It has been almost nine months now since the COVID-19 outbreak reached the United States and altered daily life as we knew it. It has had more of an impact than anyone could have predicted: jobs lost, lives lost, months of quarantine. Everyday we turn to the news and are updated about cases, possible new vaccines, and everyone asking who is to blame. This has taken over our lives this year, and now as shows begin to return to air, it's taking over entertainment too.
Shows that filmed prior to COVID, like Supernatural, are not effected. However, there are plenty of shows who have altered their original plans for their upcoming seasons to add a COVID storyline. NBC's Superstore and Showtime's Shameless are just two examples. Some audiences appreciate this effort, but others think that turning something as serious as this global pandemic into a plot for fictional characters is irresponsible. Not only that, but do we really want to relive the past nine months through characters we love and shows we typically used to escape our world?
Superstore aired its first episode of season 6 this past weekend. The entire episode was based around Covid, exploring how the pandemic effected multiple characters. Superstore, however, is in a unique position. The show takes place in a Walmart or Target-like store called /cloud 9. The main characters are the workers at the store, and are therefore the essential workers during the pandemic. Showing just a glimpse of what these workers have gone through in real life throughout this episode was perhaps a good way to spread awareness and discuss the issue of the conditions these employees are working in. In addition to Covid, Superstore made several references to other big events in 2020, including the Black Lives Matter protests, which all of the characters were actively for. There was even as scene where they finally receive "safety products", and they are excited because they believe that they are finally receiving masks and gloves, but are instead given anti-looting gear. One of the characters, Jonah Simms, retorts that if they wanted corporate's protection, they should have been merchandise.
In the case of Superstore, it is my opinion that they dealt with the subject matter very well. They brought up important points, and to ignore such a huge world event, especially considering the setting of the show. Watching the episode at first wasn't the most entertaining thing-- I didn't necessarily want to relive the last few months. However, I think it was necessary.
Shameless has yet to air the Covid season, which will be their final season. I think that this has potential to be dealt with the same sensitivity and awareness as superstore, as the show is centered around the working class and has approached similar issues in the past. However, I'm not sure it's fully necessary. I'm sure it's convenient so that the actors can wear masks while filming, but unless the storyline is given great care, it has the potential to be a disaster.
I think the important thing for these shows to do is to be very conscious of the choices they are making. They must ensure that they are not turning this real-life tragedy that many have lost their lives to into a plot point. It would be responsible for them to approach the topic with an intended objective; whether it is spreading awareness and the importance of safety, or some other social issue. That way, the focus is on making a positive impact in the real world rather than causing drama and using the pandemic for entertainment.
It can absolutely be done well--Superstore proved that. Still, it has the potential to be disastrous if not given the right care. As the year comes to and end and more shows return to air, we'll see more and more how television shows and films are approaching this topic.