Certain comedies and dramas have done a remarkable job of reflecting real-world impacts of the Covid-19 virus on our collective lives. Others? Less so. During the 2020/2021 TV season, we’ve seen storylines commenting on the struggles faced by retail workers who were deemed essential but given little to no protection, the realities of hospitals dealing with medical supply shortages and a lack of ICU beds. Here are 12 shows that are portraying Covid realistically, and three that are doing it wrong.
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Realistic: New Amsterdam
Now in its third season, medical drama New Amsterdam, set in a public hospital inspired by New York’s famed Bellevue Hospital, hasn’t shied away from tackling several issues related to the pandemic. So far, they’ve dealt with one of their own doctors nearly dying from the virus, cancer patients not continuing with treatments because they’re scared of Covid, the hatred that Asian-Americans have been facing, and medical supply shortages. On top of it all, when their second season was cut short, the production donated masks, gloves, gowns, and other items to the New York State Department of Health. Watch New Amsterdam on Global TV or the Global TV App.
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Realistic: Queen Sugar
Without a doubt, one of the most heart-wrenching portrayals of Covid on TV has been on Season 5 of Queen Sugar. Eight episodes had already been written when executive producer, Ava DuVernay, and her writing team went back to the drawing table to create a season that reflected the realities of the pandemic. The result? A story that highlights Black life in America during 2020, especially the effects of the pandemic on rural communities in the southern United States. It has touched on the social isolation felt by the older generation, and the hopelessness when one of the characters loses his mother to Covid. Despite the heaviness of storylines about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a glimmer of sunshine with an intimate wedding, showing the power of hope and love during a devastating chapter in history.
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Realistic: This is Us
While This is Us hasn’t been absolutely stringent with its on-screen mask usage, it has excelled in many ways. We’ve seen Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison (Caitlin Thompson) moving in together and forming a bubble while waiting for their twins to be born, and Toby (Chris Sullivan) waiting in a hospital parking lot while Kate (Chrissy Metz) is inside for the birth of the child they are adopting. Then there’s Randall (Sterling K. Brown) working from home as a Philadelphia city councilor while dealing with his ongoing mental health issues, and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) meeting her new grandchildren via FaceTime. Incorporating Covid into the storyline didn’t ruin the series. Instead, it reinforced how the series conveys the bittersweet nature of life.
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Although told through a comedic lens, Black-ish has really highlighted how many families have been dealing with the Covid crisis. Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor working on the front lines, and while there aren’t scenes with her working in the hospital, we do see the conversations with her coworkers about what they’re experiencing. Added to that is Bow’s frustration with people breaking the rules in place to keep people safe. Dre (Anthony Anderson) is working at home and overseeing virtual schooling for the Johnson kids, which proves to be a challenge.
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Realistic: Grey’s Anatomy
While many fans have been preoccupied with Meredith’s coma dream beach filled with the ghosts of the show’s dearly departed characters, Grey’s Anatomy has done a great job with how it’s portrayed the pandemic. They’ve depicted the mental and physical toll on Grey Sloan Memorial’s staff, and the Season 17 premiere ended with a Covid diagnosis for Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). With Grey and Tom Koracick (Greg Germann) at death’s door and Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) losing her mother, it’s no wonder that the show's medical consultants have said that Covid was number one on this year’s call sheet.
Related: What we watched to get us through 2020.
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While the pandemic mostly serves as a backdrop for the usual cases in Season 4 of 9-1-1, it does play into certain character storylines. Chimney (Kenneth Choi), a Los Angeles firefighter, lives apart from his pregnant girlfriend, Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) in an abundance of caution for part of the season. And while exaggerated, they’ve managed to convey things like the frustration that comes with spending too much time with loved ones while on lockdown, or the strange hobbies that some people have embraced when they suddenly have too much free time on their hands. Watch 9-1-1 on Global TV or the Global TV App.
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In its final season, Superstore managed to capture just how unprepared the retail sector was for dealing with a pandemic while keeping its humour and heart. The essential workers at fictional big box store, Cloud 9, had to deal with everything, including quarantines after exposure to Covid, difficult customers, toilet paper and bottled water hoarding, and a parking lot littered with disposable gloves and masks. We can forgive their inconsistent mask use and physical distancing because the rest of it was fantastic. Watch Superstore on Global TV or the Global TV App.
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In this Canadian drama about Toronto coroner Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), mask use and physical distancing were incorporated into much of Coroner's Season 3 storyline. The series made the most powerful statement in its season premiere, which addressed the Covid crisis in Ontario’s long-term care homes. That episode not only looked at the grim reality of residents who were getting sick and dying but also examined how the pandemic has affected the staff of those facilities.
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Realistic: The Conners
The Conners has never been afraid to deal with real issues affecting working-class families, and Covid has been no different. In Season 3, Dan (John Goodman) has laid off staff, Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Lecy Goranson) are working at Wellman Plastic where they’re making bottles for hand sanitizer, and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is delivering food by bike. The people of Lanford, Illinois are struggling to survive financially as they deal with evictions, missed mortgage payments, losing health insurance, and attempting to navigate confusing messages from the government.
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Covid delayed filming on the final season of Shameless but when it returned, the virus had become a part of the storyline. While the characters aren’t always vigilant with mask use, they have painted a vivid picture of how the pandemic has affected those who were already struggling financially. It’s not just about the Gallaghers trying to survive the virus physically and economically, it also touches on whether or not the neighbourhood bar can survive and the gentrifiers who are taking advantage of people who can barely make ends meet.
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Realistic: Chicago Med
Chicago Med is another series that despite some hiccups, their portrayal of Covid’s effect on health care has been powerful. They started Season 6 on a strong note, outlining the new protocols in place at the hospital to deal with the pandemic, introducing a Covid ICU, and having one Dr. Daniel Charles (Oliver Platt) recovering from the virus. They’ve continued to show viewers what it’s like for hospitalized Covid patients, and how supply shortages can affect care. There are some areas where they’re lacking, though: the alarming inconsistencies with mask-wearing in an emergency department, and maskless, gloveless doctors and nurses greeting patients.
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Realistic: All Rise
All Rise was praised early in the pandemic when they became the first broadcast series to air a Covid episode recorded via Zoom for its Season 1 finale. That set a high bar for Season 2, so while they excel at some aspects, it makes the flaws stand out even more. Yes, there’s physical distancing in the courtroom along with clear dividers, but the choice to use face shields versus masks gets frustrating very quickly since they don’t offer the best protection. What they do deserve praise for is showing the impact of the virus on prisons where people are contracting and dying from Covid at astounding rates.
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Completely Wrong: Law & Order: SVU
From courtrooms with plexiglass screens that appear more decorative than protective to people walking around the police station maskless, Law & Order: SVU is not a shining example of the real ways we should be protecting ourselves during a pandemic. One of the most frustrating aspects is Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) constantly pulling down her mask when she talks, especially when interviewing a witness or interrogating a suspect in close quarters.
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Completely Wrong: 9-1-1: Lone Star
Much like its Los Angeles counterpart, the pandemic is not much more than a backdrop on 9-1-1: Lone Star. The season started out strong in its portrayal of Covid, including distancing and mask-wearing among its first responders, and with the people at the scene of the emergency (especially in a scene that took place at a roller derby). By the second episode, it was almost non-existent.
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Completely Wrong: FBI: Most Wanted
In Season 2 of FBI: Most Wanted, the pandemic feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute, and they would’ve been better off ignoring it completely. In the premiere, Jess LaCroix (Julian McMahon) is frustrated with his father for not strictly adhering to Covid safety precautions. Meanwhile, Jess and his team rarely wear masks or maintain proper physical distancing. Watch FBI: Most Wanted on Global TV or the Global TV App.