A coronavirus particle on a television screen. COVID-19 spreads across the plotlines of many beloved series as shows begin to start production again. Illustration by Bijou Allard 

As more and more shows come back from pandemic-induced breaks, we are starting to see a rise in COVID-19 related plots. Beloved series such as Grey’s Anatomy, This Is Us, Black-ish, Shameless, and many more are all beginning to incorporate conversations about COVID-19 into their shows’ plotlines. With the pandemic beginning to increase in appearance on the screen, it has become apparent that my watching experience will be dramatically changed. While I can now enjoy watching some of my favorite shows take new and creative approaches to the ongoing discussions about the coronavirus, I am also aware that one of my favorite ways to escape from reality will take a new, and potentially troubling, turn.

Both Grey’s Anatomy and This Is Us have taken different yet impactful approaches to incorporating the pandemic into their plotlines. It didn’t come as a surprise that Grey’s Anatomy, a hospital show, would bring this historical healthcare event in. Similarly, throughout its seasons, This Is Us has tackled complex issues one after another, including the pandemic. The show covers the everyday lived experiences of the characters in relation to COVID-19, as opposed to the head-on approach of Grey’s Anatomy in the hospital setting.

The new Netflix series, Social Distance, has taken the approach of showing life in the early days of the pandemic through a series of eight short stories. These stories cover grieving and reminiscing about loved ones who have passed during the pandemic, caring for young children while working, family members suffering with COVID-19, and families with healthcare professionals.

This is not the first time that shows have brought relevant, real-world issues to the screen. Unlike before, however, this topic is something that everyone can relate to in some way or another. Viewers are more likely to become more attached to different characters and situations that feel familiar to them because the themes are now shared experiences between characters and real viewers; with the increase of relatability, we are able to better understand what characters are going through.

Due to the unexpected nature of the pandemic, many of the shows bringing up COVID have been drastically rearranged to more seamlessly fit into these new circumstances. In addition to trying to further relate to viewers, cast and crew are all living through this pandemic, which has caused dramatic changes to the typical filming process.

Additionally, TV can be an amazing way to escape from the reality and the stressors of daily life, but this feels impossible now that the pandemic is embedded in many of our favorite shows. Because COVID-19 is an active stressor for many people, the loss of this escape is troubling. As mental health issues are increasing with the prolonged stress of the pandemic, these self care systems are essential.

Despite the challenges presented by the mirroring of TV shows to our present circumstances, part of the reason I love shows like these is because they tackle real problems with honest emotions. Although I have my reservations about the disruption to one of my self care systems, I am excited to see how some of my favorite shows will incorporate these important topics.

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