and in no way close to reality. I didn’t mind how they handled it because the scenarios are so outrageous that I don’t think of them as real anyway. The shows that bothered me the most were the reality competition shows I watched that were filmed in 2020 before the vaccines. People weren’t wearing masks and you could tell they were taking risks to create content. Now I assume that they’re requiring participants be vaccinated, but I’m probably wrong in many cases. There are other reasons why I can’t focus on shows now, and that has more to do with the day to day reality of living in a pandemic than the way it’s being glossed over and ignored in entertainment.

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40 Responses to “TV shows are acting like covid is over or never happened and it’s hard to imagine”

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  1. girl_ninja says:

    I know that Issa Rae’s Insecure was clear about not including the pandemic in their last season. I don’t mind it because T.V. shows/movie etc. are meant to be an escape to a certain degree. I guess it all depends on the viewer.

    • Lou says:

      Agreed. We have to live with it every day; I don’t want to watch it during my spare time as well.

      • PennCentral says:

        Agreed. We are living it every waking minute. There is nothing wrong with having an escape for an hour or two to be distracted and recharge our batteries.

  2. cassandra says:

    Honestly, at this point, I’d rather my entertainment not be all Covid all the time too. TV/Movies are my relaxation escape time. I work in a hospital, my life, like so many others, has been consumed by this for two years.

    I also don’t love the idea of turning any part of this disaster into entertainment. There’s so much misinformation flying around that the topic needs to be handled very, very, carefully. Not something I trust a procedural tv show to do.

    And this is why I’ve been watching The Witcher haha

    • N0b0dy says:

      These are my thoughts exactly. And example Greys did the full season acknowledging it. It wasn’t fun.

  3. Angh says:

    I personally don’t want to watch shows or films with a bunch of masked people or depressing pandemic themed shows. I need escapism especially now that I’m in isolation after contracting covid. Well unless they’re “reality” shows which I despise. I actually feared that there was gonna be too much Covid themed stuff and it looked like that was gonna be the trend for a while back in 2020.

    • Mac says:

      I felt that way until recently. I am increasingly triggered by seeing people unmasked, especially during crowd scenes.

  4. CE says:

    It’s because no one wants to see masks on TV or think about the pandemic. Film is meant to be escapist. That’s ok and sets are very safe compared to most other jobs

  5. Case says:

    I don’t watch much procedural TV, but my mom tells me some medical shows handled it well last year in terms of showing the trauma healthcare workers are going through during the pandemic. That said, I don’t think they should be expected to continue covering it for as long as the pandemic lasts, because we don’t know how long that will be and people watch TV mostly as an escape from reality.

    I haven’t had a problem focusing on movies or TV, but I definitely know I wouldn’t want to watch COVID-centric programming while we’re still in the thick of it.

  6. tealily says:

    I understand not wanting to make whole seasons about it because you want the show to be rewatchable down the road, and I don’t think a lot of us will want to revisit this period for casual viewing later. What’s weird is when someone addresses it in a cursory way as if it’s over, like in And Just Like That when they were saying “remember when we couldn’t hug each other?” or whatever it was. I’m like… yeah, still doing that.

    • tealily says:

      I’m just remembering how Everything’s Gonna Be Okay handled COVID in their second season… they only very briefly mentioned isolating, but the action all takes place close to home and outside with a very small group of people. I thought it was a nice way to address it that won’t feel excruciating and forced later. I’m still bummed that show didn’t get another season.

  7. Jan90067 says:

    I watched the Grey’s Covid year, and I have to say, a full season of Meredith’s Beach, while she battled Covid, and the hospital scenes were almost *too* much WHILE we were still going through it. I almost ditched it so many times because it gave me such anxiety sometimes (and parts were just soooooo butt-numbing, but it was fun to see some of the “oldies” come back and show up on the beach).

    Still, it’s as jarring to see it “ignored” as it’d be awful to watch shows with everyone masked up all the time.

    • Jane says:

      Last season of Grey’s Anatomy has killed my enjoyment of the show completely, and I’ve been watching it since the start. I can appreciate why they did it, and how much they work with healthcare professionals to make the show in the first place, but it was boring, depressing, and increasingly repetitive. The pandemic squeezed almost every other story out and left the show making huge character adjustments with virtually no lead up in the final few episodes of the season, meaning that where the characters are now is completely unearned and dramatically unsatisfying. Add in the incessant propping up of Station 19 during Grey’s episodes, and there is virtually nothing and no one in any episode that I enjoy watching.

      • FHMom says:

        Same, Jane. I liked the pairing of Meredith with the new Irish doctor, Cristina’s present. Then she fell in a coma, came out of it and the storyline was dropped because his son didn’t want him dating or something. After more than a season of build up, it was explained away in a sentence. So stupid.

  8. Penguin says:

    Personally, as soon as I see a show that has a COVID storyline I just change the channel. It still hits too close to home to watch it as entertainment. I’d rather watch something that helps me escape the reality we’ve been living in for the past 2 years.

  9. Chaine says:

    I would rather not watch TV that is about Covid, but at the same time, it is jarring when I see characters on a snow all meeting at a crowded restaurant without masks, or hugging and up close to one another without masks, etc. like I will instinctually worry for them that they might get Covid.

  10. Sunday says:

    It’s tough because I agree with commenters who say that they don’t want to watch masked people living with Covid because that’s our reality everyday. At the same time, I do think that reality TV shows in particular have some responsibility to either depict or disclose Covid-safe protocols, and that failure to do so actually ends up reinforcing dangerous, pandemic-prolonging, super-spreader behavior like attending parties and dining out at restaurants and bars all the time.

    I get that they’re not going to mask up when one real housewife goes to another’s house, but at the very least the beginning of the show should have a disclaimer that explains the testing protocol, production bubble, vaccination requirements etc. If those stars are getting tested daily and isolating except for filming then the audience should be told that instead of watching otherwise reckless behavior and (for some) internalizing that it’s okay to be in a club or bar packed with people.

  11. koko says:

    I think tv shows are meant to be an escapism of sorts. I see them that way. Not addressing Covid now is reminiscent of how some shows handled 9-11. Even as they filmed new episodes it was never mentioned , but clearly in the back ground of sets, you could see more American flags, or fireman helmets etc….The shows must be able to travel in time and still be amusing to the next generation.

    • Dutch says:

      That’s especially true now in the age of syndication and streaming where content never really goes away like it used to. Hopefully there will one day be a return to normalcy and creators don’t want their shows to be instantly dated with three seasons of COVID shows. Part of what has made shows like Friends, The Office and Seinfeld so enduring is other than some minor tech advances, the storytelling is engaging and timeless.

  12. Wendy says:

    It’s been interesting to watch shows as they choose how much of our current reality to incorporate — as girlninja mentioned, Insecure didn’t incorporate covid into the final season, and I’m really glad they didn’t because I don’t know if I could watch it ever again in the future. Ted Lasso also isn’t including covid in storylines, but looking at behind the scenes material it’s clear that they took covid seriously during the writing and filming stages of production.

    I was already kind of souring on Law & Order: SVU before the pandemic, but watching episodes where some people were masked and others weren’t was just… weird. I couldn’t deal.

    One show whose covid approach I really liked was Mythic Quest. They’d wrapped season 1 before pandemic shutdowns began, but then they decided to make two special episodes before rolling out season 2 — one set in the very thick of the early days of folks isolating at home, and one set after vaccines became widely available and people began returning to in-person work. The first episode’s action takes place almost entirely through Zoom meetings, texts, Facetime calls, and other socially distant ways, and looking into behind the scenes stuff on that episode they went to great lengths to keep people safe (everything was self-filmed by the actors on sanitized iPhones, equipment was dropped off at their homes, one actor’s spouse served as a body double for another actor in a crucial scene, et cetera et cetera). It was honestly the most emotionally affecting “special covid episode” of television I’ve watched in the past two years. And it ended with a hugely joyful moment, which made it even better.

  13. StellainNH says:

    The only show that had masks on that I had observed was “Shameless”. Otherwise it seems like this pandemic has been erased. Maybe because it is nice not to think about it for a while.

  14. Jess says:

    The new season of Grey’s is in my dvr because I couldn’t handle seeing so much covid real ness again, it was too much last year and I think a lot of fans complained. I’m sure it’s tough figuring out a balance!

  15. AuntRara says:

    I don’t have a problem with shows that don’t address it. I need some escapism. But shows that talk about it in past-tense are so jarring that I can’t watch. I feel like the shows that depict the pandemic as being over also encourage a pervasive mood that it IS over and isn’t something that needs to be taken seriously anymore when that is very much NOT the case.

  16. lunchcoma says:

    I can see the objection to competition reality shows trying to ignore the pandemic, but I’m probably part of the audience that’s leading scripted shows to ignore the pandemic. I don’t want to see it. I deal with anxiety and death every time I check the news. It’s not something I’m interested in seeing explored in drama. Which is why I’m watching The Witcher right now. Those people have problems, but not the same ones I’m having.

  17. Zantasia says:

    It has been weird for This is Us to have it and then suddenly not mention it at all. A comment in passing of “man it’s so nice to see your nose again” or something like that would have been easy.

  18. lucy2 says:

    I found it really difficult to watch stuff early into the pandemic, crowd scenes were anxiety inducing. That’s gotten a little better, but I haven’t been watching much new stuff anyway, I’ve been going back and rewatching comfort series, or catching up on stuff I’ve missed over the years. It’s total escapism.
    The few shows I’ve seen that mention or deal with the pandemic have been uncomfortable to watch. I’m OK with shows pretending it didn’t happen or is over, if it helps with better storytelling. In reality I’m back in the “we’re never getting back to normal” phase of worry, so escapism into a more hopeful time is ok with me.

  19. Sue Denim says:

    I find it stressful to watch shows filmed during covid w everyone mask-less, I just keep thinking, wait, how are they staying safe… I thought Scenes from a Marriage was v interesting in the way they handled it. But I’ve been finding it really nice watching old shows set in NY filmed even pre 9/11. There’s just a different level of ease in the stories, acting and viewing that’s a nice break from it all… I highly recommend… (Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld, SATC, for a few…)

  20. Gab says:

    OMG I agree with this so much!!! I can only watch (new content) period pieces set in the before times at this point without it bothering me! That’s one reason I can’t wait for the new season of The Crown. We are not past it. 20 years from now shows will come out that meaningfully/accurately depict this time.

  21. Andrea says:

    I find it jarring when I watch TV shows with maksless crowd scenes because that hasnt been my life for nearly 2 years. I am in Ontario and they have had an indoor mask mandate since late March 2020 that has never been lifted. Traveled to Quebec this summer and same thing. I have eaten out TWICE this year once at a patio and once inside and it feels scary taking that mask off. The vaccine passports up here have helped my fears. But it seems like a suspension of reality when I see it on TV. Heck, indoor dining is closed atm here.

  22. DiegoInSF says:

    The only show out of those listed I’m watching is And Just Like That, and I’m glad they mentioned it on the first episode and moved on, I watch for escapism and would hate seeing masks or covid talk, sorry!
    Triple vaxxed here and only go out with KN95 Or N95 masks.

  23. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Is Grey’s Anatomy seriously still on?

  24. Mina_Esq says:

    I don’t need my real life problems to infiltrate my TV life problems. I started watching that show Medici early on in the pandemic, and I legit had to stop when they hit the plague because it was too much to handle under my real life circumstances. And that was the plague. I don’t need covid or Trump or any of that sh*t that made my life miserable over the past couple of years showing up while I’m trying to relax.

  25. Jayna says:

    I prefer it way. I’ve lived it for almost two years, and am still living it. I watched The Morning Show that covered the pandemic, and got why they did, and read a Michael Connelly book that incorporated the pandemic since he always writes what is happening in the year he writes a book. Anti-maskers, who are Connelly fans, railed against the book, but I felt it wasn’t done in an overhanded way at all.

    But, you know what, that’s enough. I’m over it. I see it on the news. I live it. I want escapism, complete escapism from it.

  26. Lady Keller says:

    I understand shows not focusing on covid. I watch TV to escape. I work with the public so I have had it with enforcing mask policies and checking vaccination status. I hope that TV productions are being safe but I cant blame them for not focusing on covid.

  27. Scal says:

    I appreciate that Grey’s has had the pandemic be ‘over’, but yet still acknowledging the new issues that remain. Recruiting new talent. The mental health of residents. Staffing shortages. Work life balances. Not like it never happened (I’m looking at you NCIS)

    Heck the most annoying thing about the new season is the continued overlap with station 19. Entire cast storylines are on that show and I don’t care how many crossovers they have I’m not watching it.

  28. Kathryn says:

    I’m sorry but I guess I’m in the minority. I don’t want to watch shows and movies where it is mentioned. I get that on medical shows it makes sense but for me—no, daily life is enough. Plus there will be documentaries and thought pieces made about it forever and eventually, there will be feature films. TV and films should be an escape and I will literally never need to read or watch any fictionalized anything made about this era, having lived through it is enough. Like I think about, what if the plot of every show in 2008 pivoted to be about or mention the financial crash, why? People lost lots of money or their homes, it was horrible, no one wanted to be reminded of it on a consistent basis.

  29. Natters says:

    I feel like most shows lost out on good content by ignoring Covid, especially the medical and law enforcement shows. That’s why I love “Love Life” on HBO Max second season. They included how it was to live with lockdown and all the inconveniences of Covid without even making it about Covid. It was even funny at times because they had hindsight and saw the humor especially in how we first reacted to Covid. Love Life season two is truly Love in the Time of Covid.

  30. The Recluse says:

    I don’t watch any of those shows that were mentioned. I’m looking forward to watching stuff that’s coming on right now on PBS: Masterpiece and Finding Your Roots. And I love Ghosts and am looking forward to the next season of What We Do In The Shadows.

  31. Jill says:

    I work in a hospital, and the last thing I want when I get home is to spend a single second thinking about Covid.